Chinese Tourists Driving New Wave of Mobile Payment Adoption

In 2017, China became Singapore’s top market for both tourism receipts and visitor arrivals, contributing 3.2 million tourists. As one in a series of parallel moves seen worldwide, mobile payment provider Alipay also launched it’s payment platform to allow Chinese tourists to pay in the way they know best.

Alipay is China’s largest mobile and online payment platform, with over 520 million active users. Alipay has evolved from a digital wallet to a lifestyle enabler where users can hail a taxi, book a hotel, buy movie tickets, pay utility bills, make appointments with doctors, or purchase wealth management products directly from within the app.

With mobile payment already dominant within China it is naturally gaining momentum as the Chinese travel overseas. According to a recent Nielsen report, 65% of Chinese tourists used mobile payment platforms during their overseas travels, in comparison to only 11% of non-Chinese tourists.

Nielsen Outbound Chinese Tourism and Consumption Trends

China is just back from the two-month-long 2018 summer holiday, during which millions of Chinese travelled abroad for pleasure. With Alipay’s growing presence outside of the Chinese mainland, Alipay overseas spending skyrocketed, with the platform processing 2.6 times as many in-store overseas transactions this summer as compared to 2017.

Asia continued to dominate the list of Top 10 countries and regions in terms of summertime overseas Alipay transactions. Hong Kong topped the list, followed by Thailand and South Korea.

In Singapore, the average spending per Alipay user was 1759.13 RMB (approx. 352.35 SGD) in the summer of 2018. This was a 32% average increase in spending per Alipay user and a 320% total increase in spending for the same period in 2017. The number of Alipay transactions in Russia also increased by over 5000%, as Chinese travellers flocked there in July for the FIFA World Cup.

Of the 80+ airports that support instant tax refunds via Alipay, airports in South Korea recorded the highest amount of tax refunded, followed by airports in Europe.

Tickled Media names first Chief Strategy Officer as revenue up 45%

As a rising star of Southeast Asia’s media tech scene, and the publisher behind theAsianparent.com, AsianMoneyGuide.com, and HerStyleAsia.com, Tickled Media reaches over 12 million women monthly across SEA via its content and community platforms.

We caught up with Adrian Watkins, newly appointed Chief Strategy Officer at Tickled Media, to discuss plans for the future and his enhanced role within the business. As part of his expanded brief, Adrian works alongside Tickled Media Founder and CEO Roshni Mahtani to help develop, communicate, execute, and sustain strategic initiatives ranging from commercial positioning through to wider business rationale.

Digital in Asia: What have been your team’s greatest achievements in the past 12 months?

Adrian Watkins: It was a year in the making, but we’ve redesigned and re-engineered the front-end of theAsianparent, which has resulted in faster loading speeds, higher page engagement, better email capture, and innovations in commercial solutions. We’ve also created an enhanced Brand Solutions programme that offers clients a flexible, data-driven playground where they can manage budgets, split-test new concepts and creatives, and find what resonates with their desired audience over a longer period of time. This process takes them from market research, through to content creation and distribution, social media / KOL amplification, and finally to campaign conversions.

DIA: Have you been focusing around programmatic?

Adrian: We’ve maximised our network yields by signing upwards of 15 new vendors in the automated revenue space, offering a mix of programmatic, outstream and native capabilities, and allowing for better commercial terms while lessening our reliance on Facebook and Google.

But my proudest achievement is building up the team. There is no greater display of growth than a team member picking up a pen to explain in detail what he or she is saying on a whiteboard!

DIA: What’s your next big project as CSO?

Adrian: This company is on the cusp of something truly exciting – becoming the largest women-focused media tech company in the region. Securing our Series B funding earlier in the year allowed us to launch new content verticals to better inform and empower Asian women: Asian Money Guide and HerStyleAsia. We’ve got a couple more in the pipeline so that’s what’s keeping the team on their toes.

Meanwhile, we just re-launched our app for theAsianparent and it’s pretty exciting to be able to work on the largest social network for parents. With easy-to-use Q&A, mums can harness the collective wisdom and experiences of our active community of parents, experts, and parents-to-be, as they share and grow their parenting knowledge.

WhatsApp Image 2018-08-29 at 11.15.42

Watkins was the Founder and Managing Director of data, tech, and marketing consultancy firm PerformanceAsia, and was previously a Board member of the Asia Content Marketing Association (ACMA). He also has a proven corporate track record within world-class organisations such as Virgin, News Corporation, and CBS, leading initiatives in business development, company acquisition, monetising existing and new territories, and building and managing commercial and content teams in multiple countries.

Both Tickled Media and the wider industry stand to benefit from this appointment, given Watkins’ client focus and data mastery. Sachin Pagey, Director of Strategy and Marketing Services at Mega Lifesciences, weighs in: “Adrian’s promotion to Chief Strategy Officer is a great move for Tickled Media and one that Mega We Care fully endorses. I’ve worked very closely with Adrian over the last year for the launch of Baby Natura, our plant-based whole food, in the region. The depth of insight, energy and enthusiasm he’s brought to our long-term partnership is much welcome. We look forward to enhancing this relationship with theAsianparent even further as we launch our new products and move into more markets in 2019. With Adrian’s promotion to CSO, the long-term outlook for Tickled Media is undoubtedly positive!”

Tickled Media Founder and CEO Roshni Mahtani added: “At a time when tech and media are evolving at breakneck speed, we need someone to help usher Tickled into a new era of insight-led innovation. We’re looking no further than Adrian, who has done remarkable things for our campaign delivery process, smoothed out so many operational hiccups, and brought in streams of new revenue.”

 

Evolving your Influencer Marketing for the AI era

Charles Tidswell1The scale and scope of influencer marketing is growing at pace and holds increasing importance in the marketing mix as a way for brands to reach consumers. In this column, Charles Tidswell from Socialbakers provides his top tips for executing social media and influencer marketing campaigns in Asia, including measuring ROI, finding the right influencers and avoiding fakes, artificial intelligence, macro and micro influencers and the specifics of influencer marketing in the Asia Pacific region.

1. Find the right social media influencers

Finding the right influencer is crucial.

A good starting point is to define the brand’s audience personas. This allows the brand to truly understand their target audience, and thus identify an influencer who has values and audiences that line up with that of the brand’s. It is important to look at how aligned an influencer’s content is with your messaging. This can be determined by understanding key traits such as their likes, dislikes and the content they have previously posted.

Brands should ensure that the influencer they select has good engagement and reach.

Engagement is an indicator of how interactive an influencer’s audience is with the content they are posting. How much, and how often audiences engage with the influencer are indications of how meaningful those relationships are. This includes how many readers like, comment or share the influencer’s content.

While not the most important, ‘reach’ is a valid metric for consideration. However, brands should resist the urge to only look at unique visitors as a measure of reach. Traffic and followers are only meaningful to the extent that the influencer is reaching the brand’s target audience.

With the rise of influencer marketing platforms, finding the right influencer can be easy and efficient, eliminating the need to manually sift through influencer profiles. Brands can easily search for influencers based on their audience size, interests, location, age, and gender. It is also possible to see an easy-to-understand score estimating the performance of the influencers, in order to determine the most effective influencer to work with.

2. Measure the ROI of influencer marketing

There are a multitude of ways brands can measure ROI.

The two most common ways are to measure engagement rates, as well as frequency of mentions and hashtags.

Engagement rate is possibly the most common form of measurement. This metric will differ according to the platforms you are evaluating, so brands must be sure to measure the engagement of each individual post in order to better understand what’s working. To put the effectiveness of influencer posts in-context, brands can also analyse their non-sponsored content along with sponsored posts from previous partnerships to benchmark content performance. Since there is no magic number for what a “good engagement” rate should look like, this analysis can be a way to put the engagement rate into context. Brands can even consider looking into the Cost per Engagement (CPE). CPE breaks down how much you are paying for engagement: likes, comments, clicks etc. To get to this number simply divide your total influencer budget by the number of engagements.

Brands looking to see if their influencer marketing campaigns are sparking conversations can tap on social media listening tools. These tools dive into the conversations taking place across social media to find out if the brand is appearing more frequently. Aside from brand mentions, setting up a unique hashtag is also a great way to measure success. If you are creating a campaign with an influencer you can assign a specific hashtag to that campaign and monitor if it’s gaining any traction.

3. Detect and manage fake influencers

Fake influencers are notorious for buying fake followers, hoping to trick brands into a paid collaboration. To make sure the influencer of your choice isn’t ‘fake’, look at their volume of interactions per 1,000 followers. A fake influencer will have a low share of engaged fans, which is a red flag showing you shouldn’t work with that person.

With Socialbakers Influencer Management, marketers can are able to search by location, age, and interests. Influencer posts’ data can be pulled up for inspiration and likes, sentiment of comments, brands they’ve worked with before, and how they performed in the past for marketers to make an informed decision. By doing so, fake social media influencer profiles can be sieved out more effectively.

4. Make use of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence

AI can help take the guesswork out of Influencer Marketing; from recruitment of influencers based on the brand’s objectives, provide the ability to forecast influencer performance, predict optimal incentives that would encourage influencers to take a certain action etc.

We will continue to see advancements in AI-powered Influencer Marketing that will help brands understand what content is most likely to resonate and influencer the purchase or adoption decisions of the end consumer.

5. Remember the difference between macro and micro influencers

Micro influencers are those who have between 1,000 and 100,000 followers. This category of influencers have a tight-knit relationship with their audience and tend to have higher engagement and conversation rates. While micro influencers often cover a wide range of niches, they are often more affordable than macro or celebrity influencers.

Macro influencers, on the other hand, have a significantly higher follower base – this ranges from 100,000 up to 1 million followers. Given their wider reach, macro influencers tend to have a more diverse audience as well as an established position within a given community.

Deciding which category of influencers to work with largely depends on the scale of the campaign and its objectives. Brands looking to create product awareness or to reach a wide audience may choose to use a macro influencer, while brands keen to encourage customer conversion or retention may prefer to work with micro influencers. They can convert customers cheaper and more efficiently than any of the other options, making them a powerful option to boost ROI.

6. Choose the right social media platforms for your market 

Asia has become one of the most important emerging regions for social media marketing. The hunt for social media influencers requires extensive knowledge on metrics that brands find most important, aspects they value in an influencer the most and more.

Regardless of the industry or region, ​brands are increasingly interested in incorporating influencer marketing as an inherent part of their digital strategy. We have seen it for some time in industries like fashion and beauty​, but today influencer marketing is ubiquitous and is one of the fastest growing categories in advertising, projected to be a $5-10 billion market by 2020, according to Mediakix.

Platforms that are the most used for influencer marketing in Asia include Facebook, WeChat and Instagram which have a high volume of monthly active users in the millions. One significant platform to take note of is China’s WeChat, with about 963M monthly active users. The functionality of WhatsApp, Snapchat, Messenger, and Facebook are integrated into this application.

The app also takes it up a notch by allowing Chinese users to order meals, book taxis and doctor’s appointments. WeChat even offers an assistant chatbot called WeSecretary to manage administrative tasks such as paying bills, booking airline tickets and much more. With such a wide array of integrated functions on a single platform, WeChat paves the way – and provides opportunities for influencers to build closer relationships with fans as well as potential fans.

 

 

 

A Duopoly of Convenience: Facebook & Google Tap New Growth in APAC

by Tom Simpson

Latest data reveals that in Q1 2018, Facebook and Google ad revenue grew by 40% year-on-year across Asia Pacific (ex. China), while ‘The Rest’ – every publisher and ad tech business outside the duopoly – saw a fall in revenue of 20% over the same period.

Total APAC (ex. China) Digital Ad Revenue (USD billions) (1)

Looking at the top-line, digital advertising is experiencing strong growth across APAC, with ad spend up $0.85 billion year-on-year in 2018. But it’s clear that while many publishers and ad tech businesses are still growing, in reality that additional $0.85 billion revenue is comprised of $1.63 billion more for Google and Facebook, and $0.78 billion less for everyone else.

As a result, Facebook and Google revenue hit 65% of APAC total digital revenue, up from 51% in Q1 2017. This means twice as much budget goes to the duopoly as every other digital publisher and ad tech platform in the region put together.

APAC (ex. China) Q1 2018 Digital Ad Revenue Share (%)

Google and Facebook also grew in terms of revenue share across all media, taking 20 cents in every 1 dollar spent in the region. This is up from 15% – or 15 cents in the dollar – last year, and represents an increase in budget flowing from traditional media, including TV and OOH.

The duopoly in perspective

From a global perspective, Facebook and Google have been strengthening their hold over digital advertising budgets for several years. Asia Pacific has actually seen a slower shift in spend than the US or Europe, where Google and Facebook already account for 80% of digital ad revenue.

While there is a huge amount for ad tech to be positive about in 2018, and plenty of genuine tech innovation on the supply side outside the duopoly – mobile, blockchain, digital retail, apps, influencers, and permission-based marketing, are all areas seeing new thinking and growth – the publishing and ad tech industries are in a challenging space right now. Concerns over ad quality and complex value chains, in addition to the impact of Facebook and Google, have left VC money looking for safer havens. With marketing clouds, telcos and consultancies worldwide positioning for unified marketing technology stacks – the acquisition rumours at Cannes in 2018 were even more outrageous than those around the downfall of Sir Martin Sorrell – mad-tech consolidation started several years back, and looks set to accelerate in the years ahead.

But it’s not only the supply side facing increased headwinds. The brave-new-era marketing stacks are already busy hunting brand agency business direct from the major holding groups, using their newly enhanced strategic and tech positioning to situate themselves both upstream closer to the CEOs ear, and downstream on the battlefield of media execution across newly rationalised, open, and addressable programmatic auctions. Whether it’s okay for the auditors to also do the work, is another question of course.

Even Google and Facebook cannot be sitting easy in the face of the increased scrutiny and margin pressure promised by these changes, alongside recent brand safety issues, an emerging 3rd advertising player in Amazon, and a resurgent Twitter. Growing antitrust concerns in the US and EU spurred by a public revolt against the increasing power of the silicon valley tech titans, fears over over-reach into our everyday lives and loss of jobs have also made headlines in 2018. Google and Facebook are yet to crack China, but each is making moves with greater and lesser degrees of success to grow influence in this hugely important global market.

The age of convenience

Human beings have long sought means to make our lives easier. From earliest times with the invention of the stone hand axe, to the swarms of gig economy apps which today get people to clean your apartments, drive you around, do your shopping or deliver you just about anything you can think of, at the touch of a smartphone screen, convenience has been the driving force behind much human-made ingenuity. Most of us in the modern world now expect gratification to be on-demand.

New ways of offering services to customers have significantly changed how organisations and companies operate and compete in all markets. So it is no surprise that the age of convenience has come to our industry. What Uber did for transportation, Netflix for TV, and AirBnB for accommodation, Google and Facebook have done for marketing. And they are justifiably reaping the rewards.

In the on-demand era, there is only one guarantee: money flows to those who offer – or at least appear to offer – the comfort of convenience. This is the inconvenient truth.

Notes

As per last year, numbers are based on Facebook and Google publicly filed earnings information and best industry advertising revenue estimates via the IAB, Zenith and Emarketer among others – but someone out there may have a better view, so corrections welcome. The major assumption in this data is to exclude Chinese advertising spend from Google and Facebook earnings information and APAC industry spend estimates. This is to avoid distorting the data by including a market where Facebook and Google have small (although not insignificant) advertising businesses. All the data is available on a public Google sheet (yes, sorry, it’s Google!) here.

Key References

Facebook Reports First Quarter 2018 Results: https://s21.q4cdn.com/399680738/files/doc_financials/2018/Q1/Q1-2018-Press-Release.pdf

Facebook Q1 2018 Earnings Presentation
https://s21.q4cdn.com/399680738/files/doc_financials/2018/Q1/Q1-2018-Earnings-Presentation-(1).pdf

Alphabet Announces First Quarter 2018 Results
https://abc.xyz/investor/pdf/2018Q1_alphabet_earnings_release.pdf

Inside China’s Mobile Payments War

In 2018, China is an almost entirely cashless consumer economy, where popular mobile payment apps such as WeChat Pay and Alipay have enabled consumers to go straight from cash, to smartphone payments, leapfrogging the use of credit cards and cheques.

One of the world’s leading players in mobile or e-payment, China saw $15.4 trillion worth of mobile payments handled by third-party platforms in 2017 – more than 40 times the amount processed in the US.

Chinese consumers can buy a pancake at a roadside breakfast stall, order food online, pay credit card bills, or manage stock accounts, all with just their smartphone. In fact, mobile payments are so prevalent that use of cash fell from 63% of transactions in 2011 to just 33% by 2016.

When Alibaba founder Jack Ma carved out his payments business from the ecommerce giant in 2010, he pulled off a coup with multibillion dollar implications. But it was a move by WeChat a few years later that really set the category alight.

The sending and receiving of red packets containing cash (also called lai see in Cantonese, and hongbao in Mandarin) at Lunar New Year is an important tradition across China. But historically red packets were always tangible items, real cash in a paper envelope. Then, in 2014, WeChat introduced digital red packets. The ability to send festive cash to family and friends using just the WeChat Pay mobile payment platform. It was a revolution, and 4 years later in 2018, the idea of digital red packets had caught on to such an extent, that 80% of Chinese consumers sent a red packet via WeChat. This year only 69% sent a physical red packet.

WeChat’s success with digital red packets introduced and popularised the mobile payments category with Chinese consumers, and built a platform for the adoption of wider mobile payments functionality across money transfer, taxi ordering, online shopping, bill settlement, wealth management, for both WeChat – and it’s competitors.

Wireless Payment Methods

In fact, Alipay, owned by Alibaba, now handles nearly 54% of total mobile payment transactions, with WeChat Pay, owned by Tencent, processing around 39%. Across the category, the number of transactions made through non-banking mobile apps increased from 3.8 billion to more than 97 billion over the period 2013 to 2016, and research firm eMarketer recently estimated that more than 61% of global mobile payment users in 2018 are located in China.

Alipay and WeChat Pay have also made their presence felt abroad. Both companies extended their payments services to hundreds of thousands of merchants in regions like Southeast Asia and Europe, targeting outbound Chinese travellers and encouraging them to settle their overseas shopping bills with the apps. Adoption is still low, but merchants are keen to  facilitate easier transactions for high volume and wealthy Chinese tourists.

Within China however, the game is up. The dominance of mobile payment means not only that companies like Alibaba and Tencent manage consumer financial transactions, but as a by product they also control huge lakes of valuable personal data. Already this data is being used to close the loop on the consumer purchase cycle, and up-sell other financial products such as loans, or retail experiences. Alipay has also built Sesame Credit, a personal credit rating platform and Chinese government social rating system, linked to it’s mobile payments footprint. While English language media tends to describe Sesame Credit as an authoritarian system straight out of Black Mirror, Chinese social media users seem to focus more on the advantages than the burdens.

Ay, there’s the rub! As the West agonises over Cambridge Analytica and GDPR, WeChat and Alipay have already built the future of mobile payments. Convenience trumps all, if you let it.

Below we’ve collected key takeaway resources covering WeChat, Alipay and the mobile payments ecosystem in China.

Mobile Payment Usage in China 2017

Tencent: The Growth of the Digital Payment Ecosystem in China

Social Networks & Digital Payment in China

Alipay and WeChat Pay: Reaching Rural Users in China

Digital transformation in China – Take aways from the Alibaba Global Dreamer Program

 

Vietnam: Digital Trends & Consumer Landscape Overview

With a population of more than 96 million, a median age of 30 years, and internet penetration standing at 50 million, or just over 54% of local population, Vietnam is a young and dynamic market representing a huge commercial opportunity for brands, marketers and investors. Vietnam digital trends emerge fast in this exciting consumer space.

Since 2013, the last time we took a detailed look at Vietnam’s digital market landscape, so much has changed in terms of digital trends. Most notable has been the rise of mobile as a channel, driven by lower handset costs and faster 4G connections. The mobile internet experience now dominates in Vietnam, with consumers naming mobile as the second most important source of news after TV, the most important “big ticket” purchase and their second favourite daily activity after spending time with family and before hanging with friends.

Digital technologies and online connectivity promise to be a key driving force in the growth and transformation of the Vietnamese economy over the coming decades, with the IT industry expected to contribute up to 10% of the country’s GDP by 2020. Ho Chi Minh City is being touted as the Silicon Valley of Asia with blockchain, fin-tech, health-tech and digital accelerators playing a key role in the emerging start-up, hipster coffee shop and co-working space culture.

Below we’ve collected a series of takeaway resources covering the key digital trends in Vietnam.

Mobile Ecosystem Report Vietnam 2017/18

Vietnam mobile ecosystem and digital sizing report from Group M and the MMA.

Digital in Vietnam 2018

Key data covering the Vietnam digital landscape.

Digital Marketing Agency & Marketer Landscape in Vietnam

Vietnam digital marketing overview from an advertiser and agency perspective.

Vietnam Digital Landscape 2017

Detailed overview of digital stats and consumer internet data in the Vietnam market.

Vietnam Digital Trends 2017

Trends to watch out for across the Vietnamese consumer internet.

Vietnam ICO & Blockchain Market

Overview of the emerging blockchain and ICO scene in Vietnam.

Vietnam Today – The Digital Economy

In depth report looking at the future digital transformation of Vietnam.

PWC Vietnam Spotlight

Deep dive into Vietnam as an investment opportunity and information technology driven market.

Vietnam Esports Market Report 2018

Insight into the growth of Esports in Vietnam..

In terms of other resources, check out Vietcetera for wider coverage of Vietnam, Tech In Asia for tech news, or Geektime and ICTNews for tech news… if you speak Vietnamese. Finally, you can find out all the practical information you need to know about the start-up scene in Vietnam at this Google Doc.

Ethereum, Cats and Infinite Extensibility on the Blockchain

Last December, a new game became an overnight mega-trend in the blockchain world. CryptoKitties allowed users to buy, own, and trade unique collectible cartoon cats on the blockchain. Around the time of launch, CryptoKitties was so successful that it slowed the Ethereum network.

This is a big deal, as the Ethereum blockchain is, without a doubt, the most active smart contract platform in existence. Of the top 100 tokens by market cap, 94% are built on top of Ethereum. Of the top 800 tokens, 87% are built on Ethereum. Most of these tokens are ERC20 tokens, which made possible the majority of the $5.5 billion raised through ICOs in 2017 and the $6.5 billion raised in token sales during just the first quarter of this year.

The driving principle behind the creation of CryptoKitties was to demonstrate the potential of Ethereum and the blockchain ecosystem for trading and securing digital assets. In the white paper, the founders discuss the narrow focus of most blockchain projects on payments. Ultimately, they hoped CryptoKitties would help people expand their vision of what a blockchain could do.

A few weeks back Digital in Asia met with Benny Giang, the founder of CryptoKitties, to talk Ethereum, cats and art on the blockchain.

Digital in Asia: So Benny, where did the inspiration for CryptoKitties come from? How did it start?

Benny: We love cats, and we know it’s a fact that the internet and cats is just married, right? Basically any new internet technology always starts with cats.

We also thought that blockchain seemed pretty interesting, but we wanted to make it more accessible. We saw so many ICOs happening, and we loved the variety. Some were solving really big interesting problems, like world hunger level. But there were some that were just … I don’t even know what they were doing. It’s just getting DJ Khaled to hype up their ICOs! It felt like what was missing was the education and accessibility piece. So we had the idea of putting cats on the blockchain to drive our education and accessibility agenda.

This turned our attention to a couple of existing crypto collectibles like CryptoPunks and Spells of Genesis. These were the first to use the ERC20 token standard from Ethereum, and then create a collectible on the blockchain. But the limitation with the existing collectibles was that they were only an image. We wanted to take it to the next level. So we started exploring the game play, and we arrived on this interesting idea of allowing people to breed their kitties on the blockchain.

We then spent a month on genetic simulations, trying to figure out how deep we could go and how we could evolve the idea. We established a 256 bit genome. That results in about 4 billion variations of kitties. In terms of human genetics, that’s nothing, it’s very controllable. But in game play, 4 billion potential kitties is quite a lot of variations. It was more of an experiment, playing around, and that was the initial genesis of CryptoKitties.

Digital in Asia: Where did you get started with blockchain? Because it seems as if you were already very familiar with the technology. CryptoKitties was more about doing something in blockchain, as opposed to doing CryptoKitties.

Benny: It started in the spring of 2017. I began reading more, specifically on Ethereum. Most of our team, except a couple of members, were already involved in blockchain, the Bitcoin side. They mined Bitcoin, they bought them, they sold them from way back.

From a more typical internet technology perspective, a lot of the product teams and my background was around building B2B Enterprise SaaS Software. I was interested in the concept of the world computer, and creating a decentralised app store to build real utility. That’s really fascinating, and the whole decentralised aspect really caught my attention.

But I love the quote: “Any disruptive technology starts off as a toy”. And in there I saw the opportunity to bring the educational piece forward, in a way that people could learn, but also have fun.

Digital in Asia: Crypto can be complicated. How long did you think it would take people to get their heads around digital wallets, Gas price and all the other complexities of blockchain, and Ethereum specifically.

Benny: In the first week about 80,000 people signed up. These are new users we had never interacted with, and probably don’t even know what a digital wallet is. So that was already a huge factor. 80,000 new people were so attracted to this game that they were willing to jump through all these hoops.

My biggest goals always involve optimizing the experience for the end user. That’s all I care about, that’s all our team cares about. But in blockchain, and Cryptokitties, we’re still pretty far away from having it where you click on the button and everything just works.

Are people scared of Gas and all these things? I would say they are. Sometimes Gas price goes up and they don’t understand why, but that’s kind of our role, and part of why we created the game. Right now we’re building a whole new onboarding process that will help educate: “Hey this is what Gas is, this is why we need it, this is why it keeps fluctuating.” So people will understand.

Digital in Asia: Why did you decide to build on the Ethereum blockchain? There are alternative blockchains out there like Neo, and as we’ve seen with Gas price increases, and congestion, it’s not always an easy environment.

Benny: It was a timing thing and also more of a mission alignment thing. We met some of the Ethereum team last year and saw that these people really do have the builder mentality, they’re very product focused and development focused. Looking at other blockchains there is potential scalability, but in terms of full production readiness, with thousands of dApps already built on top of it, and battle tested, I would say there is only one at this point.

There are some blockchains being talked about in terms of being Ethereum killers, and that may be true, but let’s see when they get full production ready. Practically, if we were to consider these other chains then we wouldn’t have launched CryptoKitties when we did, as we would’ve waited six more months. It was more of we need to do it now, and we need to ship the product because the timing was right, it was when ICOs were popping like crazy. But as you know we didn’t do an ICO. We actually did the reverse ICO where we built the product, and we sold people kitties!

Digital in Asia: Where is CryptoKitties going? What are your future plans?

Benny: We’re going to work towards deepening the user experience. That means more game play features and expanding to new ways of thinking about the platform. It’s very interesting the three areas we play in. One is crypto, the other one is gaming and the final area is art. We were invited to the Rare Art Festival New York, and we asked a bunch of people to basically talk about this new contemporary art form which is digital collectibles. And some people laughed, definitely.

Screenshot-2018-04-10-at-11.24.05

What’s interesting to me is these Kitties will live for thousands of years. What we have done is basically made history. No matter if we are alive, or the company is alive, these kitties will live. We have this concept of infinite extensibility which is related to the kitties as art form.

Digital in Asia: This is an interesting area. What do you mean by infinite extensibility?

Benny: You buy a painting, let’s say it’s the Mona Lisa. It’s pretty old. You just keep it, and you just look at it, right? And as it ages with time, it just deteriorates. But with the digital collectibles as an art form, as time passes, more functionalities can be added. Right now all you can do is buy and sell and breed. But what if you could walk it, what if this kitty could be a real kitty in your mind. So it’s like an art piece that you can continually interact with as time progresses.

Digital in Asia: It’s apparent you’re not actually a blockchain business, you’re a gaming or collectibles business. Blockchain is just the technology you’re building your business on, in the same way that the internet is the technology that Uber or Amazon build their business on. But we don’t – for the most part – talk about that any more. Every business built on the blockchain right now is called a blockchain business, and this is just about the early stage nature of the space really. What other projects do you feel are good enough to transcend blockchain, and become real businesses?

Benny: The whole blockchain gaming and collectibles category is going to be huge this year. In regards to ICOs, there are a few products I find interesting. They’re more related to AI blockchain, and the convergence of the two. But I don’t actively get involved with many ICOs because the space is almost too hot right now. I would rather hang around the people who are developers or product people, who focus on the end view. There is so much work to do on protocols, all these different things. If we want more businesses to transcend blockchain, we need better and more secure blockchain platforms.

Digital in Asia: Okay. On that, are there any ways in which Ethereum limits you?

Benny: Limitations? We really support the Ethereum ecosystem. We have a team of six that are focused on long term scaling of Ethereum, talking to other chains, working with side chains, trying to find the right solutions. Introducing Casper, or at least the MVP of Casper, will be a big milestone for Ethereum this year. If they pull it off without doing a super hard fork, and the community comes to a consensus, they’re going to be way ahead of other people. Because again, they really have the masses, they just need to move the masses to the next level.

Digital in Asia: Do you think there is a danger that they won’t successfully deliver, or build consensus around, sharding or proof-of-stake? We don’t want Ethereum Classic 2.

Benny: No, No, No. Nobody wants that. Ethereum is below 600 dollars right now, which is low compared to a few months back. When CryptoKitties started it was at 400 dollars. So it’s back to a level of normality for us. It’s good for everybody to calm down, and come together around common goals, because we need to think long term. We all know the market was bound for a correction, and while that’s sad because I own Ethereum, it’s good as it lowers costs to build and operate on the blockchain.

Digital in Asia: What plans do you have around mobile? Any sort of AR functionality? People think it would be cool to see your kitties.

Benny: We have launched a mobile version of CryptoKitties in Asia. There are Chinese focused collectibles, and we’re looking at Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. China feels a bit difficult to get into, but we’ll see.

Considering new features like AR as a blockchain gaming company who really believes in the philosophy of decentralisation is tricky. If you walk your cat, should that be on a blockchain? When you have a kitty for a thousand years, we think that entire history – including any AR excursions – should be logged. But that’s not easy, and we can’t handle all of the transactions yet. But we are brainstorming a bunch of these new gaming features because that will help keep the experience interesting.

Digital in Asia: Thanks for your time Benny. This has been an interesting conversation. Any final words of advice?

Benny: Blockchain is only just getting started. Thanks again.

Asia’s Top 1000 Brands – Movers and Shakers

Campaign Asia has just released it’s annual Top 1000 brands survey, covering the biggest brands with Asian consumers, the brands that have risen and fallen furthest in the top 100 in the last year, plus the top 10 smartphone and social-media brands in Asia. It’s a great overview of the digital marketing landscape in APAC.

Biggest Movers in the Top 100

Biggest mover in the top 100 was Uniqlo, with other fashion retail brands, including Lazada, H&M and Zara, also having strong years.

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Top Social Media Brands

Congratulations to Facebook, still the clear leader in social media, and subsidiary brand Instagram also having a strong year, moving into the top 100.

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Top Smartphone Brands

Apple is Asia’s top smartphone brand, with Samsung in second spot. There were strong years for Huawei and Oppo, with big launches and large marketing budgets driving growth in brand perception.

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Asia’s top 5 car, airline, luxury, cosmetic, online retail, banking, beer, soft drinks, fast food and ice cream brands can be found in the slideshow below, and more info at Campaign Asia.

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SEA Digital Ad Spend to grow 13% in 2018

Digital ad spend in South East Asia is set to grow 13% in 2018, accounting for 21% of total regional media budget. That’s up from just 13% of regional ad budgets in 2015.

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Growth will then slow to 5% YOY by 2020 as the market matures and digital hits a 25% share of total ad budgets in South East Asia.

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Grab the spend data for yourself on the Digital in Asia public Google Sheets below:

Data to Drive the Next Era for Media Businesses

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Paula Minardi, Head of Content Strategy, Ooyala

A recent State of the Media Industry 2018 report from Ooyala confirmed data as one of the key driver for businesses and media organisations in the year ahead, with data-driven video top-of-mind for many marketers.

From consumer engagement and privacy to technological advances, content strategies and monetisation, data in its various forms is everywhere and companies are challenged with harnessing and analysing it smartly for greater returns.

Here are some of the top trends driving media companies:

  1. Mobile and Social – What Consumers Want

Audiences today expect video to be on mobile. According to Ooyala’s Q4 2017 video index, mobile’s share of video plays in Asia-Pacific surpassed 60% and the medium had the most share of plays amongst other devices in the region.

It is thus unsurprising that companies have evolved their digital strategies according to consumers’ media consumption habits. In the UK, The Guardian’s Mobile Innovation Lab has experimented with elements like offline mobile news content for commuters to improve mobile news delivery.

Social media video continues to grow, driving media companies to lean more on social to promote and enhance their content, and grow their audiences. Content, strategic partnerships, innovation and branding are key to their growth in the future.

  1. Data and AI for Greater Efficiency

For greater content production and publishing efficiencies, media organisations are looking at deep data, automation and artificial intelligence (AI). The BBC, for example, has turned to technology to help personalise content across India.

The focus on more granular applications of asset metadata has also led companies to AI capabilities. Modern data-driven media platforms connect and streamline content supply chains to help media companies search their content archives for video, audio or text files with facial recognition, language translation, visual text identification, and more.

  1. Immersion with AR and VR

With mobile devices getting more ubiquitous and advancements in 5G connectivity, we’re looking towards a future of more immersive video content, thanks to continuous progress developing virtual reality (VR), 360-degree video, and augmented reality (AR) technology.

A study confirmed that VR increases viewer engagement with journalism, particularly with larger-scale experiences. And VR360 ads were found to perform better than traditional ads, with advanced platforms supporting VR360 playback for VOD and live.

Interest for AR is rising within the wider industry. Consider The New York Times’ integration of AR into its stories, including features published during the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Data at the centre

As media companies strive to be innovative in monetising content and diversifying revenue streams, it is data that will increase their chances for success and lead them into the next era of media.

Digital, Tech, Marketing & Start-Ups in Asia

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