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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
As the region’s digital ad spend grows, consumer data has become a massive by-product for brands, but lack of training in digital and data related skills is a key barrier to campaign success.
Research by Adobe Digital Insights reveals that gaps exist in the applications of data-led creativity in digital campaigns for Asia Pacific. 65% of 18 to 34-year-olds prefer ads based on their interests, with a third of the same demographic believing advertisers can do better in personalisation.
Much of this can be attributed to brands appointing multiple agencies that end up working in silos focusing on distinct and individual KPIs. The lack of digital collaboration ultimately results in wasted advertising dollars.
“The challenge in tailoring digital campaigns lies in recognising where data originates and how they influence creative briefs to develop highly relevant and engaging content. Especially in Southeast Asia, where programmatic is only beginning to take off, brands must be quick to pick up on key learnings, ensuring advertising budget drives toward achieving business bottom lines,” said Miranda Dimopoulos, CEO & Ambassador to SEA, IAB Singapore.
To encourage a data-driven approach, it is imperative on brands to leverage a Creative Communications Process framework across the entire campaign development process.
“As data-driven marketing becomes the new normal, it is important to advocate data-inspired creativity among marketers, agencies and brand owners. Using the Creative Communications Process framework, digital campaigns can be readily optimised with insights from the data signals around us, to develop engaging and impactful creative platforms and campaign ideas,” said Deepika Nikhilender, Senior Vice President, Xaxis Asia Pacific.
Creativity Inspired by Data accounts for current industry needs, with contribution by senior representatives from BBH, Twitter, Digimind, Xaxis, Wavemaker and Unruly.
To get a copy of the Creativity Inspired by Data white paper, click here.
Myanmar is going through a digital transformation. AdsMy, a local marketing tech platform, have produced a trends deck covering digital marketing and consumer behaviour for Myanmar in 2018. Programmatic, mobile, video, native and digital advertising are all highlighted as growth areas.
Myanmar is a highly mobile market, backed up by the latest research showing 99% of households now own a SIM card. This points to an interesting dynamic where consumers own SIM cards to make calls, but will borrow a common handset from friends or relatives.
Facebook and Gaming are the most popular mobile pastimes in Myanmar, although 95% of consumers still use their mobile phones for phone calls.
With Mobile quickly becoming the go to channel for brands, there is a quiet revolution happening in the world of marketing. Mobile is growing up, and getting serious as it moves front and centre. Here are our top Mobile advertising trends in APAC for the year ahead.
1. Rise of the apps
App use is growing 22% year on year, driven by increased smartphone adoption. Consumers already spend more than 50% of their total digital media time in app. This promises to grow again in 2018.
2. Gaming is the new TV
With 27% of time on mobile devices spent gaming, mobile games are slowly replacing TV as the backdrop to everyday life. One of the biggest opportunities for brands in 2018 is leveraging mobile gaming as a high reach, context neutral environment, just like TV or UGC / Social Media.
3. Mobile video keeps on rolling
Mobile video advertising spend has grown by 63% in over 2017. And with 4 times as many consumers preferring video over static advertising, brands will continue to top up in 2018.
4. Mobile native creativity
As consumers spend a majority of their media time on mobile, expect mobile native interactive and vertical video formats and functionality to move front and centre. Marketers will make more use of mobile capabilities to engage consumers in 2018.
5. Consumer choice and permission based advertising
With the rise of subscription media like Netflix, and increased adoption of ad blockers, consumers have more choice over their exposure to ads. Rewarded ads on mobile get 68% approval ratings from consumers, compared to only 20% who approve of pre-roll.
6. Mobile only consumers
With 65% of consumers in emerging markets already mobile only, and those in developed economies very much mobile first, the next generation may never experience the internet the way we do. Avid voice searchers, and heavy app users who avoid the desktop, they will see the world in a whole new way.
7. Mobile brand safety tracking and viewability grows up
Mobile devices are personal, so it’s even more crucial that advertising is delivered in a way that works for both advertisers and customers. Brand safety and viewability measurement will drive increased scrutiny of media investment, and a cleaner advertising experience for consumers.
8. Programmatic growth
Advertising spend is shifting fast to programmatic, and even faster from desktop to mobile. With mobile video set to account for 28% of ALL ad spend by 2019 it’s time to get on the mobile programmatic train.
A quick check of their books reveals that in the first quarter of 2017, 92 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising across Asia Pacific (ex. China) went to Facebook and Google.
That’s an incredible statistic. The good news is that digital marketing in the region is clearly experiencing strong growth, with revenues up by $1.23 billion year-on-year in 2017. The bad news? Of that $1.23 billion in growth, virtually all of it – $1.13 billion in total – goes to Google and Facebook, with only $100 million to share across the remainder of APAC publishers.
Facebook and Google combined revenue this quarter hit 51% of all APAC revenue, meaning more budget goes to to Google and Facebook than every other digital publisher in the region put together.
Google and Facebook also forge ahead in terms of revenue against all media in the region, taking 15 cents in every 1 dollar spent. This is up from 12% – or 12 cents in the dollar – last year, and represents the increase in budget flowing from traditional media, including TV.
Finally, a note from history. In the early 1900s, the United States had around 2,000 firms producing one or more cars. By 1920 the number of firms had decreased to about 100 and by 1929 to 44. In 1976 the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association in the US had only 11 members.
In many ways digital advertising, and the industry that surrounds it, is it’s own worst enemy. All dollars eventually become digital dollars, so it is the only show in town. But a show obsessed with the next shiny thing, full of incomprehensible – and often meaningless – metrics, and more importantly, critically lacking in real transparency. Programmatic has only accelerated these tendencies.
Google and Facebook have done a huge amount to bring new money into digital advertising by simplifying advertising for brand marketers. And they have reaped the rewards.
However, they are now part of a systemic change representing an existential threat to an entire industry – media, advertising, agencies, publishing, journalism are all caught up in this – across the region and globally. Change rarely comes without casualties. The struggle for monetisation continues.
A huge debt to Jason Kint (this chart in particular) and Brian Nowak at Morgan Stanley for the inspiration for this article, and the work they have done creating similar graphs for Global and US ad revenues. Corrections welcome. Numbers are based on Facebook and Google publicly filed earnings information and best industry advertising revenue estimates – but someone out there may have a better view. The major assumption in this data is to exclude Chinese advertising spend both from Google and Facebook earnings information and APAC industry spend estimates to avoid distorting the data in 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.
Notes and References.
1. Google 2017 1st Quarter Earnings Report: a. Estimated based on reported total APAC revenues x 90% (percentage of Google revenues represented by advertising) b. Excludes Google revenue in China estimated based on APAC revenue data sources.
2. Facebook 2017 1st Quarter Earnings Report: a. Estimated based on reported total APAC revenue by User Geography b. Excludes Facebook revenue in China estimated based on APAC revenue data sources.
3. APAC digital revenue data compiled from: IAB, eMarketer, GroupM, ZenithOptimedia, McKinsey & Company
4. APAC all media revenue data compiled from: IAB, eMarketer, GroupM, ZenithOptimedia, McKinsey & Company.
1. V-Key managing trust and identity with virtual hardware on your phone
V-Key is a global leader in software based digital security. V-Key is the inventor of V-OS, the world’s first virtual secure element that uses advanced cryptographic and cybersecurity protections to comply with standards previously reserved only for expensive hardware solutions. How does it work? They create a virtual hardware smart chip within an app, meaning identity is held in the same way as on a cashcard smart chip – and with the same level of security. Interesting ultimately for anyone concerned with real world identity, which is why they already work with governments worldwide. Prepare for your passport to change in the near future. Trust simplified.
Handshakes applies natural language processing and machine learning technology in an innovative way to analyse corporate data and publicly available unstructured data. The platform can then fuse this data with a companies existing unstructured databases to provide strategic intelligence about who to trust and who to do business with. Exciting stuff and sure to disrupt back offices globally – corporate due diligence is suddenly a trivial task.
Xjera Labs focuses on revolutionary smart video content analytics (VCA) by implementing deep learning based VCA for various commercial applications. Kind of like Minority Report.
4. IOT Factory simplify the Internet of Things for normal entrepreneurs
IOT Factory have built a unique Software Platform to make any sensor, any device, using any network (M2M, LoRa, SigFox, BLE and many more) speak a desired language, through dashboards, reports, smart alerts, and easy integration capabilities. Essentially they’ve automated the back end of the Internet of Things so non-technical innovators can start to build on it. Thank you.
SettleMint is a fintech player working with distributed ledger technology. One of their projects, called SettleMint Ballot Box, uses immutable blockchain technology to record votes. In doing so, the company aims to address any doubts regarding the outcome of voting processes and elections. Use cases for the blockchain are crucial for pushing this forward.
6. Playpass bringing versatile Apple Pay / Paywave type technology to events
PlayPass are all about events and technology. They provide RFID solutions to allow better event management – in short every attendee gets an RFID wristband. From the moment the gates open real-time reporting tracks and displays the number of visitors on-site, which brands and activations are of interest to that visitor and what they consume and purchase.