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Asia – a broadcast technology opportunity?

Posted on Jan 28, 2023 by FEED Staff

The Asia-Pacific region is vast, yet often appears compressed down to a single acronym in western business plans. We talk with media technology providers about what APAC is and isn’t – and what the opportunities are for broadcast

Neal Romanek: The term ‘APAC’ itself is an absurdly reductionist expression for an area that encompasses a vast percentage of the world’s population. How can western businesses think of the region in more practical and useful ways?

Alison Pavitt: Great question – as you point out, the APAC term is too wide to enable businesses to try any one-size-fits-all strategy. The key is to educate yourself. Learn the specific requirements, legislations, trends and operating practices for each country, then establish what similarities exist between countries or regions. Only then can you identify where solutions are likely to meet an existing or emerging need. As any marketer will tell you, it’s all about segmentation. 

To effectively segment, it’s vital to nurture your contacts – specifically reseller and SI partners in the region. Resellers will be key to your success; they know the market better than anyone else, the cultural sensitivities that should be respected, they’ve built trust with contacts and networks which you can leverage.

Kevin Dowd: It is more useful to think of APAC in separate regions: China, including Hong Kong and Macau. North-east – Japan, South Korea, Taiwan. Indochina – Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. South-east – Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines. ANZ and Oceania – Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa and other island chains in the South Pacific. And the Indian subcontinent – India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh.

Paul Shen: APAC is one of the largest-growing media markets, and there are a lot of innovations in both production and distribution. For a media technology company to be successful in this market, they not only need to bring the best technology to the market, but more importantly they must innovate with them.

Venu Iyengar: A local technology partner can provide invaluable insight into the tech landscape, infrastructure situation and unique domain conditions like the device ecosystem. This input can be critical in ensuring a project gets off the ground. 

A local partner managing operations also ensures you have higher levels of responsiveness for international brands, along with an understanding of local issues. For instance, we have been working with Wurl in India to enable content owners to explore the launch of FAST channels, and capitalise on the substantial amount of content the country produces, for audiences outside the country.

Neal Romanek: What are some of the differences across regions that people should be aware of?

Paul Shen: Broadcast markets in APAC are quite different from country to country, due to rules, regulations and ownership structures.

Kevin Dowd: Each market has characteristics that affect investment from foreign companies in broadcast. These include telecoms infrastructure – internet, mobile, satellite and national fibre – broadcast standards, like NTSC or PAL, and whether the market or country has transitioned from analogue to digital – something Indonesia has just started.

Alison Pavitt: In terms of codifying the differences, starting with a geographical split is undoubtedly helpful, but each country will still have unique requirements and be at a distinct stage of their regulatory and technical journey, whether it’s the rate at which new IP technologies are being deployed, the status of censorship and restrictions on selling and distributing content, or the impact the global pandemic has had. 

Products that have a hardware component will have to factor supply chain issues into their plans, with many pre-ordering well ahead of time to secure tech required for the future, given the continuing lockdowns that occur in the region.

Venu Iyengar: People need to understand the scale of the APAC media market, and the differences in size, infrastructure development, geography, incomes, cultural frames of reference, content regulations and business standards.

Average revenue per user varies widely, with smaller but higher per-capita-income markets like Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia at the top end and some of the bigger, more economically complex markets such as India, Pakistan and Indonesia at the other. Then Australia and New Zealand tend to be treated as an extension of the western markets.

Another huge differentiator is language. While English is widely spoken in some APAC countries, it is not necessarily dominant – except in the case of Australia and New Zealand. There is a huge amount of local language content produced, often in several languages across different regions within a single country.

Businesses whose products have a hardware component have to factor supply chain issues into their plans

Neal Romanek: Where are the big centres of media innovation in APAC?

Venu Iyengar: APAC has thriving centres in every major country, with some like Singapore emerging as regional hubs. India is rising as a new centre due to its educated, technically skilled and abundant workforce. At Planetcast, we’re building media solutions and services from India for the rest of the world. We have over 100 people in our software team, which means we’re more able than many western companies in the country to develop bespoke solutions. 

Alison Pavitt: The transition to cloud- and IP-based workflows accelerated during the pandemic, and while it’s clear there’s a trend for mobile-first and OTT in certain areas, linear TV channels still hold their own as destination collective viewing experiences and vital revenue-generating services for broadcasters and media companies. As elsewhere, landmark sports events are one of the key drivers for this. 

Popular streaming services are investing heavily in territories like India – a multilingual country – where they’re financing content in local languages to attract customers. 

Kevin Dowd: North Asian countries, including China, have built out significant infrastructure such as nationwide fibre backbones and 5G-supporting, reliable, high-speed broadcasts up to 4K.

Overall, networks have improved dramatically over the last 30 years, which has allowed a significant upgrade in broadcast quality and a proliferation of new channels. Networks are less reliable in SE Asia and Indochina – with the exception of Malaysia, Singapore and major cities like Bangkok and Manila.

Neal Romanek: How much and in what cases do Asian countries rely on western investment and tech solutions?

Paul Shen: We’ve seen lots of innovation in China and India. In these markets, the majority of broadcasters depend on the domestic market and investment. They adopt a lot of tech solutions from the western world, but both have healthy domestic technology solutions.

Alison Pavitt: It’s interesting to discern reliance and preference. Certain locally designed solutions offer the functionality that a territory needs at an attractive price, while sometimes a solution designed for an international market has a richer feature set which ticks more boxes. 

Where western companies can work better together is in ensuring we’re visible, listening to the market and sharing knowledge and experience of deploying cloud and IP tech.

Venu Iyengar: APAC companies looking to grow beyond their local markets are benefitting from western investment. Given the current global atmosphere, however, investors are seeking options with lower risk levels. They need to have confidence in these companies. Western investments in APAC-based companies that are on a firm footing locally, such as ours, are fuelling expansion into the US, Europe and beyond.

Kevin Dowd: Companies providing wireless remote production solutions have performed especially well in recent years. This is more true post-pandemic, as major events like the Olympics and the Asian Games return to the region.

There’s still weakness in local broadcast equipment manufacturing, which allows US and European companies access to a major developing market. Opportunities abound in building out IP infrastructures to support large production centres and region-wide broadcasters.

North Asian countries including China have built out significant telecommunications infrastructure

Neal Romanek: APAC-created content is finding a dedicated audience around the world. How do you see that content developing for a global audience?

Paul Shen: Some parts of the market are moving faster than others in delivering content to global audiences, like Korea and India. In the coming years, we believe we will see more content from them which will focus on worldwide appeal. 

Venu Iyengar: One of the biggest post-Covid content trends has been increased cross-cultural consumption. As such, our customers and other content owners are increasingly thinking of global audiences. In this process, the diaspora – whether from India or other APAC nations – is always the first community to target. But other groups are embracing content from other cultures – whether Bollywood productions, K-dramas or other foreign-language films and series. 

With optimised post-production tools that add enriched metadata, automated subtitling and multi-audio capabilities, it is easier than ever to repurpose content for non-local-language audiences.

Kevin Dowd: China has the largest streaming audiences in the world. Pre-Covid, a popular daytime soap opera broadcast by a large OTT service provider had over 200 million viewers. However, content remains heavily censored and the market for foreign producers restricted.

In terms of content, the region has a large and dynamic film production industry with major studios in every country. It also has a music industry which broadcasts some of the largest shows in the world, and a vast sports market that is growing significantly year on year. This substantially adds to the demand for high-quality, low-latency transmission to homes and mobile devices. 

Demand for OTT services and local online video platforms are in areas where foreign companies such as AWS and Azure have made inroads, and there is still a potential market for hosting local content for worldwide distribution.

Neal Romanek: What are some of the greatest needs and pain points for broadcasters and content owners across APAC? What kind of help and collaboration opportunities are there for western businesses? 

Venu Iyengar: In the current environment, all eyes are on monetisation. One of the issues that’s top priority for APAC media companies is distribution. They’re wondering how to increase reach and find audiences at a lower cost, and how to leverage platforms like FAST and OTT that can help monetise valuable content. Finally, standards and practices are something they need to keep track of, especially as compliance with multiple local regulations gets complex with growing distribution.

Alison Pavitt: While the transition to IP-based workflows has grown significantly, broadcasters are still trying to find the best way to deploy this technology, particularly if they still have no plans to move to an all-IP facility and need to continue using legacy systems. But with the rise in edge computing, where providers like AWS are building local zones to create low-latency access to virtual machines, cloud technologies are becoming more widely available, making the case for cloud-based workflows increasingly viable. 

As broadcasters in the west adopt a hybrid approach towards cloud and IP, it’s here that collaboration and knowledge sharing between the two regions can benefit broadcasters and service providers in APAC, as they start to follow the same path. 

This round table first featured in the winter 2022 issue of FEED magazine.

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