The past year has been a sink or swim moment for many streaming services in Asia-Pacific. But it isn’t just the arrival of the House of Mouse that has shaken things up. Chinese giants are aggressively pursuing Southeast Asian viewers. India has become a key battleground for international services, causing local players to boost their offerings. And while the pandemic drove a surge in streaming entertainment, not everyone was quick enough to develop the right strategy to capitalise on this demand.
The top two streaming entertainment services in APAC, YouTube and Netflix, retained their spots for another year in Campaign Asia-Pacific and NielsenIQ’s Asia’s Top 1000 Brands report. But there were big swings in the rest of the category ranking.
It will come as no surprise that Disney+ has achieved meteoric gains in APAC, up 81 places to become the eighth most popular streaming entertainment brand. Walt Disney’s subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) service rolled out to several markets across APAC in the past year, which correspond to its most popular geographies in the ranking. It had the highest rating in Indonesia (3), Vietnam and New Zealand (4) and Singapore (5). It had the lowest rating in Greater China (China, Hong Kong and Taiwan) and South Korea (11), where it is yet to launch. In India, where it is Disney+ Hotstar, it ranks ninth, while Hotstar ranks fourth.
The pandemic caused a perfect storm for Disney+’s rollout, says Paolo Cuttorelli, VP and general manager of APAC, Middle East and Africa at OTT tech firm Evergent.
“Although Disney+ was already expected to bring in staggering user growth across the Asia-Pacific region, given the strength of the brand and their IP, the pandemic helped supercharge and surpass expectations as people had to stay home,” he tells Campaign Asia-Pacific.
Disney+ was certainly not the only streaming service to prosper for a spike in home viewing. A total of 15 brands gained 20 or more places in the streaming entertainment ranking in 2021; all besides Disney+ are local.
Tony Gunnarsson, principal analyst of TV, video and advertising at Omdia, explains that 2020 was the year of online video streaming globally.
“With a global pandemic, audiences everywhere took to online video streaming like never before,” he says. “This led to a push not just for the big premium SVoD services like Netflix, Amazon and indeed Disney—but right across the board. Omdia observed spikes in subscriber additions through Q2 and Q4 2020 for big and small services, including local and regional non-US brands.”
Indeed, while Disney+ may have had made the biggest splash in Asia, it did not achieve the highest growth rate in the Top 1000 Brands ranking. It was trumped in that regard by Tencent Video, under the brand name V.qq (10), which jumped 94 places to join the top 10.
Chinese drama ‘Falling into your smile’ has been recently trending on WeTV
Chinese firms accounted for the majority of growth in the streaming entertainment category in 2021. China Network Television, under Cntv.cn (16), and 56.com, achieved the third and fourth-highest lift, of 77 and 50 places respectively. PPTV (35) was another big jumper, up 37 places. Other Chinese firms towards the top of the ranking had lower gains, including iQiyi (4), Bilibili (7), Youku (11) and Tudou (29).
Concurrently, US streaming companies tumbled slightly, including Google Play (12) and iTunes (15), which fell eight and six places, respectively, and to a lesser degree, Spotify (5) and YouTube Premium (9), which both fell two places.
This is somewhat explained by an adjustment in the weighting of responses from China in the Top 1000 Brands report, to more accurately reflect the importance of the China market. The reweighting resulted in a general rise through the rankings for both China-based companies and companies favoured by Chinese consumers.
But Chinese firms are also investing heavily in Southeast Asia. Tencent purchased Malaysian streamer Iflix in June last year, with a view to using it as a conduit to expand its own streaming platform WeTV into Southeast Asia. WeTV has subsequently recorded strong growth in Thailand and Indonesia, and it captured 5% of new paying subscribers in Southeast Asia in the first quarter of 2021, according to Media Partners Asia. Baidu-backed video streaming platform iQiyi opened an international headquarters in Singapore in December and revealed plans in March to launch a talent agency in Southeast Asia to cultivate its own entertainers. It captured 3% of new subscribers in the region in Q1, according to the same report.
Indian platforms also witnessed significant growth, led by Zee TV (25), Sun TV & Sun Direct (38), ALT Balaji (38), SonyLIV (25) and Eros Now (55), which all jumped between 21 and 42 places. At the top of the ranking Hotstar (14), Jio (17) and Airtel (18) gained four, 14 and 16 places, respectively. SonyLIV’s rise can be attributed to a major revamp it underwent in June last year, after which it doubled down on original content, launching 17 originals in the past year. It also has a portfolio of sports content, including rights to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Gunnarsson believes that the arrival of multiple US direct-to-consumer (DTC) services like Disney+, HBO Max and Discovery+ into APAC forced local and regional services to up their game in 2020 in order to withstand the competition.
“Indian and Chinese streamers—some of which have been around for a few years now—took the cue from the US and started to improve how they market their services,” Gunnarsson explains. “Some introduced new promotions, new pricing, new bundles, and generally looked towards improving curation of content on the services and better user experiences.”
“In short, existing local and regional streaming services have approached the next-generation model employed by the new US DTC services—and this appears to have paid off,” he adds.
Other countries witnessed peaks and troughs. In South Korea, streaming service Tving (59) rose 33 places, as Oksusu (92), Watcha Play (92) and Naver (59) recorded some of the biggest losses, down 51, 42 and 38 places, respectively.
Similar clashes happened in Hong Kong. Viu (13), owned by one of Hong Kong’s largest telcos PCCW, fell three places, despite considerable growth in Southeast Asia in the fourth quarter of 2020 and first quarter of 2021, according to reports by Media Partners Asia. Viu has a strong slate of Korean dramas and said its paid subscribers grew 47% year-on-year in 2020, reaching 5.3 million in February of this year.
As Viu fell slightly, smaller Hong Kong-based competitor HMVOD (74) rose 25 places in the ranking. The company, which offers Cantonese-language original content, slashed monthly subscription fees by nearly half during the pandemic and told Variety in March it witnessed a 200% surge in usage throughout 2020.
Elsewhere, U Next (49), which is Japan’s third-largest streamer behind Netflix and Amazon, jumped 29 places.
The biggest gainers, in descending order:
V.qq, up 94 places to 10
Onto the biggest downward swings, New Zealand subscription video on demand (SVoD) service Lightbox (78), which was acquired by Sky Television New Zealand at the end of 2019 and in 2020 merged with Neon, witnessed the biggest loss, down 52 places. Rakuten Viki (102), which streams Asian dramas, dropped 45 places.
Vietnam accounted for two of the top losses; social video platform Xem.vn (87) and streamer Cliptv.vn (55), which fell 43 and 32 places, respectively.
The biggest losses:
Lightbox, down -52 places to 78
These are followed by Vivendi-owned Dailymotion (69), which dropped 36 places; Philippines OTT content platform IWantTFC (59), a merged service of iWant and TFC Online owned and operated by ABS-CBN Corporation, which fell 35 places; and LiveLeak (87), a website best known for hosting violence and gory footage, which fell 33 places.
Cuttorelli explains that Dailymotion operates in the challenging user-generated content space, which is dominated by YouTube.
“YouTube’s network effects are difficult to surmount,” he surmises. “As users grow on YouTube and as more content gets added, that platform becomes more valuable to users, which begets more videos being uploaded to competitors. The result is a virtuous cycle for YouTube and the side effect is that this squeezes out rival players like Dailymotion.”