Wednesday 26 April 2017

Progressive publishers looking to the East

‘Asia doesn’t see mobile as a new thing to switch to — it’s the starting point for their online lives...’
‘Asia doesn’t see mobile as a new thing to switch to — it’s the starting point for their online lives...’
Steve Dempsey

Steve Dempsey

Last week, Bloomberg News launched its first Asian website. It's an English language site, run by a five-strong team in Hong Kong, supported by Bloomberg's network of hundreds of reporters across 24 cities in Asia.

Editor-in-chief John Micklethwait told staff in a recent memo that Bloomberg was aiming to become the definitive chronicle of capitalism. "We should concentrate our firepower on the area where every Bloomberg customer - whether it is a television viewer in Baltimore, a terminal user in Berlin or a web user in Bangalore expects us to be the definitive chroniclers," Micklethwait wrote.

He also stated that there should be an improved focus on developing markets like those in Asia.

"Bloomberg is still too focused on developed markets, established finance and the Western world (especially America)," he wrote. "By contrast, capitalism is moving to private markets and the emerging world. To chronicle it, we must follow it: hence our plans to build up both our Asian and venture capital teams."

So it's no wonder Bloomberg is now hoping to make inroads into the Orient. But the company has had Asian issues in the past. When in 2012 Bloomberg published an article on the personal finances of then incoming Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, Chinese state-run businesses were told not to subscribe to the company's terminal service. Not a great outcome when you consider that over 80pc of Bloomberg's revenue comes from the terminal computer system for real-time financial market data and trading.

At the time, Bloomberg top brass intimated that the company should reconsider articles that potentially jeopardise terminal sales in the Chinese market. So don't expect any awkward exposes from Bloomberg's latest Asian venture.

And Bloomberg isn't the only media outlet trying to go far in the Far East. Last year, Business Insider launched a partnership with Tencent, the Chinese media/entertainment giant. Mashable has also opened a new office in Singapore and has plans for a launch in India. As a company that relies on social media for much of its traffic, Mashable is engaging with popular Asian social networks and messaging apps like Weibo, Line and WeChat to deliver the unique users it needs.

So why are some of the more progressive publishers earmarking Asia for expansion? Well, there's the fact that the region is home to the world's fastest growing consumer markets. A report in the Economist says Asia accounted for 26pc of global private consumption in 2014, but that that rate will grow to 31pc by 2019.

And these are consumers that are more and more likely to be connected.

In 2014, Asia had 3.3 billion mobile phone subscriptions - that's about one for every man, woman and child. By 2019, the region will have almost 4.3 billion mobile subscriptions. Increasingly these mobiles are smartphones thanks to the likes of Xiaomi and Intex, hardware makers that are producing smartphones that all but the poorest people in emerging economies can afford.

So the advertising potential of the growing middle classes and increased connectivity may well be the main driver for publishers expanding into Asia. But media outlets with a more digital DNA may well be drawn to the level of innovation that's going on in Asia.

Perversely, one of the reasons for so much technological experimentation seems to be the relative poverty in relation to developed economies. In Indonesia, for example, only 20pc of the adult population has a bank account. But almost 50pc have a Facebook account. Mobile phone companies have spotted an opportunity and are augmenting their billing systems to accommodate other forms of payment - both for bill-pay and pre-paid customers. In other countries like India and Indonesia, online retailers have been forced to implement cash-on-delivery services.

Many Asian economies are also starting their digital journeys without the baggage of western countries. Consumers and businesses don't see mobile platforms as something new that they have to switch to - they're the starting point for their online lives. Similarly, entire countries are leapfrogging earlier stages of digital infrastructure, like fixed-line communications.

But just in case it seems like Asia is only a land of opportunity for online entities, it's worth noting that print media has a bright future in the East too. According to PwC, while the global newspaper industry continues to shrink in established markets, Asia is bucking the trend. Thanks to the growth in literacy and disposable income, India and China will grow to dominate global newspaper circulation. Between them, the two nations are predicted to account for 57pc of global average daily print circulation by 2019.

With all that innovation going on, perhaps the Orient can help the printed news product reinvent itself too.

Sunday Indo Business

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