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APAC State of Play: Accelerating Transformation Through 2021

Greg de Bressac, Vice President Sales and Customer Success APAC, Grass Valley

It seems next to impossible to distill the media industry trends impacting the Asia Pacific region into a single mid-year assessment. Yet, I’m going to attempt to do just that here.

Spanning three billion people, 48 countries and thousands of media and entertainment companies, APAC is far from one homogenous region. Indeed, while 2021 has continued to be an arduous year for the whole planet, areas within APAC have had their specific challenges. South Asia, for example, has had a massive COVID problem for the last few months and the media industry in that part of the region has worked hard to keep moving forward in the face of huge human tragedy. On the other hand, East Asia has had far fewer COVID cases but has had other market disruptions and numerous lockdowns and restrictions. These have hit live event television and its entire media ecosystem hard.

Despite the differing effects of the pandemic on various parts of APAC, we have also seen some common trends that have picked up steam right across the region in the first half of 2021 and are set to continue through the year.

Accelerated streaming evolution

If the past six months were characterized by one powerful trend throughout APAC, it has to be the momentum of the move to streaming and away from traditional broadcast television.

We have seen several traditional US broadcast networks shifting out of the cable TV business and into streaming media. Indeed, a lot of British and American content traditionally delivered via cable TV is being streamed in 2021. This shift was already occurring but has accelerated throughout the pandemic.

Meanwhile, streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon have strengthened their position in these regions, tapping into more local content, and newer services such as Disney+ Hotstar and Paramount+ are also starting to establish a foothold.

Nonetheless, it is not just the big international players driving streaming growth across APAC. In virtually every country, there are strong local platforms, such as Viu in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, Iqiyi and WeTV in China and Viki out of Japan, providing locally produced content that is hugely popular with home audiences. And it’s not just the likes of K-drama (Korean soap operas) and Bollywood spectacles gripping APAC viewers but live sports – from South Asian cricket to Japanese basketball to Australian rules football.

Oceania offers a prime example of how the trend to live sports streaming has accelerated, as overseas and local leagues alike are signing on with services. Streaming platforms previously seen as sidelines – for instance, Foxtel Sports’ pioneering Kayo Sports – have taken off. And they have been joined by rising local competitors such as Stan, which has set out its stall as the home of Rugby, Wimbledon and UEFA football. In 2021, we are seeing virtually all major sports in Oceania now on some form of streaming platform – an idea that would have been anathema even just a year or two ago.

West meets East

While strong local APAC streaming players have benefited from the same viewing surge that has driven online TV growth worldwide during successive lockdowns, the big global media brands are not conceding anything. Disney+ is only just beginning its expansion into APAC, while Paramount Plus is launching into several new markets in the second half of 2021 – and we will continue to see more traditional broadcasters moving into the streaming sphere this year.

There is clearly a battleground forming – but also new forms of cooperation between the global giants and local players, which need the balance of having each other’s content. We are already seeing partnerships between regional players such as with Disney+ Hotstar and Astro in Malaysia, the Netflix and Foxtel partnership or the launch of Paramount+ in conjunction with Network Ten in Australia. Regional operators may see global brands as a serious threat, but they also recognize that working with these big international brands is valuable. Plus, they have a lot of the content that the global media companies need to grow their subscribers in local markets. It also seems likely there will be more pressure on international providers to invest locally in their own programming – in much the same way broadcasters need to adhere to local content rules in many countries.

Demand prompts cloud

Another big trend we are seeing through 2021 is the use of new technologies such as cloud and remote production to meet the continued expansion of massive markets in China and India. Both are ramping up content production but have yet to reach local saturation. With so much demand, these markets are both focused inwards – with India in particular going through a surge of interest in local news content. What’s more, we are also already seeing more news and other live content produced using cloud-based innovations beyond these markets.

In fact, massive demand for live content amid difficult ongoing circumstances has led to growth in remote production, cloud and other innovative approaches throughout the region. Five years ago, who could envisage a production team plugging a camera into a 4G or 5G bonded cellular line, along with 10 other cameras, and producing a live show with all signaling coming back to a remote production center in the cloud? At Grass Valley, we are now able to scale up and do just that – meeting a customer need to, say, produce live coverage of an event in Australia this week, Malaysia the next and Singapore the week after. In essence, wherever media companies have fixed or mobile internet coverage, they can create live content.

As we see the landscape for video consumption and distribution being transformed before our eyes in 2021, so we also see the technologies and methods propelling growth in the media industry taking hold. New and innovative approaches are being seen as normal instead of an experiment. These progressive and exciting developments offer a glimpse of a more uplifting and adventurous time ahead!