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As streaming services gain screen time in Southeast Asia, one local contender makes strides

Written by Ursula Florene Published on     4 mins read

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Singapore-based Pops Worldwide is attracting viewers with an approach that differs from global entertainment giants.

Changing habits are shaking up the content industry in Southeast Asia. Consumers are increasingly looking at screens for personal entertainment and the pandemic has further nudged them towards music and video streaming formats.

Just last week, Disney decided to shut down several of its sports and movie channels in the region to focus on a direct-to-consumer approach and its streaming service Disney+. A December survey from digital marketing company The Trade Desk saw a 57% increase in OTT (over-the-top) content consumption last year. It’s the dawn of a golden era for digital entertainment platforms.

The Singapore-headquartered entertainment platform Pops Worldwide is riding on an influx of new subscribers. The company plans to raise USD 50 million in its Series D round in the coming months, CEO and co-founder Esther Nguyen told KrASIA. The funds are set to underpin the firm’s development in Indonesia, a market it just entered in September, and to advance its D2C plans.

Growth in Indonesia

“We’re seeing really positive growth in Indonesia,” Nguyen said. “We have assembled an amazing team and already got 30 brands and 40 top creators and KOLs (key opinion leaders) there.” Pops Indonesia has around 8 million users and worked with well-known brands such as Indofood, Grab, Gojek, and Blibli on ad campaigns.

Pops was founded in 2007 and currently also operates in Vietnam and Thailand. The firm says it is recording over 52 billion views annually on its platforms, with over 407 million users to date and 150 million new registers in 2020 alone. Nguyen explains that the majority of them still come from her home country Vietnam. She initially aimed to build a “Spotify for Vietnam,” giving local musicians access to a wider listeners base, and getting them proper licensing and intellectual property rights protection.

Today, Pops offers a broad range of content, from music streaming, to drama and cartoon series, anime, and webcomics. It runs a creative agency for micro-influencers and content creators, and works with brands to produce advertisement.

Thinking local

Southeast Asia has welcomed the industry. The US streaming services Netflix and Disney+, the Chinese giants iQiyi and WeTV, along with many local players such as the Indonesian Mola TV and Vidio, are all vying for eyeballs. In order to adapt, global giants are playing the local card. Netflix collaborates with Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture to involve the country’s filmmakers. Disney+ is also raising the amount of local content on its platform.

Nguyen believes that her teams are better suited to understand tastes and preferences. “Everyone looks at Southeast Asia as one region,” she said. “But it has different demographics. We are more working with local content creators, on the type of content that resonates with local customers.”

Pops however also partners with large global producers such as Warner Media, NBCUniversal, Discovery, TV Asahi, The Pokemon Company, and Toei Animation. As for music, it works with third-party platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Apple, Spotify, Google, and Amazon. Instead of competing, Nguyen considers them as more complementary to its service.

A different approach

While the likes of Netflix and Disney+ focus on movies, documentaries, and TV series, Pops’ content is more varied. The firm works with local vloggers who post videos about challenges and other daily life activities, which are popular with teenagers nowadays.

Nguyen is not afraid of the big brands. “Our market is Southeast Asia, and I firmly believe it is not ready for subscription services,” she affirms, believing that the current mindset is still orientated towards free content, especially for younger demographics. The freemium model championed by Pops, with some ad-free content for paying subscribers, is what the market prefers, according to her.

The company first and foremost gains from its branded content production. It currently works with around 160 brands, including many fast-moving consumer goods companies such as Pocari Sweat and Vinamilk in Vietnam. The platform uses the data gathered from its 4 billion viewers to produce the branded content—short videos and advertorials—that are placed alongside its entertainment offerings.

Direct to the consumer

Nguyen hasn’t seen significant changes in user behavior throughout the pandemic, as lockdowns in its major markets Vietnam and Thailand haven’t been as severe as most other countries. “But if we look at creators or intellectual property owners, they are affected because they can’t create new content,” she said. There has been a shortage of fresh content, but production has bounced back. As for branded content, several clients pulled out as their businesses were hit.

“We focused on services like Foodpanda and reached out to new clients that are thriving in the digital space,” she said. Pops assisted its creators in hosting online concerts to get income. Online events are set to become another priority, along with live concerts.

As a next step, Pops will open an office in Japan to seek out leads for partnerships, acquisitions, and new opportunities beyond its established markets. Its last fundraising round in 2019 proves that other regions have taken notice. At the time, the firm bagged USD 30 million from investors including the Korea-based Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund.

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