Staff Reporters
Aug 18, 2014

Malaysia's media landscape: Q&A with Astro's Henry Tan

Henry Tan, COO of Astro Malaysia, discusses the complex and changing media landscape in Malaysia.

Henry Tan
Henry Tan

What is unique about Malaysia, what are the changes, challenges and opportunities?

Malaysia is small, colourful and changing.

For starters, Malaysia has a population of 28 million but it is far from homogenous. No common language, common culture nor common religion and three distinct ethnic groups woven in parts by four key languages—challenging for a planner to say the least! The progressive middle class is the biggest and fastest growing group.

Increasing affluence, education, technology and access to information have led to lifestyle and media consumption changes. Free to air TV was king of the mass market but mass is being eroded by growing choices. The progressive middle class has evolved beyond watching primetime drama to consuming a rich variety of content that includes food and Korean trends to international news, series and documentaries. Astro is the only TV option that grew in the last five years. Over 50 per cent are viewing in HD quality.  Readership of Malay newspapers has overtaken viewership of primetime Malay drama. Radio is now the highest reaching medium. Malaysians are digitally and socially active.  Islamic interest is at an all-time high. Viewership on the internet continues to climb. Top social media pages belong to local celebrities and the No. 1 YouTube channel is Astro Gempak. Whilst old stereotypes are being replaced media buyers still cling to old notions.

Consumers move in a media saturated world. What do advertisers and media professionals need to do to grab and hold their attention?

Old methodology is stifling the new world.

Old habits do die hard! The consumer and media world have changed yet we cling to the old familiar ways. There is so much talk and brag about anytime, anywhere, yet viewership is measured and evaluated based on ratings at one particular point in time! Isn't aggregated viewing share and time spent a better indication of consumer preference? Used for the internet it has yet to be applied to TV. A different value is attached to pay vs free newspapers, but no such distinction is accorded between pay vs free TV. Why? Is it because newspapers started as pay and TV as free and as such old mindsets prevail?

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CPRP (cost per rating point) is convenient but not effective. It is ironic that as consumers we want customisation yet as marketers the approach taken is often a one size fits all. At the very least, we need to look at it by customer value and their preferred media or content and that requires going beyond CPRP to include quality and effectiveness considerations such as engagement.

Advertising is subjective and its value is qualitative but its evaluation is often mired by quantitative lowest cost mentality. Does anyone evaluate legal or medical services based on lowest cost?

Consumers and content are not commodities. Consumers are not equal, they vary in value, yet media buying treats all eyeballs as equal. Content is not equal in engagement yet they are treated the same. A million passive viewers is not equal to a million engaged football fans!

How can advertisers sell themselves better to consumers? What is your advice for advertisers to better communicate with consumers?

Consider content planning instead of traditional media planning.

Brands compete to win the affection and loyalty of customers. In an increasingly cluttered, fragmented, noisy world, it is increasingly hard and expensive to standout positively. The brand needs to stand for something meaningful and the better the brand associates with content properties that reinforce its position, the more valuable a brand gets. For example if fun and laughter are at the core of a brand, it will benefit from being totally immersed in comedy content—with most content being 360 today the brand can ride on comedy on air, on ground (ie events), online, mobile, radio, merchandising etc. Brand and content aligned and fully 360!

What is the impact of digital and some of the most telling changes?

Digital and social media have spurred TV viewership.

The two fastest growing platforms in Malaysia are undoubtedly the internet and Astro. There is a symbiotic relationship. Both share similar profiles—progressive, urban and higher income skewed, both have exceeded penetration of 50 per cent to 70 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively, and both provide choice.

Digital has been growing gangbusters and has been a boon for TV viewership. Take the FIFA World Cup for example. Naysayers argued that the viewing time is not conducive, yet TV viewership jumped 20 per cent to 40 per cent, depending on matches, and digital viewership leaped 300 per cent when compared to the last World Cup in South Africa. Social-media chatter engaged fringe viewers and converted them to fans. You can't be actively chatting if you haven't been watching! In addition, viewing was made easy with matches made available across all platforms on air, online and over-the-top (OTT). Literally, World Cup everywhere! We see the same viewership jump for other signature shows, be it the No.1 comedy show "Maharaja Lawak", the language learning phenomenon "Oh My English!", the latest Islamic sensation "Pencetus Ummah" and for LIVE news on Astro Awani channel. Social media drives up viewership.

What are the new innovations on the horizon?

The big challenge for Astro in the near future is to extend from serving the household's viewing needs to that of the individuals, ushering in MeTV, my content on my screen (or any screen) anytime, anywhere. PVR (personal video recorder) started the revolution and the evolution continues with VOD and OTT. User interface and friendliness will improve and ability to recommend will be introduced to allow customers to see what they want, on their preferred screen, when they want to, in just two clicks.

What will be the new normal in the next three years?

Content is king and content brands take the throne.

Quality content will continue to reign—irrespective of platform, short or long form, quality matters! In fact, quality content will always travel further and in the new world, faster.

Content brands will overshadow channel brands—in the old world of push marketing, the channel brand or content home was the hero. In an era of push and pull marketing, where consumers can easily search and call for what they want, content brands rule. "Maharaja Lawak" is better known and has bigger viewership than the "Warna" channel that houses it. Distributed across all platforms—TV, online and OTT—"Lawak" is pulled 10 times more on the internet than its TV viewership. Simply put that is 2 million paid viewers on TV and 20 million on the internet!


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