As Thai fans crowded their YouTube idols at the inaugural YouTube FanFest Thailand event in Bangkok, the screaming and cheering testified to the power and influence of social media in the country.
Within a year of launching YouTube TrueView and Thailand’s custom home page, YouTube.co.th, the nation has risen to become a top 10 market for YouTube, punching far above its weight on the global stage.
“I was just at [YouTube's] San Bruno [California] headquarters last week and all the senior guys knew about YouTube Thailand,” said Ariya Banomyong, country head of Google Thailand. “It’s not just about being in the ranking, but it’s also how it translates into the entire ecosystem we have in Thailand.”
Matching the intensity of Thai consumers and their propensity to share content and engage on social, Thai brands and media companies have been quick to join the conversation by experimenting with long-form content designed for sustained engagement.
Accelerated by the democratisation of smart devices and a growing telecommunications infrastructure, half of YouTube watch time in Thailand now happens on mobile. The rocket fuel behind this figure is Thailand’s young population of 18 to 34-year-olds. And leading them are the trend-setting creators.
“We have a very strong content partner and creator ecosystem in Thailand," said Banomyong. "We don’t lack content. The reason YouTube is so popular is because of the content, it’s not so much because of us [YouTube]. Without the content, we would be nothing. We just created the platform.”
Banomyong has had his eyes on the mobile market and Thailand’s young generations for some time, and anticipated a point where the two would merge.
“I went from Thai telco True Visions to Google and YouTube Thailand, and the reason I made the shift was that I saw early on that the Internet would become mobile,” said Banomyong. “When I opened the Google office in Thailand four years ago, the question I got asked every day was ‘when are you launching YouTube?’”
With 45 million mobile internet users, Thailand today is a mobile country. “If you go outside here and ask people about the top three apps on their mobile phone, they’ll say YouTube,” Banomyong boasted, though not inaccurately.
Thai brands learn from creators
YouTube is localised in 73 countries, including 13 in APAC. YouTube first began to localise in Japan, Korea, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand back in 2007 and 2008.
“Thailand is a baby in comparison," said Gautam Anand, director of YouTube content and operations at Google Asia-Pacific. "It’s only 1 year old, and that 1-year-old has come very far.”
The site is in the top 10 globally, has seen watch time grow 110 per cent year-over-year and has recorded 50 per cent growth in the amount of videos being uploaded by partners and creators, he added.
Thailand’s acceleration in the space has been compounded by the fact that brands have actively worked with and taken lessons from Thai creators. Thai brands can see the authentic connection creators have with their fans and have found ways to not only tap into those fan bases but evolve the way they engage and tell their own brand stories.
On stage at the YouTube Pulse event in Bangkok, John Merrifield, chief creative officer of Google Asia-Pacific, expressed that one pain for brands and advertisers globally has been learning that they need to be more like storytellers, and that the 15 or 30-second ad for television is not necessarily going to work.
This is particularly true for YouTube’s TrueView, the skippable ad format. TrueView has forced brands to think about their content in new ways. Today, 85 per cent of YouTube’s ads globally are skippable TrueView ads.
“When we first launched TrueView, we didn’t actually know if it would work, but the user behaviour, at least on television with DVRs, was at least to skip ads,” said Anand, explaining the inspiration behind TrueView’s design.
According to YouTube, TrueView has grown the platform’s partner revenue by 50 per cent. Anand believes this comes down to better user experience.
“If you don’t want to see that ad you can skip it," he said. "It’s great ROI for the advertiser because they only pay for the ad when someone actually watches their ad. At the same time there’s enough revenue being generated that our partners are succeeding.”
On the YouTube platform, this can be an effective way for brands and advertisers to reach users, compared with paying for impressions, which is susceptible to ad viewability issues. Of course the most powerful approach is still to use a media mix anchored in different content types, networks and even creators. In other words, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. On top of that, think about how those eggs can work together to reach different audiences.
“At the end of the day you want your videos to be shared,” said Banomyong. “It’s what brands want to see as well. The shareability is one success criteria of good content and video. It’s part of the paid, earned, owned media strategy and you don’t want to be on 100 per cent paid media.”
See Thailand’s top ads
Take a moment (or an hour) to explore Google's Thailand ad leaderboard, which showcases the most popular YouTube ads for the first quarter of 2015. Here are some of their characteristics.
Authentically Thai: The most striking thing about this leaderboard is how “Thai” the ads are, from Thai Life’s ad exploring the national anthem, to 7-Eleven’s tale of an inspirational teacher to the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s ‘discover Thainess’ campaign to the prank self-checking machine at the airport courtesy of Air Asia. Thai audiences respond well to stories that they can directly relate to.
YouTuber Star Power: Brands engage with their YouTube audience by using “the experts”—successful YouTube creators who understand the passionate fan community and are helping brands be part of the conversation. Both Nestlé and Lazada harnessed the creativity of popular local YouTube creator VRZO, and their message is a great combination of fun, functionality and YouTube celebrity with genies that grant online shopping wishes.
Made for digital: The majority of leaderboard ads are made for digital, with formats created specifically with YouTube’s audience in mind. Eight out of 10 of these YouTube ads are well beyond 30 seconds. In fact the average length is four minutes—twice the average across Asia-Pacific in 2014.
What YouTube does and doesn’t do
YouTube has different benefits and challenges for creators, multichannel networks (MCNs), brands and media companies.
Creators ultimately gain from building their own brands, and they reap the commercial rewards that can come with that. Some even grow into MCNs. Brands and marketers benefit from reaching consumers and creating positive brand engagement, which can go on to impact the brand’s bottom line.
MCNs leverage their networks of creators and channels to profit through advertising and the sharing of revenue with content partners.Traditional media companies, be they news or entertainment networks, are able to extend their reach and relevance and strengthen their own media platforms rather than cannibalise them.
In Thailand, the growth of YouTube is the result of these rich and dense networks and dynamics coming together, combined with a population of users that is hungry for content and engagement.
“What surprises me about Thailand is that when you talk to marketers, they’re unusually open to learning and trying new things," said Banomyong. "I think it’s the culture of Thai people. All the brands in our ad leaderboard are extremely adventurous.”
However, Banomyong admits the company faced fear and scepticism in the beginning, especially from traditional content partners.
For Thailand’s biggest entertainment media companies such GMM Grammy (Thailand’s oldest) and RS (arguably one Thailand’s most dynamic and profitable), YouTube is merely one extension of their media empires.
Both companies’ platforms span all traditional media through to digital and satellite television. In addition, they own a majority of Thailand’s most influential content and intellectual property, from record labels to news networks to relationships with celebrities and talent.
Yet these companies would be losing out on an opportunity for reach and build a more robust fan base if they weren’t on YouTube. And unsurprisingly, GMM and RS and their various sub-brands make YouTube Thailand’s ‘1 million club’, an exclusive list of 15 content channels with more than 1 million subscribers. (see the list below)
- Believe Records
- Genie Records
- GMM Grammy Official
- GMM One TV
- RS Friends
- The Voice Thailand
- We Records
When it comes to real money-making and profitability however, Thai media giants such as GMM and RS use YouTube as an extension that benefits rather than substitutes their own channels, for the simple reason that they stand to gain more through native ads and other income streams on their own platforms.
Getting YouTube hits isn’t necessarily a sign of success. Even GMM Grammy, which owns 51 per cent of GTH, the production and media company behind a series of content hits including online series and cultural phenomenon ‘Hormones’, has been in decline.
Despite being popular on YouTube and its own mainstream media, year over year, GMM Grammy has seen revenues fall from 10.6 billion THB (about US$314 million) to 9.8 billion THB ($290 million). This along with higher costs has led to widening losses in the company’s bottom line, from 1.3 billion THB ($38.5 million) to an even larger loss of 2.3 billion THB ($68.1 million).
In recent times, these entertainment media companies in Thailand, which have long enjoyed the following of the Thai masses, have realised that they need to diversify and leverage their star power for other business ventures that synergise with their own brands and assets and extend their value chain.
Recent moves by GMM and RS have included entering the beauty and cosmetics market, where both companies use their own artists and celebrities to promote brands they have a financial stake in.
On the other hand, in Thailand, independent creators such as VRZO (in the ‘1 million’ club), which started small on YouTube, have had a lot to gain and have leveraged the platform to build themselves into companies.
For Banomyong, YouTube is a way to build audiences in Thailand, which is a better starting point than any. “'The Voice', a TV program on channel 3 in Thailand, received over 400 million views on YouTube,” Banomyong said.
“The reason they were able to do that is because they’ll have a singing battle on stage and within the next 5 minutes it would be uploaded to YouTube. They’ve done that consistently and built a fan base that has gone on to impact the show on television.”
In part 2, ‘Star power: Thailand’s eccentric creators’, Campaign Asia-Pacific will introduce Thailand’s top 40 up-and-coming online creators. The second episode will also include a video featuring highlights from the inaugural YouTube Thailand Fan Fest event, an exclusive video interview with John Winyu Wongsurawat, creator and host of political satire channel ‘Shallow News in Depth’; beauty vlogger and fashion sensation PearyPie; and Lee Pung, who tells stories to a large audience of Thai kids using video screencaptured from his Minecraft escapades.
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