“Asia will define the world’s mobile Internet”

As the Global Editors Network’s CEO, I interviewed Google Asia-Pacific’s operations president, Karim Temsamani, about the digital media landscape in Asia. The use of chat apps, video consumption changes, millennial behaviours with news, and the potential of immersive journalism with virtual reality were among the discussion topics.

Bertrand Pecquerie: Smartphones were not invented in Asia, but today it is the main continent for such devices. Does it mean that the future of smartphones will be shaped by Asian users?

Karim Temsamani: Smartphones weren’t invented in Asia, but the foundations of the world’s diverse and highly mobile internet were, and it’s where the future of the smartphone is being built by consumers. Countries like Thailand have more mobile subscriptions than people! Asia will define the world’s mobile Internet.

Since 2008, Asia has consistently had 40% of the world’s mobile-broadband-internet users, and we expect them to maintain that level as the European share declines. One part of that is the sheer number of people. But it’s also due to the innovations coming out of Asia in both hardware and software. Asian manufacturers are creating devices that work not just for the wealthy inhabitants of Tokyo or San Francisco, but also for people outside the main urban centers of India. And both people in Tokyo and New Delhi have this in common: they’re mobile first, and all the new people coming online in the Asia Pacific are mobile only.

The people in this region are pushing everyone to rethink how apps work and what the default computing experience is. The innovation in chat apps from Line, Kakao and WeChat stretches across the region. People in Asia spend far more time and, in some countries, far more money using their smartphones than in Europe and the US. Those behaviors will be commonplace in the US and Europe in just a few years time. Outside of technology, the center of gravity of the world’s household income is moving south and east, away from Europe and the US. Meaning that decision making, cultural trends and power will increasingly center on Asia. Put simply:

If you want to know how Europe’s news industry will work in 2020, look at Tokyo or India in 2016.

What is the importance of news in smartphones’ usage in Asia? Is there more or less appetite for news there than in other continents?

News is a critical use case for mobile internet users in Asia with a far higher percentage of users across Japan, China and South Korea checking news on their smartphones every day than their counterparts in Europe. In fact News is the is the #1 app usage in Japan among smartphone users. But the rise of chat apps has led to a fierce clamour for attention through notifications and attention-grabbing apps. The best way to cut through that noise is with great journalism designed to be highly accessible in a mobile context, compelling enough to draw them back for more in the future and easy to share.

Source: Google-TNS APAC Mobile Usage Study

What is specific to Asian users regarding the consumption of news? Are the millennials’ behaviour the same in Asia, in the US and in Europe?

Behaviour patterns that we assign to Millennials in the US and Europe are universal in Asia across all smartphone users. The most exciting consumers now live in Asia, they’re skipping old technologies and old habits. They’re changing how they spend their money and time online far more quickly than the West. Japan was the world’s first mobile-first country, Malaysia has got the highest use of messaging apps in the world and Singapore has got the world’s second-highest smartphone adoption.

The average user spends a huge amount of time on their phone every day, with figures up to six or seven hours a day in the Philippines. And of that time a large percentage spent in communications apps, watching video and taking and sharing photos. This combined with the trend towards instant gratification means that users expect and demand fast, easy and shareable access to everything. And it also means that instead of Asian publishers turning to the US and Europe for ideas, it’s likely that the reverse will be happening if publishers here can grasp that opportunity.

“The most exciting consumers now live in Asia, they’re skipping old technologies and old habits”

% of people who watch online video daily:

Source: Google Consumer Barometre

Do you consider that Chat Apps define Asia’s smartphone experience? How do Asian users mix news and discussion?

It’s broader than Chat Apps, but rather taking phones back to their core use of communication — so whether it’s video apps like Viber, or messaging apps like Line, it’s clear that users are constantly interacting and sharing with one another. And that’s why projects like AMP and Progressive Web Apps are so critical. Users have become used to the instant gratification of frictionless access to everything, and so pages and apps that load slowly are even more likely to be rejected with 40% of users abandoning a site if it takes longer than three seconds to load. Publishers in Asia need to accept that chat apps play a very large role in users’ lives and think about how they can use them as a tool, while also using them as a tool to build a direct relationship with their audiences on their own terms, on their own platforms.

What’s also becoming clear is that apps don’t necessarily create that relationship effectively. It’s no coincidence that some of the coolest uses of PWA come from Indonesia and Pakistan, where the fees of using the data to download an app can be critical. If you check out babe.news or geo.tv on mobile, you’ll find an experience that seems like an app, but is actually a Web page. The content remains when the phone goes offline. We’re getting closer to a world where the Internet’s advantage of very easy discovery can translate into a richer news experience that goes beyond reading one story and then going back to the chat app.

Virtual Reality devices will allow immersive journalism to thrive. Do you consider there is a market for that in Asia or will VR be focused on entertainment and gaming?

The fact that Asia’s users have been early adopters of so many new tech revolutions would suggest that the same will be true for VR, so long as there are broadly accessible and open platforms. Users aren’t constrained by legacy technology — half of the people in India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia are younger than 30, which means they’ve never lived in a world without Walkmans and were 5 or younger when the Web was invented. For them the Internet’s not a revolution, it’s always been around.

And that openness to emerging technology is a huge opportunity. The key is for news organisations to look at what has made gaming such a huge success across the continent. Games developers are generating significant revenue through subscriptions, micropayments and ads, all the things a successful news industry wants to emulate. To do that you need access to compelling and interesting experiences. So publishers can’t just add VR as a feature — it needs to be truly integrated and differentiated. For example, they need to ask whether there is a reason to put the viewer right into a scene, whether something like a 360 video give viewers an experience they couldn’t otherwise have and if it’s more than just a ‘that’s cool’ moment? Korea’s Chosun Ilbo recently described at a News Lab event in Tokyo what they wanted to do with VR in a way that’s very compelling. They didn’t just want to serve up VR experiences, they wanted their site to be the platform for great VR content, made by anyone in Korea. You can already make a rudimentary VR photo with the Google Cardboard app; we shouldn’t forget that in a few years VR will be something a lot of people will be exploring.

“Publishers can’t just add VR as a feature — it needs to be truly integrated and differentiated”

Lessons learnt from the success of gaming content are particularly valuable in Asia, and we see more and more experimentation in this area with news. Globally, over 75% of Android users are playing games. In Japan, 9 of the 10 most popular apps are games. And these people don’t all consider themselves gamers. Men and women who have never bought themselves a gaming console or handheld gaming device are now walking around with smartphones playing sophisticated video games. This “casual gaming” phenomenon is now a multi-billion dollar industry which is creating a new breed of successful startups in Asia as well as new opportunities for the news publishers, in terms of both — reaching new audiences and monetizing this content.

Just as chat apps turned out to be mobile-first platforms for almost everything, Asia’s games industry is best understood as the cutting edge of key trends that the global news industry is trying to figure out. They segment their audience between casual visitors who are monetized by ads and hardcore gamers who can easily upgrade their experience for a fee. They make payment easy. They give people a sense of achievement. They’re a daily habit. The good news for news, is that observers like App Annie are predicting that games revenue will start declining in Asia as other kinds of apps find new ways to tap into Asia’s thirst for digital mobile content. That’s a huge opportunity for Asia’s news publishers.

The good news is that they have the talent to take that opportunity. Tempo from Indonesia won GEN’s global hackathon earlier this year. Tempo won the first place with their prototype Green Saviour: Stop the Haze inspired by the widespread forest fires that swept through large areas of rural Indonesia in 2015, proudly showcasing Asia’s innovations to the world. It’s no surprise that the approach they took was to use the language and prompts of gaming apps to help people explore what was happening to their culture.

About Karim Temsamani, President, APAC Operations, Google:

Karim Temsamani, President, APAC Operations, Google

Karim oversees all of Google’s sales and operations across the Asia-Pacific, determining the strategy across the region and for 16 offices.

From 2012 to 2013, he was Google’s Vice President for New Products and Solutions for the Americas region. Before that he was Google’s Global Head of Mobile, overseeing the growth of Google’s mobile advertising business worldwide. He started his Google career as Managing Director, Google Australia and New Zealand in 2007.

Karim joined Google from Fairfax Media, where he was Commercial Director for Newspapers and Group Director, Fairfax General Magazines. From 1999 to 2002, he was at Publisher and Vice President of Who Weekly at Time Inc., South Pacific and previously served in a variety of senior capacities with Hachette Filippachi Media, in Hong Kong, Korea and Australia.

Bertrand Pecquerie is the CEO of the Global Editors Network

Get the latest on media innovation — Subscribe to our weekly newsletter or follow GEN on Twitter and Facebook.

Shangai Skyline at night — Manuel Joseph (Pexels)
One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.