Exploring Singapore's media scene: How a 'mobile first' attitude is shaping the future of the city-state

The ascent of consumer economies in Asia presents an arresting opportunity for the marketing sector. But for those willing to embrace the continent’s cultural diversity, Singapore offers both a soft landing and a strategic base.

Readers with colleagues working in regional roles across Asia will know that getting hold of them can be a challenge.

Why? GMT+8 aside, their phones seem permanently switched to airplane mode as they dart from SG to KL, HK to SH in blink of an eye.

Spending time on the ground in each local market is often cited as crucial for successful marketing in the region, especially among expats lacking in knowledge of local cultures and business styles.

But nestled in the centre of a region that can baffle even the most intrepid business folk, is an oasis of relative calm – a former swampland turned global business hub – the island-state of Singapore.

This week sees the release of The Drum’s new documentary ‘Media Scene: Singapore’, a film that brings together the perspectives of chief executives and thought leaders from the leading media agencies operating out of Singapore.

Easy does it

The effortless nature of business in Singapore is well documented, not to mention ratified by the World Bank Group, which has put Singapore at the top of its global ‘ease of doing business’ table for the past two years.

This, combined with its proximity to rapid growth markets such as Indonesia and the Philippines, has made Singapore the Asia hub of choice for many international businesses.

Hong Kong’s proximity to the pre-eminent opportunity of China makes it a rival, but as the city faces increasing regulation from the Chinese government – an issue highlighted by the recent Occupy movement there – many with an eye on China have considered the cons over the convenience.

Meanwhile, Singapore offers more than just ease. This is particularly true for the media sector. The adoption of digital technology among the island’s 5.3 million citizens is almost unparalleled. With the penetration of mobile pushing 150 per cent, 4G mobile connectivity, and home broadband touching 95 per cent, Singapore is one of the most wired countries in the world.

When these levels of digital penetration are considered alongside its relatively small population and the affluence of its consumers, the opportunities for managed risk-taking in the media arena are obvious.

Speaking of using Singapore as a test market, Adam Hemming, chief executive of ZenithOptimedia Singapore, says: “It’s developed enough to be a great hot-house for the region in terms of trying new stuff, but it’s also small enough so that any experiments that you make in the market aren’t hugely impactful should they go wrong”.

As to the nature of these experiments, all signs point to mobile as the prime platform.

Putting mobile first

“One of the key differences with a Singaporean market as opposed to an American or European market is the adoption of mobile; it’s very much a mobile-first market. 85 per cent of consumers own a smartphone – the highest anywhere in the world,” says Greg Isbister, chief executive of BlisMedia.

This is an observation that all contributors to The Drum’s documentary confirmed, with many also claiming that it would be unlikely for desktop to overtake mobile in the future.

Mark Heap, MediaCom chief executive APAC, associates the fervour of smartphone adoption in Asia to the lack of TV content catering for niche interests, making the smartphone an exhilarating window on a new world of content for Asian audiences.

“24/7 content consumption occurs mainly on our smartphones as opposed to tablet or other forms of devices,” says Lou Dela Pena, chief executive of Publicis Singapore.

And yet many agency chiefs also expressed concern that while the media scene unequivocally recognises the strategic importance of putting mobile first, most have not squared up to the challenge.

"Marketing agencies and brands are actually far behind consumer adoption of mobile devices and they need to sort that out,” says head of interaction APAC at MEC, Ben Poole.

Location location

In the face of this operational latency, location data from mobile could be the next major step in addressing the challenge.

“Quite honestly the location-based opportunity is going to be the significant driver of mobile campaigns here,” says director of client development at Xaxis Singapore, Henry Stokes.

Location data in the region is now available through the telco networks as well as application-based services. The prospect of programmatically serving impressions based on location-based profiling is becoming increasingly apparent.

“When people first spoke about location-based advertising it was all about the idea of walking past Starbucks, getting a coupon and redeeming it. We believe it’s one step further – it’s not about where you are now but where you’ve been,” says Harry Dewhirst, chief commercial officer of BlisMedia.

However the saga of mobile media develops, Singapore’s data and analytics services are set to benefit from investments from both the local government and companies such as Google and Facebook – all but ensuring that Singapore remains an Asian media hub across the new lunar year and beyond.

This feature was first published in the 18 February issue of The Drum. Digital and print copies are available from The Drum Store.

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