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What does rise of mobile OTT in South East Asia mean for future of TV?

There’s a quiet revolution going on in South East Asia. While much of the world embraces CTV, it is mobile OTT that’s giving traditional TV a run for its money here. As part of The Drum’s deep dive into the future of TV, The Trade Desk’s Mitch Waters tells us why he thinks advertisers should commit to a strategy that embraces all screens.

2020 was the year that changed TV forever, fast tracking its shift to digital. Markets such as the US and Australia logged major gains for connected television (CTV) as viewers rush to purchase internet-connected smart TV devices or sign up for set top box services that turn their family TV into a computer.

At first glance, it might seem that CTV has passed over South East Asia. Marketers here will be the first to tell you “we don’t have CTV”. We are, in fact, on a fundamentally different path, with South East Asian consumers quietly leading a revolution of their own – the shift to mobile over-the-top TV (OTT).

Referring to any platform used to watch professional video content over the internet, OTT provides users with the freedom to choose what they want to watch, when they want to watch and on which device. While western audiences gather around communal TV sets in the living room, much as they have for decades, here in South East Asia it’s most likely that people watch OTT on mobile.

The rise in OTT may just be the biggest media revolution you never heard of, but it’s one every marketer should pay attention to. Why? To begin with, smart marketers always follow the eyeballs. And increasingly, the eyeballs are watching OTT. The Trade Desk commissioned a study from Kantar to measure OTT usage and adoption, and what we found shocked us: viewers stream 8bn hours of OTT a month across South East Asia, with 3bn hours in Indonesia alone. On average, the region logs 180 million OTT viewers, representing over one-third of the total South East Asia population, making OTT one of the fastest growing media channels in the region.

The pandemic provided a major boost to viewership, permanently rewriting viewing habits in the process: 57% of viewers say they now stream more OTT video content, while nearly three in four expect to maintain or increase video streaming viewership after the pandemic. With upgrades in connectivity infrastructure such as 5G in the near horizon, we can only expect adoption to further accelerate.

Many assume that western subscription-based platforms such as Amazon Prime and Netflix are behind rising viewership. However, we found quite the opposite. More than 100 million viewers use local or regional ad-supported OTT platforms, with nine in 10 OTT viewers willing to watch ads in exchange for free content. This creates a golden opportunity for advertisers to engage consumers, especially those tuning in to both local-language and Asian-imported content from pop culture powerhouses such as South Korea and Japan that predominates on these platforms.

OTT advertising helps drive recall. Our study found that two in three viewers say they recall the brand, product or service featured in the last ad they saw. Others have since corroborated and extended this finding. A recent study from PubMatic showed exposure to ads in premium OTT platforms improved unaided brand awareness, delivering a 37% uplift versus non-premium video. They also found that premium OTT delivers brand messages better than non-premium video, on average 1.9 times higher.

Beyond the metrics, OTT environment unlocks tantalizing creative possibilities for South East Asia’s creative community. OTT offers the sight, sound, motion and emotion of gold standard TV advertising – along with new ad formats and new data signals to enhance storytelling. The mobile-first environment also offers a more immersive viewing relationship, enabling the person to make a personal handheld connection between their mobile device and the content they’re watching. This is especially true for the millions of viewers consuming imported Asian content, such as Korean drama, who must engage even more closely to read subtitles. Meanwhile, the connected screen offers creatives new ways to use data to target, create, and tell stories for their brands.

To be sure, OTT has its skeptics. After all, linear TV is still a growth medium in many South East Asian markets. However, there are signs that OTT has the potential to seriously disrupt traditional TV. For one, it’s beginning to nibble away at linear TV viewership. The majority of OTT viewers (70%) prefer to tune in between the hours of 8pm and 12am, bringing streaming into direct competition with traditional TV for the primetime audiences that advertisers value most. One in five OTT viewers have ‘cut the cord’, meaning they hadn’t watched linear TV in the three months before the survey; that percentage was even higher among younger viewers aged 16 to 34, who represent 43% of the total OTT viewership.

The fact is, the relentless logic of digital and on demand will soon transform linear TV the same way it has with other industries. Consider this: we found that streaming consumption among South East Asia’s OTT viewers lags just 4% behind their consumption of traditional TV. But a subsequent study from SpotX found that South East Asian OTT viewers actually spent more time watching OTT content than they did with TV.

With more and more viewers shifting to OTT, the writing is on the wall. It is thus wise for advertisers to commit to a TV-plus strategy that embraces all screens. As brands try to reach those young consumers who are leading the cord-cutting charge, those who wait for the dust to settle may find themselves out in the cold instead.

Mitch Waters is the senior vice-president of South East Asia, India, Australia and New Zealand at The Trade Desk.

From late April until early May, The Drum is taking a deep dive into what’s in store for the small screen as we launch our Future of TV hub.

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