Tech rocks Casbaa

New media's the focus, but old still gold

HONG KONG — The annual Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Assn. of Asia pay TV convention in Hong Kong has a reputation for seriously hard drinking and wild party nights. But, although they may be looking green round the gills, conference delegates dutifully turn up every morning for the usual round of seminars and presentations.

The high alcohol levels may dull the pain of new figures about TV piracy — actually the data suggested the problem is not getting any worse — but in the main there was no need for analgesics.

While much of the focus was on implications of new tech, there was plenty at last week’s confab to suggest that conventionally distributed pay TV has plenty of room for growth in Asia.

“More people today are watching TV for longer than ever before,” says Louise Sams, prexy of Turner Broadcasting.

Explanation for that lies in the demographics and economic growth patterns, which are also boosting other industries. As countries such as India, Vietnam and Indonesia develop, more people have the disposable income to subscribe to payboxes.

But the big worry is how the pay TV sector will handle challenges from new tech sources, from Slingboxes to mobile TVs and IPTV.

As at other recent TV conventions — Broadcast Worldwide held in Seoul, South Korea, in September and Mipcom in Cannes last month — the names YouTube and MySpace were uttered by almost every speaker, on every panel discussion.

One issue that came up more than others: What kind of content do consumers want to watch on mobile TV and what will they pay for? While some suggested short entertainment pieces or even porn, most argued that it had to be specifically created for the smaller medium.

Content aside, the technology is nothing if consumers aren’t ready for it.

Speaking about the convergence of devices, Liberty Global prexy and chief exec Michael Fries warned that there was a tendency to lump all consumers together. But you can’t put the younger, “super tech savvy” generation together with someone whose tech world is limited to TV, email and a mobile phone, he said.

Nevertheless, the group that watches YouTube and has more of a PC focus gets all the attention, Fries says, even though 95% of people aren’t in that group.

While the video Web site was a hot topic, Fries points out that things aren’t moving as fast as people might think, giving the example that only 3% of Americans have downloaded a video clip. 

The focus shouldn’t necessarily be on technology, but on people who in general need to be advised and guided so they aren’t left behind in a digital world, Fries says.

As they wrestled with user-generated content and the linking and lateral-thinking that comes with it, panelists made a case for brands as opinion leaders.

“The role of a good brand is to be a leader and creator,” says Ross Crowley, exec VP of content at News Corp.’s Star Group.

Stefan Rust, director of corporate strategy at Sun Microsystems, shares that thought.   

The so-called IM generation relies on friends for decision and buying power: They look to see what a favorite is uploading and then proceed, he says.

Rust told conference-goers that 62% of content viewed on the Internet was generated by an acquaintance; and in China alone there are 60 million registered blogs, he says.”That’s a lot of user-generated content.”

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