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Curl Up With A Good Screen: This Singaporean Start-up Is Staging An Indie Film Renaissance

Thanks to Viddsee’s online entertainment platform, a rich well of Southeast Asian films is now available for your viewing pleasure

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BY Tricia V. Morente - 16 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The same digital- and social-driven disruption that’s causing industries to reevaluate how they do their business has finally democratized the Southeast Asian film industry.

Long dominated by big budget production companies and often constrained by tight censorship regulations, the film industry is being transformed by the advent of new technology, as well global content platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Vimeo, which are enabling local filmmakers to not only produce films cheaper, but, with barriers to entry lifted, also extend their reach to a global audience.

It’s in this space that Viddsee, the Singapore-headquartered online entertainment platform co-founded in 2013 by Ho Jia Jian and Derek Tan, is carving out a niche for itself with its Southeast Asian-centric curated content, intelligent platform, and growing community of filmmakers in the region.

Bringing Southeast Asian films to a global audience

Viddsee founders, Ho Jia Jian and Derek Tan

Ho and Tan are no stranger to the film industry’s pain points. Before taking the proverbial leap into tech start-up entrepreneurship, they were avid filmmakers with engineering day jobs.

According to Ho, locally made independent short films used to get more airtime in foreign film festivals than in local cinemas, which were mostly dominated by (mostly) Hollywood blockbusters. While being in such foreign film fests is in itself a validation of the quality of content being produced out of Southeast Asia, very rarely do these filmmakers gain traction in their home country—much less the region.

“Most of the content here are imported either from the United States or Europe, and it’s a shame because there are a lot of great storytellers from Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, etc.,” he says.

Ho and Tan’s vision for Viddsee is to “unearth” these storytelling masterpieces and build a thriving ecosystem where both creators and video consumers converge. “Viddsee enables audiences across the globe to catch glimpses of life in Southeast Asia as told by the region’s pool of creative storytellers,” states Ho.

Content Creation and Curation

One might assume that with the presence of content platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, building out an audience for your film would be easy. Not quite so, relates Ho from experience.

Many moons ago, he and Tan had produced a film which was warmly received in a foreign film festival, and released it online. “We had a whole online launch and all, and had an initial spike in views, in the ten thousands, but it eventually died down. We learned from there that putting up a film online is just the first step—it doesn’t mean your content will travel, or that people will actually find out about it [later on],” he says.

There’s also the fact that in utilizing such universal content platforms, independently produced films aren’t afforded differentiation. “There’s no strategy, no process for filmmakers to actually attract a specific audience for their content, which will likely share the same feed as cat videos, baby videos, music videos, and all kinds of videos altogether,” says Ho.

And then there is the question of sustainability: how can Southeast Asian filmmakers build a sustainable presence online? “Filmmakers are a different kind of storyteller—they’re not producing content on a weekly basis like vloggers do. There’s a whole crew making their stories come to life. And when we built Viddsee, we wanted to be the home for these storytellers,” says Ho.

Through Viddsee, Southeast Asian filmmakers are given the flexibility to submit content freely. Regardless of the frequency of their submissions, all of which are being screened by Viddsee’s 12-strong team, they’re assured of an audience ready to watch their short films. Since its foundation in 2013, Ho shares Viddsee’s content has been watched over a billion times. “On a monthly basis, we have about four million active and unique users across the community,” he shares. Majority of the audience comprise Southeast Asians, with 70% watching videos over mobile devices.

Uploading your film over Viddsee’s platform also gains entry to a growing community of filmmakers in the region. “Community plays a very big role in what Viddsee is. Filmmakers get together around the community itself, which is one thing that differentiates us from other platforms,” says Ho, adding that this community “enables a very robust engine of marketing, both on a technology and marketing perspective, where, once creatives get their content in a platform, they basically get super-charged in a way. We have quite a few filmmakers who have content on YouTube or Vimeo and have around 35,000 views there, but in our platform they have a million views within a month. There’s tremendous value that our community and a very targeted audience can provide,” says Ho.

Even big networks like A+E Networks Asia are recognizing the value Viddsee offers. Last May saw the start-up collaborating with the network’s Lifetime Asia channel—the first time Viddsee’s content aired beyond its online platform. Apart from broadcasting a weekly selection of Asian short stories from Viddsee’s platform, the start-up also released its first originally produced short film, Time.

“We’re excited to work with A+E Networks Asia, a global media company that shares our passion for high-quality entertainment and stories,” says Tan. “We’ve curated a collection of compelling local stories and talented voices that we’re honored to share with a regional and global audience. We hope to develop more opportunities for our community of content creators, as we have done with Time,” he adds.

For Asian film aficionados, looks like it’s time to bring out the popcorn.