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The New Media Moguls of Southeast Asia: Viddsee

Independent films shown online are often lost in an ocean of cat videos. Until this Singapore start-up came along.

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BY Tricia V. Morente - 27 Nov 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The following may seem to have nothing in common: Two transgender women participating in Thailand’s annual military draft lottery; customers trading political barbs in an Indonesian hair salon; a man capturing and killing a 19-foot white-backed crocodile in Sarawak, Malaysia.

But here’s the common thread: These quirky tales set in Southeast Asia are actually the subject of 10-20 minute short films that have been assembled and streamed by Singapore-based Viddsee, founded by Ho Jia Jian and Derek Tan in 2013.

Ho Jia Jian & Derek Tan, Co-founders of Viddsee

With its Southeast Asian-centric content feeding an increasingly discerning customer base in the region, four-year-old Viddsee is doubling down on the video streaming market. Estimated to be a $70.5 billion industry by 2021 with a compound annual growth rate of 18.3%, according to the “Video Streaming Market – Global Forecast to 2021” report by Research and Markets, there’s money to be made in video streaming—especially in over-the-top platforms like Netflix, iflix, and even smaller ones like Viddsee.

Having experienced the pain points common to independent filmmakers, Jian and Tan’s vision for Viddsee are noble. They share a passion to “unearth” Southeast Asian storytelling masterpieces and build a thriving ecosystem where both film creators and video consumers converge. “We want Viddsee to enable audiences across the globe to catch glimpses of life in Southeast Asia as told by the region’s pool of creative storytellers,” says Ho.

It’s easy to assume that with the presence of content platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, growing an audience for one’s film is a walk in the park. “Launching a film online is just the first step—it doesn’t mean your content will travel or that people will find out about it later on,” says Jian. Independent films shown online are often lost in an ocean of cat videos, baby videos and documentaries predicting the apocalypse. “There is no strategy, no process [in these platforms] for filmmakers to attract a specific audience for their content,” Jian says.

Silicon Valley-based Yiying Lu, whose body of work includes designing the Twitter Fail Whale and the dumpling emoji, points out that while “content is king, engagement is queen.” So how then can independent filmmakers sustain engagement with their viewers?

Enter Viddsee Community. Uploading a film over the platform instantly gains entry to a growing community of filmmakers in the region. “Community plays a very big role in what Viddsee does. Filmmakers get together around the community itself, which is one thing that differentiates us from other platforms,” says Ho. Whereas filmmakers who have content uploaded on YouTube or Vimeo generate around 35,000 views in these platforms, Viddsee says it can garner them a million views within a month.

“On a monthly basis, we have about four million active and unique users across the community,” Ho says. The majority of the audience comprises Southeast Asians, 70% of whom watch videos over mobile devices.

Big networks like A+E Networks Asia are recognizing the value the platform 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”. While Viddsee’s service is currently offered free of charge, Jian relates that partnerships like this could lead to new revenue models.

To be sure, no start-up like Viddsee has it easy. But with online video set to be responsible for four-fifths or 85% of global Internet traffic by 2019—driven not only by the increased popularity of OTT video streaming services but by the sheer number of people that will be connected online by 2019 (around 3.9 billion) as forecasted in the 2017 Cisco Visual Networking Index—the potential for growth is vast.

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