Video rules for DMA's tweenies and the young at heart

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Digital Media Asia wasn't many minutes old before Jaeson Ma had us all in his generation Z mindspace, wishing we were all xennials again... or publishing to them.

No matter that the "serial entrepreneur" and founder of East West Artists and co-founder of 88rising turns 39 in a couple of weeks; we're with him on the journey, which includes his latest acquisition, entertainment platform Triller.

It's a wild ride, and it gets DMA off to a great start with a pervasive focus on video, so let's stay with it.

"We live in an influencer economy," he says, introducing us to rapper Rick Chigga and a world in which currency is cool and tweenies rule, 61 per cent wanting to be entrepreneurs when they grow up. "You've got to understand the value these influencers bring - this is the real stuff, and mobile and video are first."

No mention of how a focus on tens and tweenies is to be monetized, but with Triller's 13 million monthly active users, that's unlikely to be a big problem. Longstanding friend and South China Morning Post chief executive Gary Liu - as WAN-Ifra APAC committee chairman, the driving force for this week's Hong Kong conference - had lined up a couple more experienced hands for whom the answer was also video.

Norma Chu launched DayDayCook in 2012 with the most basic of equipment and says even now most content producers use only their phones, while technology was more basic when Ted Turner launched CNN four decades ago, as senior vice president Ellana Lee tells it, "because he wanted to watch news in the evening".

Liu wants to know more about Gen Z distribution and whether "authentic and cool" works for news as well, and learns from Ma that cool is "about being true to who you are", and from both Chu and Lee that "your audience knows when you're faking it".

Preferred platforms, incidentally, are Snapchat and Instagram, rather than "less important" Facebook and Twitter, Ma says.

The perennial problem however, is monetizing video, which Ma says should be news organisations' priority, while warns that it would be wrong to think youg people "only want to watch video".

Conflicting messages, but a great start for a conference full of optimism, which which had defied the impact of weekend protests and conflicting travel advice. Ma, Liu, Chu and Lee were only the opening act in an event which continued with the Asian Digital Media awards dinner this evening and a second conference day tomorrow. Sure numbers were down, but the quality is there, and no-one I spoke to regretted making the effort to attend.

Some of the content was pretty specific, too, and later with two streams running, I was soon regretting not being able to be in two places at once. Strong messages, however, from Georgina Ferri Tordera, who WAN-Ifra had brought from Catalonia in Spain to talk about Ara, "not your typical newspaper" and a growth success story since its launch in 2012.

You could sense a tinge of envy from Danish consultant and trainer Steffen Damborg - who challenged delegates on "walking the talk" of digital subscription strategy - of those able to create a new culture in such a short period.

Ara also enjoys a balance of women and men in its 128 staff, 103 of whom are journalists, two precedents which were also to be envied as the programme moved into issues such as gender balance, salary differentials, and the problem of maternity. One contributor was Chi Ting Ting, chief commercial officer and head of advertising at Malasiakini in Malasia, where religion was added to what was euophemistically called "social and cultural factors".

"Malaysia is a man's world," she said, "though I believe women do better and should be more political."

With Ferri Tordera and Chi were Jacqui Park from Sydney's UTS and SCMP digital editor Laura Ware, formerly of News Australia and national broadcaster the ABC. In the "are we there yet" discussion of whether attitudes, audiences or treatment of women had changed, there was general agreement that while there had been improvement, there was a way to go. Good journalism and "how we frame the discussion" was helping in some areas; Sharia law wasn't. On salaries, Jacqui Park stressed the importance of transparency, and recalled how a leak of salary information at the ABC had helped even things up. Problems with maternity leave might be balanced by offering it to both women and men, she said.

Pragmatically, the sometimes uneasy relationship with the digital giants seems to be less prominent. WAN-Ifra was announcing a new Newsroom Transformation Project cooperation with a Facebook which will focus on ten Asian newsrooms in 2020, and Google's assistance to extend MMA training to Chinese and Bahasa.

Clearly the presence of Facebook director of news partnerships Anjali Kapoor - plus the transformation cooperation and introduction of Facebook Watch - was in part about rebuilding bridges burned when Facebook had previously opted to downrate news content.

Her message was also about the growing appetite for video, than which there was "nothing more compelling, persuasive or captivating", she said. Mechanisms were in place to help publishers monetize it, as well, but - as they say - conditions apply.

Much more follows, including a technical explanation of the opportunity created by server side ad insertion (SSAI) from Jeremy Brown of Australia's Seven West Media, but you'll have to wait for it in a later post.

Digital Media Asia continues tomorrow at the Hong Kong Ocean Park Marriott hotel, and if you can get there, you'd be well advised to make the effort. This year's conference empasises the step-change which has taken place in a year, and is a reminder that opportunities for growth still abound in an industry in which the pace of change is not slowing.

Peter Coleman

Pictured (from top): Jaeson Ma; Ellana Lee (right) with Gary Liu; Norma Chu; Georgina Ferri Tordera; moderator Barbie Atienza with Ferri Tordera, Ware, Chi and Park; Jeremy Brown.

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