The last word from the East: From Home TV to Personal Screen

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This article was written by Ed Bell, CEO of FCB Greater China and originally appeared in WARC.

One of the things that defined China’s media industry was that it was ‘walled off’ from the outside world. Try as they might, the world’s media moguls have all failed in their attempts to gain anything more than tokenistic access to the central Kingdom’s vast media market.

However, as is often the case, we can see that the door to the global media brands can be opened, when opened from the inside. Tencent, one of China’s biggest online streaming sites, has announced ambitious plans for 2015. To provide better content for audiences, it’s going to partner with HBO, Warner Bros. and Fox for exclusive broadcasting of their popular shows. And, in order to produce content that is emotionally more relevant to the Chinese audiences, Tencent will host 50 live music concerts online, featuring the most popular Asian signers, and partner the world-famous production house Talpa (that created The Voice), all driven by insights generated from large-scale field research in China.

Nowadays, the Chinese, like others around the world, watch TV on their personal screens, while multitasking: posting comments of the show they’re watching on their own WeChat and Weibo, and browsing and buying on Taobao. The reallocation of media budget is just the beginning of this evolving trend. The greater choice afforded personal-screen consumers also means that winning their eyeballs is a more difficult task than in the ‘interruption’ days of TV. In order to attract attention, content providers such as Tencent need to produce better content, and so do the brands that are the new-age advertisers, aiming to win the hearts, minds and wallets of the online audiences.

Nestlé is one of the brands piloting new things in the online content world. Earlier this year, it teamed up with another online streaming site, Youku, to launch an animated web series entitled Miss Puff. And this is just one of its trial programmes. Paolo Mercado, head of marketing communications for Nestlé in Greater China, even acts as the spokesperson for Tencent’s branded content creation. Creating video content online is not the only thing the brands have tried: creating real-time viewer engagement is another. In order to promote its minisite, Tencent leveraged China’s most popular reality show The Voice of China. Tencent has harnessed these two highlights of the show by creating a music video and hashtag on Weibo to concentrate the audience’s reactions to these ‘peaks’.

What we are seeing is brands learning how to create the ‘lean forward’ moments in concert with the nature of the media. This is a new area for brands and their marketers. Many brands, especially packaged goods brands, have built their businesses around ‘statement making’ founded on short, just tolerable interruptions. The imperative was to push information out. Entertainment levels were low.

But in the new diverse media age, marketing systems that used to agonise for months over their ‘do everything’ TV
commercials now have days to act if they are to be topical. This means new nimbleness with no validating research to hide behind. This also means that client cultures need a new risk orientation. And because no one wants to take an unnecessary risk, marketers and their agencies also need more and better ways to mitigate risks to make these new marketing tactics less ‘pilot’ and more pervasive.

A second big implication is the role of agencies. As media sources have diversified, so has the nature of agencies and their relationship with the clients. There are more agencies than ever before, and most of the new firms are aiming to cash in on some specific part of the expanded executional tail. But their competition is not only other agencies. Clients are also going direct more than ever. In China, the big video-sharing sites have amazing production facilities and access to great directors too.

In the ‘Tencent-age’ of real-time marketing to personal screens, with a myriad of small, cheap agencies on one side and large behemoth production-enabled web partners on the other, will agencies resist the trend to focus on media and instead focus on changing the only thing that really matters – consumer behaviour? Let the games begin…