CASBAA is Proving that Asia is Not a Place

In the VIP Room, CASBAA Dome, Hong Kong

I knew I should have had lunch…or even breakfast

1445 hrs.

Much of the discussion in the opening panel this morning was a focus on how Asia is such a superb market in the face of the changes happening around the world today. I agree with that halfway, but I was amazed at the number of longtime residents of Hong Kong, Singapore, China, India, and other territories in this region who still consider Asia to be a single market.

I’m note sure we can consider China a single market, much less all of Asia.

I’m not just being pedantic

The danger implicit in thinking about Asia as a single market is not that we here in the region might start believing it, but that people sitting in New York, London, or Los Angeles might start believing it, and may start acting on that assumption. It is wrong on the same level that thinking of The Americas – from the Yukon to Tierra del Fuego – is all one market. And I would argue there is more cultural commonality between North America and Latin America than there is among Asian nations.

The problem with this thinking becomes evident when you have a satellite broadcaster trying to run a channel around Asia. There are so many different sets of political and cultural sensitivities around the region that if you want to sell your channel around the region, you need to edit your channel using the standards of the most conservative culture in the region (or what the assembled broadcasters here call “the lowest common denominator.”)

Imagine, for example, having to broadcast The Sopranos, or the movie “The Big Lebowski” across the region. In several markets in Asia, the f-word is verboten, even on pay-TV and late at night. If you strip the F-word from those works, you may clean them up, but you remove a level of authenticity from the material that is going to anger viewers elsewhere in the region.

But if you frame Asia as a region, you have a hard time caring. What’s important is that you are in as much of Asia as possible, not that you are creating a localized experience for everyone you reach. It obscures the real challenges and the most rewarding opportunities.

Brands are Global, Content is Local

Alex Arena from PCCW had the quote of the day this morning when he said that “all content is local.” Heads nodded around the room. Which mystified me. Because if we all agree that all content is local, why do continue to frame our businesses in terms of supra-local entities that are driven by global imperatives (cover Asia) rather than local opportunities (what is happening in India?)

The record speaks for itself. The successful global broadcasters (and online companies) in Asia approach the region as a convenient geographical cluster of diverse markets. This keeps the focus on using the regional organization to support local marketing efforts, rather than trying to push a generic Asian service on 2.5 billion very non-generic Asians.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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