Astro powers new growth trajectory with local and ASEAN content

n today’s digital economy, organisations are faced with the critical challenge of reinvention.

For Astro, this translates to continuous innovation, while embracing new ideas and trends that allow the media company to deliver the best experience to the consumer.

From subscriber churn to evolving marketing models, the fact remains that Astro is consistently out-performing most media businesses around the world.
Astro has delivered increases in the penetration of TV households, customers, Adex and viewing share while holding on to ARPU.

Their ‘same day/date’ screening of international and regional content has lent to a unique combination of premium and freemium models, which in turn have allowed the company to expand revenues.

Astro’s expanded OTT services, connected set-top boxes with access to Astro’s On Demand library, and aggressive expansion into mobile streaming services with NJOI Now and Astro GO, point to a media company that is wholeheartedly embracing the future.

Today, Astro has also turned a new page by investing in pioneering local and regional content that offers pan-Asian appeal through unique IPs; thereby bringing revenue potential from an ASEAN-wide footprint.

After successfully championing Malaysian content, with runaway hits such as OlaBola, Astro is now advocating premium Nusantara* content series with DO[S]A.
Astro’s latest horror comedy Hantu Kak Limah garnered more than RM38 million in ticket sales and has become one of the biggest local hits of all time… trumping even Hollywood’s blockbusters ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ and Marvel’s ‘Deadpool 2’.

We talk to Astro’s CEO designate Henry Tan on his plans for change in this age of dramatic media disruption.

* Nusantara is a Javanese term which literally means “archipelago”. In Indonesia it means the Indonesian archipelago, while in Malaysia it has been similarly adopted to mean the Malay archipelago.

Vernacular is the new premium. How Astro’s new boss is steering the course forward

Astro’s commitment to engage across all platforms has resulted in a 76% penetration of TV households in Malaysia.

They offer both Pay TV and NJOI Prepaid, a freemium service that is comparable to FTA services.

In addition, Astro creates, aggregates and produces all manner of content genres from long form to short form videos, fact-based and kid-focused programmes, movies, drama series, and live events to serve an audience of 23 million.

Today Astro commands over 50% of the top 10 local Malaysian box office hits.

In fact, its latest movie, Hantu Kak Limah has rivalled Hollywood movies in the box office performance, and its upcoming movies, Paskal and Polis Evo 2 are expected to be just as successful.

We’re excited to see what Astro has in store next. Let’s hear what Henry has to say.

The content industry in the Nusantara region commands an addressable market value of RM48 billion. How is Astro playing into this market?
Because we share similar folklores, stories and cultural practices across ASEAN, it made sense for Astro to champion both local and Asian content.

We successfully embarked on this initiative some years back, and we know we can further strengthen our efforts with regional co-production partnerships.

We have already successfully collaborated with regional players, award winning directors and talents for our Asian originals designed for the Nusantara audience: DO[S]A, Polis Evo 2 and Sembilan with Indonesia; Doors with the Philippines; and 3AM with Thailand.

In addition to our premium Nusantara vertical, we also saw an opportunity to tap into Asian Horror, Kids and eSports. Asians love their ghost stories, and BOO – Asia’s Most Haunted Channel, is now available in several countries.

We’ve also amassed strong global interest in our children’s animation IPs. Didi & Friends and Omar & Hana for example, garnered over 1 billion views and 500 million digital views respectively with a strong following in Indonesia.

Meanwhile, eGG Network, our Malaysian-owned eSports brand, has already landed in eight different countries in the region.

eSports is not an easy business, so you need scale in order to make economic sense.

We’ve also recently introduced Tamago, a live streaming service with a built-in gifting element, that is very popular with young people.

It’s a very new and young service but the numbers are tracking really well.

Engagement is the new marketing mantra but is it hard to achieve; reaching real people to secure long-term brand equity and growth?
That’s precisely why Astro offers a strong line up of premium and compelling content, with high levels of engagement.

Take football, which is practically a religion. Our fanatical super fans are engaged on all screens.

Typical engagement sees them viewing a live match while simultaneously searching for statistics, actively participating in match analysis with football pundits, and engaging in friendly banter with fans of rival football clubs on social media.

We also found that our signature local content like Maharaja Lawak, Hua Hee Karaoke and our Chinese New Year campaigns occupy this high engagement category in their respective communities.

Even The Journey, OlaBola and Vedigundu Pasangge movies resonated so well within their specific communities that we had huge turnouts at our ground events.

Savvy advertisers need to look for these kinds of 360° engagement in order to go beyond mere advertising.

What’s the latest on your partnership with Karangkraf which extends Astro’s online presence with the Malay-language audience to about 10 million?
We truly believe that vernacular is the new premium. This is already evident in TV, and we see it extending to digital.

We are convinced that digital vernacular is the next wave, and we will continue to champion local content on that platform.

This brings us to our partnership with Karangkraf as part of a strategic longer-term growth portfolio.

Karangkraf’s IPs have evolved beyond print onto exciting new platforms thereby leveraging Astro’s capabilities, while growing reach and 360° engagement.

We’re pleased that Pa & Ma has grown into a family show; Mingguan Wanita into a talk show; and Rasa into a weekly cooking show across multiple platforms.

We are further spurred by the encouraging initial results for our digital vernaculars: Gempak is the No.1 Malay portal, and XUAN is Malaysia’s No.1 Chinese portal.

Instead of trying to take on the global brands – the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google), we’re setting our sights firmly on digital vernaculars.

With so much free content out there, how do you see Astro differentiating itself?
Astro’s biggest strength lies in our customer base. Currently, 76% of Malaysians are engaged with us for more than 4 hours a day.

Although we see our key differentiator as being content, with local content as our flag bearer, we know we have to diversify.

To use the term ‘sell’ broadly here, we see an opportunity to sell all that is relevant to our customers.

This is something we need to fully capitalize on. Our strength remains the fact that we are already in homes. We intend to deepen our relationship there, and to extend beyond homes to individuals.

We have already started on this journey, but in all honesty, I don’t think our numbers are good enough and we should drive that individual growth more aggressively.

You’ve said disproportionate attention to data digresses from real communication in marketing…
Yes, I believe that the key lies not so much in data, but in how that data is used.

The mistake many marketers make is that they get excited over the data and miss the point that they need to turn that information into actionable insights in order to win over consumers.

You once used a metaphor, “You may know everything about the girl next door but that doesn’t mean you are successful in wooing her!”. Explain…
Many mistake having rich data with automatically winning the consumer over.

But knowing the consumer is not enough, how you win them over is key. Digital may be data rich but it is poor in the emotional connection area.

Likewise, conventional TV or video is weak in real time data, stuck with archaic measurements and reporting, but its strength lies in emotional engagement and persuasion.

We are working towards providing both: the data to know our consumers, and the emotional connection to win them over.

Is digital taking over TV viewers?
Anyone who says that digital is stealing eye-balls is not telling you the truth! I can attest to the fact that digital does not cannibalise content nor television.

Instead, digital and social media have given our content performance a healthy boost.

We actually saw a cumulative 13 million viewership on TV, Astro GO and Stadium Astro for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

In the past, if you didn’t like football, you didn’t bother watching the World Cup.

But in this age of FOMO, fence sitters are getting converted because everybody’s talking about it on social media.

As a result, we’ve seen all key IPs, international and local, grew significantly. Some of the content properties saw a 30% – 300% increase in viewership!

Tell us something new that will interest marketers?
It used to be that TV viewing, radio listening, magazine reading and chatting were separate activities, independent of each other. In this new world, everything is intertwined.

You can now visit a single portal to read, listen, watch or chat… the lines have blurred.

We need to realise that siloed product systems no longer apply. Organizations, be it us or anybody else, have to change because it’s now all about ecosystems and networks, not silos.

Today’s competition isn’t another product, but an entire customer ecosystem.

That’s why Astro aspires to create a data rich customer ecosystem, which engages our consumers on multiple formats, selling multiple products and services.

We aim to be a data-driven marketing network that will help us sell our content, products and services more efficiently and effectively.

This will also allow us to provide businesses, especially SMEs, with the intel to identify and persuasively win over consumers. It will be a new world of marketing.

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