AN afternoon in a home studio, six t-shirt changes, and six volunteers tinkering with borrowed camera equipment. That’s all it took to produce six seven-minute episodes of The Fairly Current Show (TFCS), a talk show on the internet TV network PopTV that was launched in June 2008.
PopTV co-founder Hardesh Singh says PopTV will “give the big network guys a serious whack on their behinds for their mind-numbing programming.”
While internet television is clearly making it easier for consumers to gain access to a more diverse marketplace of non-“mind-numbing” audio-visual content, the ability of web TV to integrate user-generated programming is further allowing Malaysians to use media to support causes important to them.
And as the internet gradually gains popularity over TV networks as a major content provider, traditional TV business models are changing to embrace new opportunities ahead.
Different kinds of content
Worldwide, the internet has gradually become the source of content otherwise unavailable on commercially-driven or state-monitored traditional media. This bodes well for Malaysians.
TFCS producers Mark Teh and Fahmi Fadzil tell The Nut Graph that they wanted a show that gives voice to everyone from “Cherie Blair to taxi drivers”, unlike the “traditional media’s cliched, product-pushing” talk-show format.
TFCS’s debut episode, for example, was largely a conversation between Fahmi and landscape architect and gallery owner Ng Sek San. An active Lucky Garden neighbourhood association member, Ng described a successful grassroots effort in June 2008 that managed to stop the extreme pruning of dozens of 40-year-old angsana trees lining the mature neighbourhood (see also Ampersand).
Co-producer and presenter Fahmi Fadzil tells The Nut Graph more about The Fairly Current Show
“Malaysians have a lot of interesting things to say, but they have very little avenue on, say, radio and television,” Teh says.
Unfortunately, he observes, Malaysians who are featured on traditional radio and TV often become homogenised, and the host personality becomes the show’s focus instead.
Using the internet as a “channel” also bypasses controls by the authorities because there are currently no laws that control the internet in the same way that the traditional media are controlled by the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act (although recent developments have seen the authorities attempting, futilely, to restrict access to certain controversial websites).
In early 2000, Teh produced The Very Moody Show, a radio programme for WOW FM. Although media audience measurement agency NielsenMedia Research revealed that it catered to a large evening rush-hour audience, Teh said the three-hour programme was pulled from the airwaves primarily because its network executives could not justify the “provocative guests” featured on the show, such as poverty expert Ishak Shari and former Internal Security Act detainee Hishamuddin Rais.
The Fairly Current Show co-producer Mark Teh (Pic by Edwin Sumun, courtesy of Mark Teh)Their last show, which featured PAS’s current deputy chief Nasharudin Mat Isa, elicited phone calls from the Home Ministry. “They were like, ‘Get this guy (Nasharudin) off’,” Teh says.
Given the government’s promise to foreign investors, as outlined in MSC Malaysia’s 10-point Bill of Guarantee, the internet has remained largely uncensored. Unfettered by the constraints that the traditional media face, Malaysians are more empowered to use internet TV as a vehicle to voice their opinions.
This freedom of expression was made evident during the campaign period of the 2008 general election. Youth for Change (Y4C) posted a series of five videos on video-sharing site YouTube.com that has since, collectively, attracted 1.25 million views as of early September 2008. Y4C is a youth network that empowers young people to participate actively and effectively in the political process and in the building of multiracial Malaysia.
At the same time, the Women’s Candidacy Initiative 2 (WCI2) shared three satirical music videos on the fictitious, purple headscarfed character Mak Bedah that complemented their ground campaigns.
“For people in alternative parties who feel they are not getting enough media attention in terrestrial or national media, internet TV is a very powerful tool,” says Lilyana Latif, director of AsiaStream Media Group’s internet TV content and applications company ADTV.
“They don’t have to create every piece of content; their supporters create the content. That’s where you get citizen journalism and rather compelling user-generated content. The voice of the people will rise.”
A behind-the-scenes glimpse at the taping of The Fairly Current Show’s eighth episode, featuring Petaling Jaya City Hall councillor Derek FernandezMinimum costs
The internet’s burgeoning audience has certainly attracted numerous upstarts like PopTV that are benefiting from the fact that producing internet content is easy and cheap.
As a music producer with ties in the film industry, Hardesh is leveraging on existing investments to produce compelling content with zero budget for PopTV. Furthermore, Hardesh says, unlike traditional broadcasts, internet TV “thrives on short, information-snacking” content that is even cheaper to produce. “Once we shoot, there is minimal editing, file conversions and uploading,” he says in an e-mail interview.
“[PopTV] will ultimately be profit-oriented, but for now it is more volunteer-based. Each [of the five PopTV channels] will be marketed differently.
“I can’t really get into many details regarding our marketing plans, but I can say that it will be more than just sticking ads on the website,” Hardesh says.
Traditional broadcasters have also been moving online to cash in on the expanding audience. In September 2007, Media Prima’s new media subsidiary Alt Media launched the online TV and lifestyle portal Gua.com.my. It has since garnered more than 100,000 registered users.
In addition to editorial content, the website provides content such as deleted and behind-the-scenes footage, trailers, teasers, bloopers and reruns that complement all of Media Prima’s traditional TV offerings.
Media Prima is the largest integrated media investment group in Malaysia that owns, among other media ventures, free-to-air TV networks TV3, ntv7, 8TV and TV9, two radio networks, and a film content development company.
Content on Gua.com.my is currently supported by advertising and sponsorship and is free for consumers, but M Zulkifli, Alt Media general manager of content, brand and marketing, says the company will monetise the site by uploading pay-per-download TV shows and movies from Media Prima’s archives. This service will be available by the end of 2008.
Gua.com.my has also been offering web-formatted programmes with some success, he says in a phone interview.
M Zulkifli of Alt Media“We put up TV shows online, but what about producing exclusive web content? We created Kerana Karina with a new format of five minutes per episode. We took the plunge and produced 20 episodes and we had 834,000 views over a period of two months [from October 2007],” he says.
He adds that the series Jelma, which aired 20 episodes between March and July 2008, has had almost a million views as of June 2008. These may not be unique visitors, but they still provide a sizable audience for the online TV shows.
The group declined to reveal whether Gua.com.my has become a profitable venture. But the fact that Media Prima made sizeable investments into the hardware to host their site demonstrates how seriously a traditional media company regards the potential of the internet as a new income stream, says Zulkifli.
“We believe [the internet] has potential. We are looking at it as a new revenue stream and also for its consumer-based revenue. Media Prima has always been about advertising revenue,” he says.
According to Deloitte’s 2008 Media Predictions, global online advertising will continue to grow as it has in the last 15 years and generate a 23% revenue increase on 2007 to US$41.6 billion (RM136.62 billion) in 2008.
Zulkifli adds that eventually, Alt Media will monetise its consumer base by charging consumers for its services.
But until there is a critical mass of internet TV viewers, existing players such as PopTV and Gua.com.my can only hope to cash in by creating a web presence now. “Rather than coming into a market with a ‘ready’ audience, we are riding ahead of the curve, building up our presence, content and strategy in anticipation of market readiness,” Hardesh says.
Popfolio founder Hardesh Singh observes a taping in sessionAdditionally, Malaysia’s economic framework is advantageous for the growth of online TV. “We have only one major city. Youth from all over converge in KL. They experience new ideas and act as messengers for their families back home. This is the real information super corridor,” Hardesh says.
According to Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)’s 2007 Development of Networked Content industry report, global online TV and video revenues will grow from US$664 million (RM2.18 billion) in 2006 to US$6.3 billion (RM20.7 billion) in 2012. Japan and South Korea will hold its position as the largest Asia-Pacific internet TV markets.
If Malaysia’s current sentiments are to serve as any guide, internet TV will continue to grow in Malaysia, but it will not replace traditional TV. According to Netinsights, a collaborative study by the Omnicom Media Group and Yahoo!, 81% of surveyed internet users in Malaysia say they are consuming the internet and TV simultaneously.
“I’m placing my bets on a partnership between new and mainstream media to benefit the public ultimately,” Hardesh says.
New forms, old problems
Despite the relative ease of developing net content and accessing such content, internet TV still poses traditional problems.
While the democratisation of the internet allows for more user-generated content, it also means viewers must first filter through the pap to find what they want, much like the experience of pay-TV subscribers whose grievances about poor quality content are well known.
At the same time, the New York Times and Advertising Week have reported that web pundits are convinced NBC Universal and Fox’s joint venture Hulu.com, which provides professionally-produced TV shows and movies, may eventually displace YouTube because of the quality of its content. Hulu is a subscription-free website that is supported by advertising. It is currently still in beta mode.
“Somehow, it will come to this,” Zulkifli says. “Malaysians are still interested in TV-related content [that is professionally produced].”
However, with internet TV, the problem is Malaysia’s low broadband subscription. According to the MCMC, only 15.5% of Malaysian households subscribed to broadband service in 2007, creating the same situation that Astro faces: although the pay-TV content provider carries an abundance of TV channels, it is still only available to those who can afford to subscribe.
Nevertheless, Lilyana says, the numbers aren’t as grim as they seem. “There are a lot of people with access to broadband at work. In Petronas, there are 36,000 people; Tenaga Nasional Bhd has another 44,000. Even in the kampung, [the younger generation] will still go to cyber cafes. They are on the net, whether or not they have access to broadband at home.”