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LOVE & RISK - Entertainment media is reborn in Asia as a new era of editorial is set to spark the conversation again.

The media landscape is incomparably different than it was a decade ago; the consumption formats have and will continue to change at a crazy pace. When I discuss the development of music content in SE Asia one inescapable point that I continuously raise is the scarcity of media focused on emerging culture and entertainment. The little press that exists is often inconsistent and mediocre. There’s coverage of major shows which engage a mass audience. Usually, this is paid for and wholly uninteresting to creative communities. New music’s column inches or pixels have lost out in the battle for eyeballs to selfies, ’epic fails’ and food. The void left is sad for several reasons, not least because it means that the conversation around music, the debate, never really stood a chance.

There is good news on the horizon however as we see major music streaming platforms beginning to go big on editorial. Whether it’s in the form of playlists, reviews, podcasts, video content or even radio shows we see a more consolidated music ecosystem develop, it’s exciting for the following reasons. 

STORY - Fans can buy into the 'music story' more, develop interests around the music. Be it the characters, events or fads. It provides context and allows people to engage with music in a more meaningful way.

DISCOVERY - People who listen to music can learn more about the genre and scene. They can learn about the different acts and influences that stand alongside their favourite musicians. They can also learn about other shows or happenings relevant to their tastes.

CREDIBILITY - Music fans can also develop a sense of credibility with the music they’re consuming. As they buy into the story, they form a more profound connection with it and therefore in many cases respect it more. Supporting talent is what being a fan is all about, so taking pride in this is positive.

ORGANIC GROWTH - Having a media framework means there’s a multiplier effect. As fans see more music content, and better music content, they’re developing behaviours that advocate this by sharing it and commenting on it. Many of the streaming services such as NetEase in China have vast amounts of comments which support the ecosystem. There are issues around authenticity and bots, but much of this is undeniably real engagement. This activity further encourages more home-grown user-generated content and builds a more fertile environment for the entire industry as artists and audiences join the broader conversation.

OPPORTUNITY - With this rise in editorial and content production we can also see more opportunities for people to work in the industry. The lost art of editorial and curation is coming back to life. Many of the best music writers and curators are being encouraged to go into music by providing expertise, insight and opinion.

MORE ARTISTS GETTING STREAMED - As streaming services roll out curated playlists and editorial they encourage the audience to listen to new music (often algorithmically personalised). It makes the experience simple, and listeners can find themselves streaming new artists they’ve not heard before. A good thing when you consider 10% of most streamed tracks account for 99% of all streams.

Some say that music blogs are dying as a result of playlists being rolled out by streaming platforms. However, I'd argue these blogs never really had a business model to support themselves and can use the legal resources in better more user-friendly ways in producer their playlists. Playlist curation from the platforms themselves along with their algorithms does allow room for bias, but it's a necessary evil to push things forward.

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We are also seeing big technology companies such as Tencent, Google, Amazon and Facebook developing serious music strategies across a number of their products. What this does is create access to music in a new and exciting way. Targeting consumers with music is becoming more prominent and exploiting data from audiences is becoming more productive. Whenever we talk about data and 'big tech' there are arguments for and against, however, it's promoting competition, music listening and richer music content. Apple Music has choreographed a big-name roster of radio DJs led by the Zane Lowe to drive the conversation in a more literal sense. This has given rise to an increased global debate (yet to hit Asia notably) on emerging music. It's now time for Asia to step up and deliver localised content that resonates and promotes the region as well as playing a roll on the debate mentioned above. Podcasts are gaining a foothold in the media landscape and it's an area we see a mass of opportunities, get in touch to learn more.

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SE Asia, China and Hong Kong have seen many international media brands start to develop more Asia content and in some cases syndicate/ franchise themselves into new Asia versions. Billboard China, MixMag Asia/ China and VICE China have done this to varying degrees of success, but in many instances, they have struggled to develop a robust business model. Hard working small enterprises like Bandwagon, Still-Loud and Boom are working hard to keep up as creating original material for music fans in a way that works for a balance sheet is very hard in a resource-heavy industry. The news platforms like SCMP or Apple Daily have dedicated culture sections, but music doesn’t get the same emphasis as food or other culture pillars, it doesn’t attract the level of ‘clicks’ from readers. However, as the ecosystem grows both the smaller independent channels and more prominent news platforms should be presented with opportunities as audiences develop a more discerning global outlook as a result of the more solid editorial offered by streaming services who have the resources to make it work. There will also be a plethora of opportunities for brands through branded content and smart alignments beyond the programmatic ads driving revenue for streaming platforms. The conversation is developing - watch this space.

LOVE & RISK - Music is the sport of the future.

I’m a long term sports fan, I love it. However, like all entertainment properties, there’s an active element of competition as we often compete for the same eyeballs and dollars, albeit from different audiences in most many cases. Some say sport provides a more tangible outcome than music, more ROI? It’s often more physical and therefore healthier, it’s great for team building and developing communication skills. Analysing the merits of both sport and music would take an age and I’d be happy to do it with anyone who chooses but in my opinion music is the more powerful of the two. In an age where people agree that mental and emotional health is essential, we need to understand the benefits of music in society. 

The sports business has done a better job in Asia than music. We’ve had to deal with some tough years and diversify revenue streams but we’re emerging stronger than ever, and it's exciting. In a live context, Singapore has continued its trend towards LIVE entertainment and put together an even bigger music line-up this year or their inaugural Night Racing event. The likes of which will undoubtedly develop more fan engagement ahead of the F1 Grand Prix weekend than the race itself. Also, consider the point that the ROI for brand partners involved will be stronger from the music experience than the race itself. 

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From an audience perspective, it’s important to consider not all sports fans are into music and visa versa, and genres of either can show little correlation. It’s often a sure fire way to lose any sense of credibility when you align the music and sport without properly thinking it through. It goes back to my earlier rant when I talk about not understanding the creative or the culture. It can be very damaging to the brand, rights holder and the artist if things don't align properly. A one size fits all approach doesn’t work. Consider the rugby 7’s in Hong Kong, matching an event synonymous with international rugby fans with music presents some challenges. How do you create a credible and sustainable music platform in the shadow of an event which is so different at its core?

Acts like David Hasselhoff, The Beach Boys and most recently Madness have graced the pitch in recent years to perform for fans within the stadium. This has worked to varying degrees for the in-stadium audience but is a million miles from being credible to a broader music audience, and most would agree it paints a pretty crusty picture. It’s painfully uncool but this isn’t a bad thing, nor is having a South Stand Harlem Shake or Sébastien Chabal dressed in high heels, it’s just not designed for many passionate music fans. So this year announcing Gwen Stefani to play on the Harbour Front is progress, albeit ten years too late. Reportedly low on numbers the event still held some iconic moments, as you’d expect from a Main Stage on the Hong Kong Harbour. We need to understand the importance of developing this component in a credible way going forward, and understanding music may well be a more critical form of fan engagement in the future than the rugby.

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Music content can also be really powerful. HSBC are big on sports partnerships, and they are heavily invested in most of the major sports and some that are lesser known all over the world. It’s good to see more of those sponsorship dollars being spent on music initiatives. My initial reaction after seeing their recent work with Jean Mitchel Jarrewasn’t pretty but after the somewhat contrived film where he talks about how the brand speaks to him about ‘community, environment and technology’ I got into it. The soundtrack is strong, and hopefully, the rest of the partnership will be on point with the brand continuing to see the value in music. I’m also looking forward to seeing how FWD are positioned at Sonar in Hong Kong this weekend. Building on their other festival partnerships the insurance company now partners with the cutting edge music and electronic arts festival. Is this only possible in a financially focused Hong Kong or the dawn of a new age of corporate sponsors upping their game and trying something new?

LOVE & RISK - The fear.

After the recent tragic death of Keith Flint, a friend posted an image online of a ticket from the band’s 1998 show at HITEC (now KITEC). Another fitting eulogy to someone who spearheaded a genre and was the face of a culture that’s since blown up all over the world. What jumped out at me was the younger profile shot of the band and the dated event details laid out such as a phone number to buy tickets. Another feature I noticed was the event’s time with the group starting their show at 11pm and then in brackets (Late night DJ’s), suggesting that the 450 dollar ticket was an entire night of revelry. Event people will know operating hours are critical in ensuring revenue streams. How are major venues closing earlier these days in Hong Kong? Is early closing times linked to problems associated with the event? Is there a fear of the dark hours, a fear of dark goings on? Do music communities just go underground, encouraged to express themselves in other ways away from dance-floors, out of site?

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Certain music genres, like certain sports or other things people are passionate about often carry with them a reputation, and it’s important to keep working to improve this reputation in order to minimise the potential risk if something goes wrong. The line between fun and stupidity is at times blurred, and it’s important to realise that no-one is exempt, wherever your interests lie.

However, those that are should be unashamedly devoted to their favourite genre, unafraid to dance around like a goon, whoever the artist, whatever the track. This form of expression is a primal human need and is proven to not only provide psychological benefits but also bring people together. It’s essential to have a release and enjoy experiences that profoundly unite people. This is true now more than ever as the experience economy continues to grow and younger people place a higher value on these experiences than ever before. We, therefore, need to try and understand these passions and be open to them, we can’t afford to let ‘the fear’ get the better of us.

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The Prodigy are often described as originators of rave, a genre and culture that’s has seen plenty of negative stigmas associated with it, and in some regards for good reason. But problems with things like drugs are also prevalent in sports, albeit for a different outcome. Influential stars of each pursuit are positioned at both ends of the spectrum, pushing the limits of what's acceptable. Are there some comparisons to be drawn from drugs in a sport to those in the music industry? Are players of both pushing the limits too far in their search for greatness? 

From an audience perspective, excessive drinking and fans misbehaving goes on at all sorts of events, including our very own HK Rugby 7s tournament dare I say it. While I clearly don’t condone this in any way, it’s important for everyone to be honest and stop burying their heads in the sand. Why are we accepting to people pissing on each other at the sevens one day and then putting sanctions on music events the next? I don't think we should come down heavily on the sevens as it's a great event, but there's a conversation to be had.

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Businesses and government have a different attitude towards music entertainment than sport in parts of ASEAN, this is beginning to change which is exciting but we need to be mindful of the fact music is very powerful and needs to be given the same support as the major sporting events in town. Let’s work together and learn from each other, take the insights we have on the management of these significant events to improve them. Let’s talk about it openly and face the fear head on. This should give those that hold the keys to events the confidence to keep developing them and allow the experiences to keep on giving the real fans what they want.