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MBA Exclusive: Ad Rivalries Sharpen In Singapore

Singapore has emerged as Asia’s first major battleground for online ad revenue between domestic media majors and global digital juggernauts, as local marketers readjust their strategies to a connected world.

Incumbents such as MediaCorp and StarHub have overhauled their commercial offerings in recent months, to meet higher standards around targeting and accountability that advertisers have come to expect from online media.

In September, StarHub unveiled its most serious pitch for ad dollars in almost a decade, a new way for brands to seek out and follow consumers across both StarHub’s mobile and pay-TV networks, by feeding and filtering data into a new tool, Smart Targeting.

More recently, MediaCorp announced this week a dramatic business reorganization around customer segments to launch in April, a move the broadcast-based company described as “a radical shift from our traditional platform lines of management to consumer lines of management”.

Earlier this month, Singapore’s other pay-TV and telecoms major, Singtel, also revealed plans to gather viewing data from set-top boxes to improve audience targeting on its IPTV platform, Mio TV. The move echoes StarHub’s push to quantify the value of pay-TV audiences for advertisers, also incorporating return-path data (RPD) from set-tops in customer homes.

Meanwhile, the city’s dominant publisher, SPH, is perhaps slightly further down the road in offering truly integrated cross-platform packages to advertisers, as the first to confront turbulence from digital disruption.

digital dynamism

These moves appear to set Singapore – a small, affluent city with widespread mobile and fixed line broadband – as one of Asia’s most dynamic media markets, where traditional players are adapting fast to an emerging age of digital marketing.

“It does look like the Singapore media owner market is shifting rapidly,” remarks Ben Poole, regional head of interaction for WPP-owned media agency, MEC.

“Remember that many regional and digital global players headquarter here, launch here and treat Singapore as the market to start generating business in,” Poole notes.

That’s accelerated the migration of ad spend onto digital platforms within Singapore, as digital platforms make the case for new forms of segmented marketing to replace more scattergun mass media campaigns.

“If you think about how accurately a platform like Facebook can offer up specific audiences based on their log-in data, then this is the new competition for all of the media owners out there,” Poole tells Media Business Asia.

“You’re seeing a reaction to this new reality, this new world,” he adds. “There’s been a big shift in the last 12 months, and there will be a greater shift probably this year than there was last year.”

This is largely founded on prior excursions onto digital platforms, which has made it easier for established media companies to monitor audience behavior, raising their game against digital rivals.

“We’re seeing the traditional media companies themselves generating lots and lots of data from their own digital platforms,” Poole notes. “Now, they’re looking at how they can monetize that data, package that data and sell it to advertisers and agencies.”

Meanwhile, growth in Singapore’s ad market is slowing to a crawl, heightening the challenge, as more money migrates from TV and print to online and mobile alternatives. Broadcasters and publishers are embracing new approaches, to retain their share of spend.

MediaCorp and SPH are arguably better placed than Singtel and StarHub here, thanks to long-standing relationships with most of Singapore’s biggest advertisers.

That said, Singapore’s overall ad base is changing, despite the absence of topline growth. New brands are entering the market, while existing budgets are contracting (another sign of a maturing digital market) offering more opportunities for media companies, new and old, to extend their market share.

The battlelines, however, have just been drawn up. The far-from-certain outcome will depend largely on the quality of new advertiser products that media owners create, and how well their sales teams can articulate the value of these offerings in the marketplace.

It’s a challenge facing digital companies too, with the likes of Google and Facebook also revising their go-to market strategies.

Nonetheless, incumbent media companies have something else to prove, having over-sold the integration promise in the past, suggests Shrivathsa Raghunathan, strategic and commercial head for media agency, ZenithOptimedia Singapore.

“We have seen the launch of integrated offerings in the past, which amount to nothing more than collecting individual offerings in one file,” Raghunathan says.

“This is not integration, but just aggregation,” he adds. “If brands test this out and see more of the same old aggregation and less of integration, this will slow down uptake.”

That said, a company such as MediaCorp, with assets in TV, radio and out-of-home as well as digital, has the potential to provide attractive cross-platform solutions, Raghunathan adds.

“If there is genuine integration, then you will see a sharp acceleration in uptake.”