Friday, November 17, 2017

Beyond Bollywood: The media and tech industries in India in 2017

It has one of the fastest growing economies on the planet and one of the world’s top tech hub ecosystems, despite internet penetration of just 35%.

It is also home to Bollywood, the massive national movie industry that outguns Hollywood with its thousand plus films produced per year...but not in revenue, as the video below explains.


We’re talking about India, a country of 1.5 billion people, and it’s the focus of the latest in a series of reports I penned on the media and tech industries in select international markets.

Some fast facts, and a couple of riddles about the current state of the media and technology industries in India:

· There are about 850 television channels, reaching about 500 million people

· Almost half of the country’s 700 million mobile phones are internet-enabled  

· Netflix doesn’t dominate in streaming video

· Amazon isn’t the leader in eCommerce

To learn more about the distinct media and tech markets of India -- and to find out the answers to the above riddles – you can read the full report here.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The State of the Media Industry in Mexico

As the chill sets in for the beginning of Winter 2017 the time couldn’t be better for some warm weather content, and here you go, in the form of a report I penned on the media, tech, and entertainment industries of Mexico that’s being released to coincide with this week’s Los Cabos International Film Festival.


Am I there? Nope. (Although I did once interview Sammy Hagar on location at his Cabo Wabo Cantina  so I’m not short on Cabo stories.) But back to the topic at hand.

When we think of media in Mexico we may think of shows like this...


Of course there’s a lot more to the Mexican industry, particularly in the wake of mobile technologies shaking up a media landscape once monopolized by single players enjoying as much as 2/3 of both the Pay TV and broadcast TV markets.

Mexico has traditionally been a country with low internet penetration, due largely to the weak infrastructure for fixed broadband. On top of that, broadband internet was, until governmental reform in 2013, only available to those who purchased a package that also included a landline, and the price point was well out of reach for most in the country.

But hope for greater connectivity came, as it has in many emerging markets, with the the widescale arrival of mobile. It offered a workaround to the costlier, often difficult to access fixed communication networks, and as of 2017 Mexico has 110 mobile users, which represents 90% mobile penetration. The popularity of mobile in Mexico is also relevant to the size of the country’s gaming market. It’s the largest in Latin American, valued at about $1.5 billion, and close to half of the revenues come from mobile gaming. Mexico also has one of the world’s highest rates of YouTube consumption, at 4 billion video views per month.

One thing we haven’t yet discussed about the media industry in Mexico is kind of the elephant in the room, so let’s do that now. Piracy. According to some estimates as many as 90% of DVDs sold in Mexico are pirated copies. Massive markets like Mexico City’s Tepito and Guadalajara’s San Juan de Dios have been key distribution points for counterfeit goods. Despite being in full public view officials turned a blind eye for decades, only occasionally bringing out the front-end loader as one way of dealing with the issue, as seen about a minute into this clip.


More recently, digital piracy has become a more urgent issue, though the arrival of a variety of ‘all you can eat’ streaming services for TV and movies has decreased the incidence of illegal downloading. Netflix has about 50% of the streaming market in Mexico, with competition coming from other American-owned services such as HBO Go and Amazon Prime as well as local providers Blim (owned by media conglomerate Televisa) and Claro Video, a division of telco America Movil.

For more on the state of the media industry of Mexico in 2017 click here for the full report.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Industry of YouTube: A 2017 Snapshot

Going back to the earliest days of this blog, now close to 5 years ago, I have been fascinated by the new opportunities for creators to go direct to fan, using what has become for most people everyday networked technologies. Instead of going the institutional route of music labels, book publishers, and movie studios, open platforms have been made available for the publishing and distribution of music, video, writing, and even the funding of projects, by people you may not even know. What this means is that there's more than one way to get from A to B, and more than one definition of success.

And what we've seen is thousands of micro-celebrities born on platforms such as YouTube, SoundCloud, Instagram, Wattpad, and Vine (remember Vine?) At the same time, the initial wide-eyed optimism for a brave new world of a disintermediated entertainment industry has been replaced for some with a jaundiced view of an internet ecosystem made up of a small handful of overlords calling the shots.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? Not exactly. There are those who have finessed the new system, often through trial and error, and built careers for themselves that otherwise could not have existed. And still others who have adapted to today’s world of content abundance vs. yesterday’s world of content scarcity, figuring out how to make money when most people want most things for free most of the time. You might think of these folks as 'Who-Tubers' (did I coin that?), celebrities of the small screen of no great consequence, but then the joke would be on you, because they're carving out a new version of a career path in the media and entertainment industries.

But how? As with much of what happens online, what often starts out as a crazy idea (e.g. strangers sleeping in your home when you're not there) can turn into a bona fide industry. And this is what has happened in the case of YouTube and the millions regularly uploading to the site, of which a small percentage become the media professionals of a parallel world.

To learn about the state of YouTubing, from the points of view of both creators and the advertisers that make the flow of money into their bank accounts possible, I headed to the 5th annual Buffer Festival, an international get together of the YouTube community held each fall in Toronto.

Another lanyard for the collection
A very organized industry event

I filed two stories from Buffer Festival 2017, and if you got this far into the post you may be interested in having a look at them:

Tube Life: How YouTube Creators Make a Living in an Increasingly Crowded Space

What Brands and Advertisers Have Learned from YouTubers

An assortment of YouTubers breaking it down at Buffer Festival 2017

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Where a mobile phone is easier to get than electricity and Big Brother is the most watched TV show

The fourth in a series of 7 reports I wrote on international media markets was released this week, this one focusing on select markets in English and Francophone Africa.

The publication of this report coincides with Discop, the trade show being held right now in Johannesburg, billed as “the world’s number one destination to acquire and co-produce content 'Made in Africa' and sell international film, television and digital content, adaptation rights and packaged TV channels into Sub-Saharan Africa.”

But what do we know about the media and technology landscape in Africa? Probably not a lot, which is a big part of why these reports were commissioned. Let’s start by taking a closer look at some key issues related to infrastructure and demographics in Africa:
  • The African continent is the fastest-growing market in the world for mobile phones, and though most on the continent use mobile devices to access the internet, rates of internet penetration vary greatly from one country to the next.
  • Is Africa and ‘internet first’ market? Yes and No.
    • Internet penetration on the continent ranges from about 80% for Kenya to around 50% for Morocco and Nigeria and 2 to 5% for countries such as Burundi, Niger, and Sierra Leone
    • Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal report mobile internet penetration of over 100%, meaning there are more phones than people
But before we get too carried thinking mobile connectivity will bring the 1.2 billion people of Africa into the world of digital content, it’s worth noting that over 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone lack access to electricity, making the present, not the future, extremely unevenly distributed on
this continent expected to double in size to 2.5 billion by 2040.

What about language distribution in Africa? 


  • Two dozen African countries have English as one of their official languages.

But here's the big startling statistic: It is estimated that number of French speakers in the world will reach 700 million 2050, of which 80% are anticipated to be in Africa.

In terms of broadcast media, TV content in most African countries is a mix of programming produced regionally, foreign movies, and localized versions of reality TV franchises known around the world. Switch on a TV in Africa and chances are you’ll find shows such as Big Brother Africa and The Voice Africa in prime time alongside an assortment of regionally produced soap operas and talk shows.

To read the full report on Africa's media and entertainment landscape in 2017 click here.

Monday, October 16, 2017

It’s home to the world’s fastest Internet, Eating Videos, and Gangnam Style

“What is South Korea, Alex?”

If you were standing behind a podium on Jeopardy and uttered those words you’d be hearing the happy ding ding ding of a question correctly answered.

The 3rd in a series of 7 reports I penned on media in global markets has now been released, and the fun end of the Korean peninsula is the focus.


The country of 50 million is a high tech haven, for everything from the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile devices to leading edge virtual reality and augmented reality to what’s known as Hallyu, or the Korean Wave of popular culture. These Korean TV shows, films, and pop music first swept across Asia in the 1990s and in more recent years became part of the country's export cargo to the rest of the world. For most of us it came to our attention with Gangnam Style in 2012 but there’s a lot more to it than that.

South Korea is also a top exporter to the world of television formats such as Genius Game

...and twists on conventional cooking shows that combine elements of talk shows, drama, game shows, or travel shows are also a popular genre in Korea, and are often licensed for localization abroad. In other words there’s a good chance that your favourite crazy cooking competition show
originated in Seoul.

Perhaps most bizarre, to us Westerners at least, is the phenomenon known as Mukbang, or eating videos. These half hour videos feature people, usually in their bedroom or kitchen, grilling and eating things like meat dishes, soups, noodles, and dumplings. Doesn’t sound particularly exciting? I hear you. Yet videos like this one regularly net millions of views. Why? Because Internet.

South Korea’s dramas are also enormously popular outside of the country’s own borders. Descendants of the Sun, a romantic drama available in China on the iQiyi video streaming platform, pulled in close to 2 billion views as of early 2017. 

The exporting of popular culture, not unlike the country’s heavy investments in R&D programs and its technology infrastructure, has been carefully planned and promoted by the South Korean government for the last 20 years or so. Billions in public funds have been put into the country’s media and entertainment industries as part of the the official Hallyu program. And how has that worked out? By one estimate South Korea’s annual revenues from pop culture exports now exceed $5 billion.

For the full report on the media and entertainment industries in South Korea in 2017 click here.

Monday, September 25, 2017

What's going on in the media industries in South Africa and South America you ask?

Okay maybe you didn't ask, but I'll tell you anyway. Why? Because I spent my summer, and quite happily I might add, working on a series of reports on the media and entertainment industries of seven different international markets. Two have been released so far: South Africa and South America, and five more are coming this fall: China, India, South Korea, Mexico, and Select English and French Markets in Africa. (Ed. Note: If only frequent flyer points were part of the deal)

Despite being a pretty digital person I still usually take my interview notes by hand 

A few highlights from the reports. First South Africa. You may know it for dramatic wildlife documentaries or the place that the mystery of 60s protest singer Sixto Rodriguez was solved in the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugarman. But today there's a booming film and TV industry there, even though they didn't have TV until the 1970s and never had cable. Now South Africa is home to studio facilities that rival those of North America and Europe, which brings international media production to cities such as Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. A recent one is the mini-series The Indian Detective, starring Canadian comedian Russell Peters, produced for broadcast in Canada and to be shown on Netflix in South Africa.

And what about South America on the world stage? Perhaps nothing speaks more to the global appeal of Latin American culture than the recent crowning of Despacito as the most watched video on YouTube, and the first to reach 3 billion views. (Let's see if we can add a few more to its current 3.8 billion views by embedding it below).

And yes, I realize that the song is the work of Puerto Rican artist Luis Fonsi, who is obviously not from South America, but it's the jam that started the Latin music revolution currently underway, largely thanks to on demand listening and viewing on Spotify and YouTube. This summer Billboard reported that right after Despacito broke the record for most viewed video on YouTube there were four Spanish language videos in its Top 10 and 27 in its top 100. The latest Latin American sonic explosion Mi Gente is approaching 900 million views at the time of this writing by the way.

But back to the South American report. It focuses on four countries -- Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia -- which together represent approximately ¾ of the South American continent’s population and the majority of its economic activity. In terms of the media industries a lot of that economy activity came from telenovelas, those melodramatic TV serials reportedly enjoyed by viewers from 8 to 80. Thanks to the globalizing power of Netflix classic telenovelas such as Rebelde, La Usurpadora, and La Reina del Sur have become part of the binge viewing fare of audiences around the world, and have led to a new generation of telenovela-inspired shows such as Narcos, Club de Cuervos, and Ingobernable.

To learn more about the state of the media and entertainment industries in South Africa and South America you can access the full reports online. Click here for the report on South Africa and here for the report on South America.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Variety Store That Maybe Isn't

It was one of those places I’d walked past at least a hundred times en route to my favourite tragic east end mall (which just happens to have one of the best dollar stores going). It was called Rayman’s Variety, and according to the sign it specialized in West Indian and African groceries and cosmetic products. It was stuffed to the rafters with boxes and bottles and, well, how do I put this, from the looks of things inventory didn’t exactly turn over quickly. Then one day I looked in and things had changed. But only kind of. The sign was still there, the rusty bars on the windows were still there, but about 98% of the stock had been removed. The tired old walls and floors had been ripped out, but it wasn’t exactly clear what was going on, though something clearly was. Or more like unclearly.

In the weeks that followed I noticed some handwritten signage. It said ‘940 Variety’. 940 was the address on Gerrard Street East and ‘variety’ suggested it was continuing in its convenience store tradition, but in what appeared to be a more customer friendly incarnation.

Earlier this week I was walking by and noticed that the door was open so I walked in. Inside I truly found variety: chips, cold drinks, used records and books, a rack with new clothes, and coffee being sold for $1 a cup. But this wasn’t just one more example of an old place being hipsterized. It wasn’t that straightforward.

There was only one person in the store, and he wasn’t a customer. He was a guy in the midst of some store-related carpentry. I said hi and complimented him on the renewed interior. He seemed like a friendly guy who was open to some conversation so I went with that. I asked him how things were going at the store. He said things were a work in progress. He pointed at the racks of chips and said that they weren’t really making their money on those. Not a big surprise there. He pointed to the opposite wall and said they’d recently added used records and books to their wares.

This was a guy who clearly goes with a flow, as opposed to a plan. And I mean that in the best possible way. He then told me about his idea to do a version of the Tiny Desk concerts, which are exactly what they sound like; i.e. concerts done behind a tiny desk that feature artists ranging from up and comers to stars such as Chance The Rapper and Adele.

His would be tiny counter concerts instead, and he showed me where the singer would be and then pointed to another area where the rest of the band would be located.I asked him about the back area he was pointing to, as it was still being worked on. He told me about some of his plans for fixing it up. He said they had already done a few shows and social events on the premises -- with the appropriate liquor licenses and approvals of course – and said that maybe that would be the way forward for 940.

I was reminded of one of the coolest places I’d ever seen, which was a secret high end sneaker shop in downtown Boston. But this one didn’t advertise, or even have a sign. You had to know where it was, because it was hidden behind an unmarked storefront that was stocked with faded paper towel packages and cleaning supplies. One of those places you would only pick up in your peripheral vision, if at all. But if you knew someone who was in the know you could find out where this place was. But that wasn’t enough. You then had to know where the magical door was, the one that led you to a secret world of sneakerhead riches.

I told the proprietor of 940 about it and he seemed sincerely intrigued. He even had a bit of a twinkle in his eye as he mulled the possibilities. What struck me was how open he was to possibilities. I mean, how many people sign a lease on a retail space and then essentially run a series of experiments, to see what works. It may sound crazy, but it’s the brick and mortar version of the pivot of the startup world. When something doesn’t work in the tech world it’s not seen as a failure, but as an opportunity to correct one’s course. Provided that the pivot is executed quickly enough. It’s all part of the break things, fail fast mindset of entrepreneurs. Failing fast, as has been pointed out, isn’t about the big issues, it’s about the little ones. It acknowledges that there are many dials in front of you and that you will be tweaking them for a while before things click into gear.

Before leaving 940 Variety I asked the proprietor-carpenter it would be okay if I took a few pictures and he said by all means (those are the ones you see here). Then I told him that the next time I’m there I fully expect to be able to press on the cold beverage case at the back and marvel as it becomes the portal to an as of yet not figured out universe. Or something else entirely.