Local filmmakers, local stories on a regional video network: This is how Singapore’s Viddsee is meeting the demand for short videos.

A far more compelling pivot-to-video strategy.

By Peter Guest
Splice Singapore
Viddsee founder Ho Jia Jian wants to bring together a community of filmmakers across Asia to take advantage of new distribution opportunities in digital. Photo by Peter Guest.
Viddsee founder Ho Jia Jian wants to bring together a community of filmmakers across Asia to take advantage of new distribution opportunities in digital. Photo by Peter Guest.

(Updated to correct the number of filmmakers on the platform. It should be 2,000 not 3,000 as initially published.)

When Singaporeans Ho Jia Jian and Derek Tan built their first internet TV platform a decade ago, the iPad was still a year away and Netflix had yet to break out of the U.S.

Over the intervening years, the internet has fundamentally disrupted how video content is produced, distributed and consumed, from the proliferation of on-demand TV platforms to YouTube’s 1.5 billion users.

Ho and Tan, both engineers and film buffs, finally launched their own foray into the Wild West of internet video in 2013. Viddsee began as a platform hosting short films from Southeast Asia, based around a small community of filmmakers who were the creators of — and an audience for — the content.

As well as fueling their own passion for making movies, Viddsee was a gamble on the emerging appetite for videos that can be watched on a small screen during a daily commute, and for content produced by local talent telling local stories.

“We thought that short, premium content was a great way to engage an audience in a mobile-first environment,” Ho says.

 

Building a community

Viddsee’s community has since grown to more than 2,000 filmmakers across the region. At the end of 2017, the company shifted from purely curating films to producing them. Last year they released 35 ‘originals’, a mix of self-directed projects and videos created in partnership with brands — including five short films for the Singapore Tourism Board.

The strategy is two-pronged: Creative projects are aimed at generating Viddsee its own content with longer-term potential, while partnerships generate cashflow in the shorter term.

Having built its own network of creatives and a discovery platform for content, Viddsee is able to link potential commercial partners with filmmaking talent and provide them with data on the type of content that is generating views and engagement.

Viddsee founder Ho Jia Jian
Viddsee founder Ho Jia Jian: “We thought that short, premium content was a great way to engage an audience in a mobile-first environment.” Photo by Peter Guest.

“We are bringing value to the table beyond the content that is created, and [on] the distribution side we have a relationship with audiences,” Ho says.

“We’re able to use that to identify filmmakers, but at the same time understand that the content and the stories that we’re building for brands is actually in line with the consumption habits that we’re seeing within our platform.”

This year the company has already announced a partnership with the Indonesian telco Telkomsel, which includes a four-episode original series that will be released on Telkomsel’s streaming service, as well as 24 other shorts curated from the Viddsee platform throughout February.

 

Sustaining filmmakers

Moving into paid-for production has strengthened Viddsee’s relationship with the filmmakers in its network, Ho says, by giving content creators the opportunity to pitch for the kind of work that may have been out of their reach previously. Viddsee has also brought young filmmakers onto commercial projects and pitches, giving them paid work and exposure.

Ho believes that this network, and a heritage of promoting creative work, will help it to survive in a crowded and uncertain space.

Large media companies have periodically pivoted to online video and back away again, having struggled to integrate the medium with their existing content business, or to monetize it. Much-hyped, millennial-focused brands such as VICE, which has invested heavily in digital video, have announced cutbacks over the past few months.

At the same time, traditional advertising and PR agencies are encroaching on the digital video space, and TV-on-demand services like Netflix and its Southeast Asian analogue iflix are increasingly investing in locally-made content to serve the same demand Viddsee is targeting.

Ho says the company is confident it can win in its niche of short-form, premium video content by continuing to deepen its engagement with its audience and filmmakers. Viddsee is experimenting with subscription products that offer users a chance to support productions and access additional community features.

“It’s just different ways for audiences to get behind the scenes and own the story — owning it from an experience standpoint,” Ho says.

“I think what we’ve seen with the whole direct-to-consumer play is that authenticity matters.

“It goes to our mission of empowering storytellers and building engagement. We think that that’s something that will differentiate our play… we think that that’s what will build long-term loyalty.”

Peter is an independent journalist and photographer, based in Southeast Asia. He's a contributing writer at Nikkei Asian Review, and his articles and photographs have appeared in The Atlantic, Newsweek, The Financial Times, Wired, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and others. Follow Peter Guest on Twitter.

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