ON paper, Fred Chong did not seem like someone suited to the Malaysian entertainment scene.
For starters, he spent most of his early years away from the country, studying in New Zealand. And he didn’t study anything related to entertainment, either. In fact, he has a masters degree in engineering management.
Yet, over the years, Chong’s passion for music has led him to develop some big names in the entertainment industry, including the ever-controversial Namewee.
The company he founded, Prodigee Entertainment, now has offices in nine cities, including Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Taipei. It does movies, music, events, artiste management and more.
Chong’s latest venture, however, seems to be doing particularly well. WebTVAsia is a digital media company he established in 2013 to help promote Internet content creators and their work.
In just two years, WebTVAsia has brought over 600 online video channels under its banner, and those channels have 600 million views every month – that’s a lot of viral hits.
Fresh off managing one of the company’s biggest events, Viral Fest Asia in Bali, Indonesia, Chong spoke to R.AGE about what he looks for in an Internet sensation, and some myths about life as a YouTube star.
What do you look for in an up-and-coming YouTube talent?
We look at both quantitative and qualitative aspects of the talent – track records in viewership, fan base and other numbers are important because it gives us a base to build on.
The talent’s unique skill and attitude are more difficult to evaluate, so it’s really about spotting potential. We only want committed people who believe in our vision, someone we can put our trust in.
Namewee, for example, is one of the hardest-working talents I’ve ever worked with. He is constantly thinking of new ideas, and he won’t stop until he’s done it. Every waking hour is an opportunity to do better. That’s why he doesn’t sleep much. To me, attitude trumps aptitude.
What are the unique challenges faced by local content creators?
Malaysia has a lot of unrealised potential. We have a very diverse creative talent pool – multilingual, multicultural and very adaptable – that can reach major Asian markets like China, India and Indonesia.
However, that’s also a downside because the domestic market is relatively small compared to our neighbours and very fragmented. More homogenous countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are growing faster, and they either have or will soon overtake Malaysia in terms of digital content.
Malaysian content creators need to be bolder and take more risks in the originality and creativity of their content. We tend to play it too safe. I’m not saying everyone should be like Namewee, because he’s a unique talent, but they should find their own niche.
There was a forum at Viral Fest Asia about digital content creators. Can you share some of the key issues discussed?
There were around 25 highly-qualified executives and talents at the Rise of Asia Forum, and there were three key learnings from it.
Number one – Asia is ready for its own international blockbuster franchise, like a Marvel or Star Wars. Asian companies just have to start seeing beyond their own shores and start talking to each other.
Secondly, the “digital superhighway” – YouTube, Facebook, etc. – has already been built, and it now connects the whole of Asia. With traditional geographical walls of TV now gone, Asian creators need to take full advantage of it.
And number three, digital creators and artistes in Asia need more support to reach mainstream levels of success. WebTVAsia is trying very hard to invest into Asian talent and intellectual property, but it’s a long-term game that needs patience and foresight to yield results.
What kind of content draws the biggest audiences on YouTube, and do you see a trend towards more diversified content?
The top three genres on YouTube have always been music, entertainment and gaming, and this cuts across most demographics and geographics. However, the rest of the top 10 covers quite a diverse range – kids, educational, lifestyle, food, travel, news, and so on.
But in Malaysia, there aren’t many committed creators in the non-entertainment space because commercial demand versus supply isn’t as mature as developed countries like the United States or Europe. Simply put, creators at the moment are putting up what sells – both to the audience, and to advertisers.
What are the biggest myths about the YouTube content business that you’d like to bust?
Only a small fraction of content creators on YouTube really make millions of dollars like Pewdiepie, Michelle Phan, Smosh and Psy.
There are more and more in Asia that are fairly successful commercially, but the YouTube ecosystem alone cannot guarantee success.
Content creators have to work on other aspects like brand positioning, production values, IP (intellectual property) management and distribution and so on.
Many give up too easily just because their first or second videos don’t hit the thousands or millions of views they thought they’d get. Success doesn’t come on a silver platter. Content is king, but even kings need years of grooming and preparation before ascending the throne.