Like their European and U.S. counterparts, young Asians are energetic, fashion-conscious and independent-minded about their spending choices.
But there has been a dearth of appropriately hip media outlets, as well as a lack of research data from which to draw a qualitative and quantitative profile of the market. The situation, however, is beginning to change, and global media groups and advertisers are now getting into step with young Asians through a combination of local and international music programming.
DANCING TO YOUNG ASIANS' TUNE
Viacom Inc. has brought MTV Asia and MTV Mandarin, based on the pioneering U.S.-originated 24-hour rock and pop music video channel, to the Far East. Competing head-to-head for viewers and advertisers is rival Channel V, a music network majority-owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. And with heavy ad support from soft drink giants Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo International, these youth-oriented TV services are making a major move toward satisfying marketers' thirst for young consumers.
"The youth market represents a huge percentage of the market in Asia, and multinational clients want to reach them for early brand loyalty," said Singapore-based Frank Brown, executive VP international of Viacom's MTV Networks, responsible for the Asian distribution of the MTV channels.
One reason for their enthusiasm, according to analysts, is that China, India and Indonesia make up three of the world's four biggest markets. Two-thirds of Asia's population is under 30, with about 250 million people between the ages of 12 and 24.
MORE SPENDING POWER
According to Business World Magazine, which covers business in India, 22- to 25-year-olds are earning more than their parents did at the same age, so these young people can afford to buy luxuries.
Channel V started broadcasting in May 1994 on STAR TV, the Hong Kong-based multichannel satellite TV network owned by News Corp. It replaced MTV Asia, originally launched on STAR in 1991, which departed following a dispute over fees.
In response to criticism that the original MTV Asia was too "Anglo," Channel V started to boost its indigenous repertoire.
Then, in January 1995, three of the world's five multinational record companies-EMI Music, Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) and Warner Music Group-plus Sony Pictures Entertainment acquired a combined 50% stake in Channel V. Industry observers say support from these record-company giants legitimized Channel V's policy of featuring more Asian music and international music videos.
The localization policy, in response to viewers' and advertisers' complaints that musical tastes vary from country to country, is to be reinforced by licensing the Channel V pan-Asian youth network's franchise in individual markets. The first of these is Channel V Thailand, a 24-hour service launched in December 1995 in a joint venture with Broadcasting Network (Thailand) and Universal Cable TV Network Public Company. The Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea are expected to be next.
LOCAL MUSIC HELPS RATINGS
The localization strategy is working. Channel V says ratings in the much sought-after Indian market have increased thirtyfold since its launch. And marketers are responding. More than 200 advertisers are on the network, including Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo, Dutch brewer Heineken, jeans maker Levi Strauss, Nestle India and PolyGram Records.
MTV Networks resurrected MTV Asia in April 1995 in a 50-50 joint venture with PolyGram Records, but as two separate channels. One is in English, with programs aimed mostly at a pan-Asian market and India. The other, MTV Mandarin, features music videos targeted at Asia's large Chinese-speaking population in China, Taiwan, Singapore and Brunei.
Through re-transmission deals with local cable and terrestrial channels, the service offers blocks of programs targeted at China, Singapore, India and South Korea. A three-hour block of MTV is on India's DD2 Metro terrestrial station. MTV India, a satellite-delivered, 24-hour version devoted to Indian and global music programming, started this January.
And MTV hopes to highlight Asian artists and raise viewers' awareness about Asian music on its video playlist with a "Made in Asia" on-screen logo. Each time an Asian video is played on MTV Asia, a logo identifying the country of origin is displayed.
"We believe the [`Made in Asia'] concept will give people a sense of pride in knowing that artists from their own countries are being programmed on MTV and that they're producing great music," said Vinnie Longobardo, senior VP-production and programming.
The company has boosted its ad sales force with six new offices in India, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Both MTV Asia and MTV Mandarin decline to give ad revenue figures. But the networks admit that the main obstacle to speedy ad revenue growth is audience research. For example, there is no standard method for assessing the number of Asian homes receiving Channel V.
With this in mind, multinational networks, advertisers and agencies are investing more in Asian youth audience surveys to guarantee the optimum environment for marketers.
"Multinational advertisers are getting more scientific about marketing as more competition springs up," said Damien Timmins, marketing manager of Coca-Cola Indonesia.
NEW STUDIES TO AID REACH
Taste and style vary among Asian youth, and new studies are designed to help youth advertisers improve their reach:
A major marketer-sponsored survey called Asian Youth '96, covering 12 major Asian cities, is expected this summer from SRG International, Hong Kong.
Tokyu Agency, Tokyo, started using the Internet earlier this year to find out how Japan's young people spend their money, plus their views on entertainment, media and environmental issues.
Thai teen-agers are the most avid media consumers in the Far East, while Chinese teens are the least enthusiastic, according to a 26-country survey by Brain Waves, New York, a unit of D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles.
Young Asians are not as cynical or rebellious as Western teen-agers, according to Bates Worldwide's eight-country survey, including Thailand, China, Australia and Japan. But while Indian and Chinese teen-agers prefer to conform, Hong Kong and Korean youths want to stand out.
Asian youths may be a potential gold mine for multinational marketers. But Jeannie Young, product manager for Levi Strauss Asia, Taipei, warned that "it is quite easy to be sidetracked. It is important for advertisers to know what exactly they're spending their money on. We have to try and reach them in multiple ways."