During the lockdowns and other restrictions put in place by governments across Asia, we all learnt to adapt our lifestyles to the new reality. One important factor in helping us do this was digital content, and online brands and businesses saw a surge in demand for media streaming, videoconferencing, video games and online education as a result.
But as we prepare for China and other Asian nations to lead the world out of the coronavirus pandemic, what will life look like as we all gradually return to normal? Will the online habits we adopted during lockdown recede with the virus, or will they become a permanent part of our lives? Online brands and businesses need to address this question quickly.
On-demand during lockdown
While confined to their homes, consumers across the region have been seeking out different forms of online entertainment. These can range from subscribing to new video and TV streaming services like Netflix, to playing video games to simply using video conferencing to stay in touch with friends and family.
Brands and businesses who operate in these areas are benefiting as more consumers sign up for their services. According to Strategy Analytics, a research company, subscriptions to Video on Demand services have jumped by five percent as a direct result of COVID-19. That is over and above the growth they had already forecast for this vertical during 2020.
This should not be surprising. Subscription services operate a business model that offers subscribers personalisation, value for money and – most importantly – convenience. This convenience factor may have prompted consumers to sign up for new services that they may not have previously considered, such as recipe boxes, media streaming or video gaming.
Online video gains more traction
Online video gaming is another area where we are seeing notable activity. Eighteen video gaming companies recently started a global campaign #PlayApartTogether. Backed by the World Health Organisation, the campaign aims to promote online multi-player gaming as a way of maintaining social distancing whilst benefiting mental health by connecting people and encouraging communication.
APAC has one billion gamers, accounting for half the world’s gaming population, with China ranked first, Japan third and Korea sixth in total number of gamers. As the world’s biggest gaming market, China’s video games sector has experienced explosive growth in recent years, and is expected to generate US$36 billion in revenue this year.
Next growth engine – mobile e-sports
E-sports is another sector witnessing rapid growth. According to Shanghai-based research firm, iResearch Consulting Group, e-sports revenue in China grew 25 percent year on year to reach 117.5 billion yuan in 2019, boosted by official recognition of the sector. As a result, both local and international investors as well as brands and businesses have been taking more interest in the e-sports industry in China.
In fact, it seems likely that mobile e-sports will be a tremendous growth driver across the global games market in the next five years. According to BI Intelligence, the future of e-sports will be powered by mobile, which will further reduce barriers to entry and allow even more gamers and fans to pour in. The mobile gaming segment is set to make up 45 percent of the total global games market this year, with smartphone games hitting $54.9 billion, up from $50 billion in 2018.
New services coming to the fore
A whole host of new services are growing and adapting to the new COVID-19 landscape. Following the forced closure of many schools and universities, online education is experiencing strong growth as parents are forced to home school their children. Others are choosing to learn something new as a way to spend their time. According to a new report released by the state-run China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), online education services in China saw their biggest growth to date during the coronavirus outbreak.
Social media and app usage are spiking as people increasingly try to connect to their friends and families. Online telephone and video conferencing platforms are all supporting a global work-from-home workforce and enabling many businesses to stay open.
Before the coronavirus, distance conferencing was unusual in China, and even now the penetration rate is still relatively low compared with the US and Europe. But the crisis has provided fertile ground for online meeting and mobile communication apps in China to grow. Even though China is getting back to work, some Chinese companies have decided to maintain a remote working model, which has kept downloads hot in app stores.
Brands and businesses need to pivot faster than planned
During life under lockdown, we all learnt different ways to adapt and cope with this new lifestyle. As a result, many brands and businesses across all sorts of industries saw accelerated digital adoption. But as travel restrictions, stay-at-home measures and social distancing rules begin to ease across Asia, only time will tell whether this change in consumer behaviour will stick. To maximise their chances of keeping their new customer base, brands and businesses may find that they need to pivot faster than they originally planned to stay relevant.
The most important thing for them to think about, outside their general ability to manage the increased demand, is how to ensure a high rate of customer retention after life has gone back to normal. With lockdowns already easing in some regions, now is the time to start planning for the future.