SINGAPORE – Internet celebrities from Asia such as Korean pop star Psy and Filipino belter Charice are helping create a truly global culture through their online videos, executives from tech giant Google Inc. said.
As it prepares to welcome “the next billion” of new online users, Google predicts that the Internet will evolve into a more visual web that can be easily understood by a global audience.
Google executives said more visually oriented content will be vital in making the Internet more relevant across language and cultural barriers.
Lalit Katragadda, Google’s country head for India, noted that 80% of emerging market users spend their life within 10 miles of where they live. That's why a lot of content from the west are irrelevant in their daily lives.
“If there was one product that I would put in front of users with no explanation for the next billion, it would be YouTube. It is extremely powerful and it is changing the word as we speak,” he said.
Adam Smith, the head of YouTube for Asia Pacific, noted that when the Internet was first evolving, there was a lot of concern that American culture would overwhelm local cultures.
“But what we're really seeing is that the Internet is turning out to be one of the best tools for really preserving and nurturing local cultures. And nowhere is this more evident than online video,” he said.
“One important insight is that YouTube can basically support an unlimited number of channels. There's no scarcity and that means we at YouTube do not need to choose what content gets created,” Smith pointed out.
“Content created for a million dollars by a global star often sits right beside content created for nothing in a basement. It's an open playing field. The question whether a certain kind of programming gets created is not up to us but up to the creators. And different creators from around the world naturally want to tell their story,” he said.
Jamich and Charice
YouTube has changed the media landscape in a major way since it debuted in 2005. With the video-sharing site, anyone with a camcorder, a camera phone or a webcam can create a video that can be potentially viewed by millions of people around the world.
Smith singled out Filipinos Jamvhille Sebastian and Michelle Liggayu—more popularly known as Jamich—as among the many young creators making short films to build both local and global audiences. Jamich’s videos about their relationship have already registered over 40 million views on a global basis, Smith noted.
“If you think back even 10 years ago it's hard to imagine any of these folks getting a meeting with producers,” he said, adding that these video makers can now directly reach out and build global audiences. “And you can see from their fast rise that people just love these videos.”
“What's interesting is that YouTube isn’t just a pathway to success in traditional media. It’s creating self-sustaining and flourishing communities in its own right. By just empowering these communities to have a visible voice, it inspires and creates other folks from that community to jump in and participate as well,” Smith said.
“And as much as YouTube is about connecting cultures with each other, what we love is that YouTube is helping global culture become truly more global,” he added.
Smith said he is also proud that in Southeast Asia, a number of local celebrities have used YouTube as a platform to build audiences worldwide.
He cited the success of Filipino singer Charice, who has “gone from travelling around in the Philippines doing local festivals to uploading and building an audience in YouTube to being on ‘Oprah’ where Oprah (Winfrey) called her the most talented girl in the world.”
Psy dances in front
Of course, no discussion about YouTube these days would be complete without mentioning Korean pop star Psy, whose phenomenal video “Gangnam Style” has nearly 1 billion views on the video-sharing site.
Smith pointed out that even before “Gangnam Style,” Psy was already a big star in his home country of South Korea, although no one outside that country has heard of him.
“And nor was he even really trying (to make it globally) like a lot of his contemporaries in K-pop. And so in July he released his song ‘Gangnam Style’ and uploaded it to YouTube and it was really just a song he thought was for his fans in Korea. But now he has nearly 1 billion views and has truly become a global phenomenon. Everyone has seen his video,” Smith said.
“It's an amazing era we live in when a song and a musician from Korea can become the No. 1 most-talked about musician in the world and do it in just a mere matter of months,” he said.
The success of “Gangnam Style,” which only has a sprinkling of English words in the lyrics, speaks to the growing diversity in today’s global culture, according to Smith.
“Ten years ago it’s hard to imagine how anyone living in France or Germany could have been exposed to the breadth and depth of Filipino and other Southeast Asian stars as they are able to do today,” he said.
“But at the same time, the act of being recognized globally helps these local acts actually become larger on a local basis. So in essence you don't have to be one or the other anymore. You can be both local and global at the same time. Psy is arguably the largest musician in current pop culture and he’s also equally larger than he's even been in Korea at the same time,” he said.
“No one cares anymore where culture comes from just that it is good,” Smith declared.