The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region is home to an estimated 3.75 billion people. Yet despite the government’s efforts over the last 25 years to curb poverty - in 1990 1.7 billion were living on less than $1.25 per day - 772 million continue to earn below that amount, classifying them as living in ‘extreme’ poverty by the World Bank.
While many of the billion people lifted out of poverty don’t have the means to connect to the internet yet, mobile phone ownership has still risen to 92%. Smartphones, however, are owned by just 23.9% - a figure which is expected to rise to 34.9% by 2018 - meaning that accessing social media remains a problem for many.
To add to this, only 36% of APAC’s population have an active internet connection. This, when compared to Western Europe’s 81% and North America’s 88%, shows the challenges that digital has in the region. In South Asia - the region with the lowest penetration - just 19% of the population have access to the internet.
There is, however, reason to be optimistic about APAC’s digital future. Digital advertising spend, for example, is expected to rise from $35.76 billion in 2013 to $96.4 billion by 2018. Much of this money will be invested in China, which is now the world’s biggest smartphone market. There are 618 million internet users in China, and the market, which used to secondary to those in Western Europe and North America, has quickly become ‘the’ market for digital. Access to online video on mobile has also become much more prevalent. As of now, 250 million people in China regularly watch videos via their mobile, with ‘youku.com’ the most popular platform.
This opens up a lot of opportunities for marketers. Chinese people who have access to the internet spend around a third of their leisure time on social networks, with much of it on their mobile. Digital marketers will be scrambling to get their advertising linked to apps, videos and websites. Also, as social networks in China begin to become more widespread, there’s a strong possibility that they could be rolled out internationally, heightening the chances of Chinese companies reaching Western audiences.
The development of digital in the APAC region will not just be to the benefit of advertisers. The region is highly prone to natural disasters, with it accounting for 41.2% of all occurrences in 2014, the most in the world. In Indonesia, where mobile penetration and internet access continues to grow at a high rate, digital could be used to enhance disaster management similar to how it was in the Arab Spring. The 16 deaths caused by the eruption of Mount Sinabung, for example, could have used social media as a way to help people identify the safest places to evacuate the surrounding areas.
All the signs point to a fully enabled digital society in the APAC region in the not too distant future. This is good news for not only corporations, but those who are at risk of being injured or killed in natural disasters. Defining the region as a whole, however, doesn’t paint an accurate picture. China’s growth rate is impressive, but more needs to be done in South Asia to help them get on board with digital.