The Pay-TV Innovation Forum is a global research programme for senior pay-TV and content executives, developed by NAGRA and MTM, and designed to catalyse growth and innovation across the global TV industry, at a time of tremendous change and disruption.
As part of the programme, we are publishing a series of interviews with leading TV industry executives from around the world to explore their views, perspectives and experiences of innovation. In this interview, Swee Lin Liew, Group Chief Operating Officer at Astro Malaysia Holdings shares her views on the key priorities for Astro going forward, the need to digitalise business operations, and the most attractive areas for business diversification.
Where is Astro today, where is it heading and what are your priorities going forward?
We’re the pay-TV market incumbent in Malaysia and after years of surging growth, are now faced with heightened competitive threats and piracy which have moderated growth. Not only is Astro operating in a mature market, but it is now caught in a maelstrom of digital disruption, in part due to blitz scaling of pure play digital players. The ubiquity of digital technology in our everyday lives is rapidly changing consumption trends, shifting the dynamics of the media industry and also raising the stakes in profit pools, forcing incumbents like ourselves to be more agile and innovative.
As we brace ourselves for more disintermediation, our primary focus is on continuing to drive scale in ASEAN markets, defending our premium proposition as a pay-TV service provider, delivering operational efficiencies and finding new sources of value creation. In the last 24 months we’ve been focused on digitalising all aspects of our media assets, operations, infrastructure and platforms.
My role is to be the executive sponsor and change catalyst in Astro’s two-year journey in digital transformation. I steer and orchestrate our transition from being a legacy business to a mobile, digital and cloud first consumer lifestyle company. My day job is to deliver topline revenue growth for the Group, to drive operating improvements through digitalisation, and to codify the innovation culture, so that we can prime our teams for the new world order.
You mentioned optimisation and digitalisation of business operations. Could you give us an overview of how you’re approaching these priorities?
We’re looking to restructure our cost base as content is getting more expensive and ARPUs are being eroded. We’ve been relentlessly focused on delivering operational efficiencies to redirect savings to content investments and funding new digital ventures. Going forward, we will continue our razor-sharp focus to ensure cost lines are fit-for-purpose. For example, we’re progressively migrating customer service to self-care platforms, driving adoption of online sales channels, end to end enablement from sales to fulfilment, migrating legacy platforms to cloud and digitalising content processing work flows. We’re also looking into how best to deploy artificial intelligence and machine learning to enable video content moderation and automate video captioning.
In your opinion, which are the most commercially attractive and/or strategically important areas for diversification?
Future growth is increasingly anchored on prospects outside of the pay-TV business, hence the growing focus on new value creation opportunities like licensing of content, MCNs, digital advertising and e-commerce. For Astro, one of the first things we really need to do is to build up our intellectual property pipeline for the next few years. We’re planning to double our investments in local and ASEAN content to support both the pay-TV business and the regional OTT platform. Today we’re one of the most aggressive investors in content in the region, spending around RM500 million on programming of vernacular content. We are now exploring opportunities to partner with prominent incumbents in ASEAN markets for co-production of regional content which can then be exploited for monetization in wider geographies.
Beyond content, we’re also looking for other ways to capitalise on our market reach and optimise our assets ranging from intellectual property to creative talents. Around 75% of Malaysians engage with our content on all screens daily and we also own the majority of radio channels in the country, with nearly 70% of radio listenership. This puts us in a good position to drive a larger share of consumer spend beyond entertainment. Astro Go Shop, our home shopping business is now capturing over RM300 million in annual revenues and growing double digit annually since its inception. Recently, we have launched an e-wallet service that will offer more convenient and rewarding experience for our customers as they shop for our Watch, Listen, Read and Play services. Having the full breadth and depth of media assets, advertising is another growth opportunity for Astro that we will be exploring as we further augment our digital advertising platform and develop deeper consumer insights for advertisers. We are also exploring opportunities to build a stronger digital ecosystem with partners for Ecommerce and a pan-regional advertising platform.
Read Part 2 of this interview here.