Viddsee, an online home for Asian filmmakers

Viddsee, an online home for Asian filmmakers

Online video is the new frontier of the digital content world. Major players such as Netflix and Amazon have carved a pretty big slice of the market for themselves. But there is still plenty left for others looking to get their own piece. Singapore-based Viddsee has chosen to stake its claim on a very particular piece of ground; the startup is an online video distributor for original short films from Asia, or featuring an Asian angle.

Viddsee was founded two years ago in Singapore by two engineers-cum-filmmakers. Derek Tan and Ho Jia Jian are National University of Singapore (NUS) graduates, in electrical and mechanical engineering respectively. But what brought them together was their love of film. “I had been making films since high school, so it’s been a long while,” Tan tells Tech in Asia.

Tan’s background in engineering and film first landed him at Singaporean telco Starhub, where he developed the company’s internet TV platform. After his stint there, Tan spent a short time at Silicon Valley image app startup Cooliris, before returning to Singapore to start Viddsee. “As filmmakers, the films we made were being distributed physically, at film festivals,” Tan says. “But we said, we’re digital guys, we’re building digital methods of distributing content. So we experimented with putting our content online.”

An Asian film showcase

YouTube was the natural first step, offering ubiquity, reach, and ease of use. Best of all worlds, right? Not quite, as it turns out. “We started realizing that YouTube is all about consistency,” Tan says. “As a YouTuber, you have to be making and uploading content and engaging your audience constantly [if you want to keep your numbers up].” For filmmakers releasing a short film every six months, or every year, that’s far from an ideal situation. Alternative video website Vimeo was better for their kind of content, but it’s primarily US-centric.

See: 10 startups in Asia to watch on Techlist
“What we were wondering was, where is that outlet for high quality Asian stories?” Tan explains. Along with Ho, who left his job at Starhub for this, Tan started Viddsee as a video hosting service built on user-generated content, but with a twist. The content would be curated by Viddsee and it would consist only of high quality films from independent filmmakers. “We kind of evolved into professionally generated content,” Tan says. The site currently includes films from Southeast Asia, South Korea, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and even Israel.

Creating some buzz

At first glance, Viddsee seems pretty similar to sites like YouTube and Vimeo. You can browse through the different videos on offer and choose from a variety of genres and channels. Viddsee shares two new films every day, selected by the team from a range of submissions. Users can stream the films online or download them to their mobile device – a useful feature in territories where bandwidth and data aren’t abundant. The service can be accessed either via the website or the recently launched iOS app. An Android app is also in the works.

But the company goes a step further in presenting its content. There’s Viddsee Buzz, a separate, blog-like section, which highlights films from its catalog. A short post with a Buzzfeed-y, catchy headline summarizes the film and reels the viewer in, and then presents the video at the bottom. “We give the viewers context to a film,” Tan says. “They come in and they spend less than a minute checking out what the film [is about] and then jump to watching it.”

The feature was launched in February last year, and Viddsee saw a huge jump in traffic as a result. It now boasts 2 million monthly unique users, according to Tan. As the team saw an influx of users from a multitude of Asian territories, it started exploring localization options. Last month, Viddsee launched a page in Chinese and is exploring the possibility of other languages as well.

It’s about the content, not where you find it

Viddsee is fostering partnerships with content providers in different markets. The company has already clinched deals with partners like Yahoo and Huffington Post, which allow its content to be accessed from their respective websites. YouTube also came knocking. “There’s this whole concept around building your brand where eyeballs are,” Tan explains. “I think it’s disrupting the notion that content should always be sitting in our own platform and you have to come to us to watch it.”

This approach seems to have worked for Viddsee. The team found it could use this kind of syndication to get content in front of audiences it could never have reached otherwise – not without an actual presence in those markets. “We’re actually very strong in South America,” Tan remarks with some bemusement. The team is now exploring more potential partnerships, and they don’t have to be with content websites – ideas include messaging apps like Line and Snapchat. “It goes back to the idea of how we can be present,” he adds.

Viddsee has also pursued partnerships in terms of sponsored content. A recent collaboration with international insurance firm AIA produced Promise, a short film that is essentially an ad for the company, but also stands on its own as a piece of filmmaking. And sure enough, it proved very popular. “We don’t see it as an advertisement, it’s a genuine story that we shared with the audience,” Tan says.

Value for subscriptions

Viddsee’s service is currently offered for free. A subscription model is perhaps in the cards, but for now Tan feels it’s more important to keep working toward building a following. “What we wanted to do from the start was build a loyal, engaged audience around our content – content that no one else can have easy access to – and actually try to build a proposition around it,” he says.

A subscription model could be implemented once Viddsee reaches its next goal, which is to commission and produce original content, instead of just hosting existing content. Taking a page from Netflix and Amazon’s book, Tan hopes that the added value would justify a subscription cost. “We know our independent filmmakers have scripts, they are looking for avenues to make their content, and I think we’ve become a pretty interesting platform to do that,” he muses.

For now, filmmakers can submit their work to Viddsee in hopes to be featured on the site. Viddsee does not currently offer monetary compensation to the creators whose work it features, but it also doesn’t imprison the content in any kind of exclusivity. Creators enjoy the increased exposure their films get; it has led many of them to festivals and other distribution deals, according to Tan.

As an extra incentive for filmmakers, Viddsee recently announced it has partnered with camera maker Nikon for the Shortee, which is a monthly award given to that month’s “most watched, shared and talked about Asian short film” on Viddsee. “We actually started [the Shortees] last October,” Tan explains. “But back then it was just bragging rights, we wrote articles, interviewed the winners on the site.” Now, the Shortee award comes with a camera kit offered by Nikon to the winning filmmaker.

Ultimately, Viddsee wants to be a global home for Asian-centric stories. Whether fiction or non-fiction, whether by Asian or non-Asian creators, the site wants to use its reach to showcase content with an Asian angle from all over the world. “There are Asian stories on videos that don’t get discovered,” Tan says. “Can we be the Vice for Asia, and tell those stories? What’s the value we can bring both from the audience and the creator’s point of view, while ensuring there’s respect for the content at the end of the day? That’s all that we ask for.”

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