The decision by Mediacorp, Singapore’s incumbent broadcaster, to reboot its video offering Toggle seems to be bearing fruit.
A larger and easier-to-access selection of free content, now without a registration barrier that had hindered uptake in the past, has delivered a massive ratings boost since Toggle’s relaunch last April.
That’s helped put the site on the map for media buyers in an online video market that, until recently, offered few options beyond YouTube.
The next step will be sustaining this momentum while converting audience gains into revenue.
“The growth of Toggle, a platform written off by almost everyone, has been stunning,” remarks Shrivastha Raghunathan, strategic and commercial head for media agency ZenithOptimedia Singapore.
A surge in video consumption on Facebook also helped reshape Singapore’s online video landscape over 2015, Raghunathan notes.
“YouTube is still big and relevant but the buzz and momentum is with Facebook video, with Toggle being an unsung hero, quietly gathering eyeballs,” he adds.
As part of Toggle’s revamp, Mediacorp also wound up its XinMSN joint venture with Microsoft, which had been a big traffic driver in its own right, while bringing Mediacorp’s second-screen services under Toggle’s ambit, effectively consolidating its digital entertainment properties in one place.
“Rather than fragmenting offerings, we decided to put it all into one integrated offering,” recounts Mediacorp’s head of connected media, Anil Nihalani, speaking in an interview with Media Business Asia.
“We refreshed the Toggle brand to reflect its evolution,” he continues. “We want to build a broad-based appeal.”
At the same time, Toggle’s paid offerings were pared down, as the focus shifted away from ramping up subscriptions. Some programming previously behind the paywall – such as classic shows from Mediacorp’s library – became available for free.
Now, Mediacorp is reorienting Toggle to tap the only bright spot in an otherwise lackluster ad market – digital advertising.
Online is on course to become Singapore’s biggest ad medium by 2018, expanding by double digits each year compared with near-flat or negative growth across traditional media channels, according to industry analysts Media Partners Asia.
Toggle, which had struggled to gain traction in previous guises, could be a major beneficiary, leveraging its parent’s advertiser relationships and access to talent in the process.
Mediacorp is working on new ad products to step up competition with digital rivals, looking to capitalize on Toggle’s expanding reach.
The first debuted last month, a targeting tool called Customer360 that allows advertisers to buy over 100 curated audiences, in segments such as food, travel, sports, health, automotive and finance, across different media owned by Mediacorp.
At the same time, Mediacorp is expanding its slate of made-for-digital content – a major focus for 2016 – while revamping areas such as discovery and personalization, to encourage people to spend more time on the site while extending its reach.
The aim is establish Toggle as a destination for local entertainment, while giving the site an identity beyond being an online extension for Mediacorp’s broadcast content, the main audience driver so far.
“We have been known for catch-up, which gives you the time shifting capability,” Nihalani says.
“We wanted a bit more flesh around that with original content, which then gives a wider content choice to our audience, not just what’s available on free-to-air.”
The first of Toggle’s new productions – A Selfie’s Tale (pictured above), a short-form English comedy about a self-centered gym instructor starring Mediacorp talent – made its debut at the beginning of the month.
Mediacorp has confirmed 11 more in English and Mandarin to run over the course of the year, supported by grants from Singapore’s Media Development Authority to encourage public service broadcasting.
More Originals, including some in other languages, are in development, focusing on genres that rated well among Toggle’s first digital productions, which aired last year.
ADDED LOCAL FLAVOR
Mediacorp’s TV productions still rate well, especially among Chinese audiences. Translating this success online can help the broadcaster establish a differentiated digital proposition in the face of formidable competition from global titans such as Facebook and Google.
“There’s potentially a lot of affinity with a local audience,” notes Christopher Low, a global digital manager for Maxus, a GroupM media agency.
“You are not necessarily going to get the high reach numbers but you’re going to score on the engagement front,” he adds.
“If you can get users spending more time on the site, that is a big asset that can be leveraged across Mediacorp’s suite of ad products.”
Paid subs represent a small part of Toggle’s viewing base, but Nihalani is also looking for more content to go behind the paywall, while maintaining the site's current premium offerings.
These include branded on-demand services from the likes of Celestial Tiger Entertainment and Disney, in addition to first-window viewing for Mediacorp dramas, full seasons of Toggle Originals upfront (episodes will be released on a staggered basis for free viewers) as well as third-party programming licensed by Mediacorp.
The main aim, however, is getting the right balance between ad-supported and subscription-based services, Nihalani says.
“We do upsell our free viewers to subscribe to our paid tier," he says, "but the focus is primarily to drive that free tier, as a way to bring audiences in.”