The Philippines has long been one of Wattpad’s strongholds, but this month comes news from Manila Bulletin that fully 7 million of Wattpad’s 65+ million users around the world are from that one country.
After the latest $51 million round of Wattpad funding in January, with a substantial portion coming from China’s Tencent –
which also has digital entertainment investments in Thailand –
it was a given Wattpad would be expanding its focus on SE Asia.
All the more so given the other major investor in the $51 million arrangement was Philippines-based Globe Telecom’s Kickstart Ventures.
So it was no surprise at all in March when Betakit ran the story,
With aggressive hiring plans Wattpad doubles down on the Asian market.
CEO Allen Lau said then that Wattpad planned to add a further 40 people in product, engineering, and content to its current 130-strong staff list.
While Wattpad has a broad focus on investing in its product, machine learning has been a repeated main focus for the company, as it looks to the technology to help it scan stories that will likely be co-produced by studios, and in Lau’s words, potentially help creators improve their writing.
Lau told Betakit that Wattpad’s Tap Originals is one area, along with machine learning, that will be invested in.
Most of the stories on Tap are Original, commissioned, and multimedia, so they take a very different format. So hiring people in the area would be quite interesting.
On Tencent, Betakit noted Wattpad hoped to leverage Tencent’s existing digital portfolio – WeChat, Tencent music, and its e-book property China Literature.
Lau told Betakit,
They (Tencent) have deep expertise in both the entertainment and publishing industry, especially in the area that we’re in, social storytelling. By having them invest in the company, we are already seeing great learnings from the people in Tencent that can really help us accelerate our knowledge and experience and growing our markets. Tencent, in terms of operation, pretty much all the operations are inside China, and for us we are pretty much everywhere except for China.
The investment of Kickstart Ventures adds a telco to Wattpad’s already impressive media connections in the Philippines.
In 2016 Wattpad partnered with the TV5 network to offer Wattpad Presents, a TV show based on Wattpad stories.
Kickstart Ventures parent Globe Telecom is a major telco player across SE Asia and so the deal gives both Wattpad and Tencent access to the potentially lucrative markets of Indonesia and Vietnam.
Lau was not shy about his global ambitions.
We already have a TV show in the Philippines, where we’re on season 6. It’s one of the most popular shows for young audiences in the Philippines. We want to replicate this, across all four regions, pushing our native content written by local people in their local cultures, we can adapt the content from native Wattpad stories to bring those TV shows and movies in that region.
Heading the Asia projects will be the newly appointed (April 5) Dexter Ong, late of 21st Century Fox Asia, now Head of Asia, Wattpad Studios. Ong operates out of Hong Kong.
On Ong’s appointment, Aron Levitz, Head of Wattpad Studios, said
Southeast Asia is one of our most important regions globally, with some of our most dedicated and passionate users. Not only have users across the region spent billions of hours on Wattpad, they’ve embraced Wattpad film and TV adaptations, making them into local hits. Dexter’s regional expertise and global perspective are the perfect combination to help us expand our entertainment footprint in Asia.
Last year Wattpad headhunted Eric Lehrman of NBCUniversal’s USA Network to become Wattpad’s Head of Content Development, Production.
As if to ram home that point, on May 4 Wattpad announced on its blog its latest movie deal, with Sony acquiring the rights to Katarina E. Tonks’ Death is My BFF. The aforementioned Lehrman will be one of the executive producers.
On Wattpad Death Is My BFF attracted 92 million reads. Just one of many properties on Wattpad that will be making it into other media formats, making Wattpad the perfect match for Tencent.
It would be no surprise at all if Tencent acquires Wattpad early in the next decade.