HO CHI MINH CITY —
Last year, Phuong Nghi bought herself a smartphone because her parents refused to get her one. And perhaps for a good reason: Nghi didn't think twice when recently asked how much time she spends watching videos on the device. "Eight hours," she said. Per day.
Nghi's parents worried she would become like millions of young Vietnamese who are addicted to electronics and the internet.
"My mom was afraid I would use it too much, that it wouldn't be good for me," the pharmacy major told VOA, pulling out her white Samsung with a pink cat ornament.
Many other Vietnamese are turning to the internet to watch videos, too. Nielsen, a consumer research company, reported last week that 91 percent of all online users in Vietnam log on to watch videos at least once a week. That puts Vietnam at the top of a list ranking online viewing in six Southeast Asian countries.
Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand had percentages in the 80s, while Malaysia came in at 67 percent and Singapore at 56 percent.
Besides watching a lot of video, Vietnamese are also multitaskers. Nielsen surveyed "digital consumers" who owned several devices – from smartphones to computers and smart TVs – and found that more than anyone else in the region, Vietnamese often use three gadgets simultaneously. Vietnam's three-screen usage rate is 84 percent. Nielsen said in a press release that this was part of a trend in Asia marked by the "growing consumption of online video content."
“Consumers are exercising their choice of how, when and where they can obtain their content and are more active in their media habits than ever before,” said Nancy Jaffe, Nielsen’s cross-platform leader in Southeast Asia.
Online video adds an extra layer of controversy in Vietnam, a one-party system that limits the internet and media overall. That’s because sites like Youtube and Facebook allow people to upload clips beyond the reach of Hanoi censors. Not that the Vietnamese government turns a blind eye to what its citizens post online. For instance, officials fined the creators of an online TV show called “Apartment 69.” Ostensibly the infraction was not getting state sanction to produce the series, but the show also centered around the sexual exploits of young Vietnamese.
Still, the internet has been a boon to amateur and other directors who make use of free platforms to develop their craft. Huynh Nguyen Dang Khoa broke ground two years ago with his debut, “My Best Gay Friend,” seen as Vietnam’s first gay sitcom. The episodes on Youtube averaged roughly one million views each and brought global attention to the country’s gay rights movement.
Much of the rise in online video use follows the rise of smartphones and increased internet penetration in Vietnam. The Nielsen report said in the last three years, internet access on smartphones quadrupled here, while access on laptops more than doubled. And yet Nielsen said Vietnamese spend 15.5 hours online for personal use each week, the lowest figure in the survey. Citizens from all the other countries in the study spend no less than 20 hours online a week.
As the survey was being released, Vietnam was going through yet another internet slowdown all across the country. Most of the country relies on one main cable to connect them to the virtual world, and that undersea wire can get damaged multiple times a year. The latest cable debacle (which remains unfixed as of this publishing) inspired Tech in Asia editor Anh-Minh Do to pen a blog post titled, “Will Vietnam ever take its internet seriously?”
In it, Do complains that the low internet capacity is “ridiculous.”
“For a country … that is desperate for foreign direct investment and eager to be seen as a technology hub, basic needs like internet need to be addressed,” Do writes.
He went on to criticize a major internet service provider that “can’t even keep its cables from being cut, or at least develop contracts to build more. If Vietnam can’t get basic things like internet together, how can it be taken seriously?”