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Vietnam a Laboratory for Emerging Market Tech

Google officials and partners cut into a birthday cake marking YouTube's first year with a Vietnamese version. (Lien Hoang/VOA News)
Google officials and partners cut into a birthday cake marking YouTube's first year with a Vietnamese version. (Lien Hoang/VOA News)

Vietnam punches above its weight, clocking more hours on YouTube than most other countries, the company said Wednesday. Vietnam’s performance helps make Asia a testing ground for YouTube, which for example rolled out an “offline” feature in just a few markets, all of them in Asia.

Vietnam's population ranks it 14th in the world, but the country is among YouTube’s top 10 markets for time spent watching videos. The company announced the figures at an event in Ho Chi Minh City to mark the first anniversary of, the website’s localized version.

“We’ve seen in just one year, 120 percent year-on-year growth in terms of watch time,” said Phuong Anh Nguyen, head of marketing for Vietnam at YouTube parent company, Google. That compares with 50 percent growth worldwide.

“This is contributed mostly by the launch of .vn, which allows a lot of people in Vietnam to find more Vietnamese content, for Vietnamese users to upload Vietnamese content and also monetize on it,” said Nguyen.

While YouTube has local websites for 73 countries, Vietnam is one of the guinea pigs, where the company can try out services for emerging markets. The offline option debuted in Vietnam in April, making the country one of eight where users can save clips to watch when they’re not on the Internet.

Data plans are cheap but limited, so Vietnamese typically hitch their smartphones to a cafe’s wireless Internet as soon as they plunk down. WiFi is a customer expectation, having become so ubiquitous it’s even offered by street vendors with sidewalk stools. That’s why YouTube Offline launched here, and in Asian countries from Laos to India to the Philippines. Locals embrace the web, but often access it temporarily through smartphones, making offline functions useful.

“Internet, especially mobile Internet, is growing very fast in Vietnam,” said Lisa Nguyen, head of business development at Internet retailer Cho Tot. “Although we started maybe a little bit behind a few other countries in the region, such as Singapore, Korea, and Japan, but it makes us grow even faster, because the technology is already there. So it becomes easier to adapt it to the country.”

As with many emerging markets, people in Vietnam are more likely to own smartphones than laptops. German market researcher GfK released a survey August 31 saying Vietnam had the fastest-growing smartphone market in Southeast Asia.

This, along with a young population fascinated by technology, makes YouTube appealing in the country, said Phuong Anh Nguyen. While the video sharing site has pushed Vietnamese content since 2014, the generic version of YouTube has been available here for years. Observers say that first-mover advantage has allowed the site to amass an unrivaled library of clips. YouTube said users upload 400 hours worth of video per minute, compared with a rate of about 70 hours five years ago.

In other markets, consumers might opt for the creativity of Vimeo or pay for subscriptions to Hulu and Netflix. But that’s not the case in Vietnam.

“There are not a lot of options for the consumer to go to,” said Nguyen Hoang Long, senior brand manager for Nam Ngu fish sauce, which won a YouTube award for its commercial. “There are only a handful of other video websites but they are not as big.”

Phuong Anh Nguyen believes another reason YouTube took off in Vietnam is that locals are entrepreneurial and obsessed with education, so they like how-to videos. They watch a higher percentage of clips tagged “education” than most people in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation countries, she said. Vietnam also sends more students to the United States than any of its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

“I see a lot of young people hungry to learn, hungry to explore, discover new things,” Phuong Anh Nguyen said. “And there, YouTube is the perfect space for them to engage with the global community, to learn things they maybe don’t have access to.”