The art of the moving image has blossomed anew in this current age of disruption, with streaming platforms now home to the kind of rich, diverse content that blockbuster-saturated cineplexes are declining to make room for. In recent years, the likes of Netflix have even been giving established studios a run for their money during film festivals and awards season, prompting some grumbling from the industry’s more traditional players.
Ho Jia Jian is no stranger to this conversation, and as the co-founder of video entertainment platform Viddsee, along with Derek Tan, his convictions lie firmly in the merits of new, tech-enabled possibilities. Jia Jian and Derek first met at the National University of Singapore, where they both were engineering students who shared a love of cinema. They became film-makers at a time when YouTube was in its infancy, and “the only way to get your film seen was to get it into festivals”, he recalls.
After stints at StarHub, where they worked in then-emerging fields such as digital advertising and internet TV, they decided to launch Viddsee together in 2013. “We saw a lot of new opportunities for people like us, who are engineers but are also creative. We wanted to use our skills to empower and help other filmmakers get their stories out there.” Specifically, they had a hypothesis they wanted to test: if they could make more local content available to people in Southeast Asia, would viewers be interested?
In a region where neighbouring countries aren’t all that familiar with one another’s cultural output, this was by no means a fail-safe idea for a business. But their leap of faith paid off. Today, the Viddsee website and app hosts short films, mostly created by Asian film-makers, which have generated over a billion views from a predominantly Southeast Asian audience.
“Many start off by watching content from their own country, but over time, they actually start watching stuff from other countries as well,” says the soft-spoken Jia Jian, whose favourite film-makers include the late Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad. “We do see a lot of similarities between these different markets, and it’s a pity that regional audiences don’t know each other’s stories that well. But the beauty of film when combined with technology is that you don’t have to be constrained by geographical boundaries and traditional distribution channels anymore. Anybody, anywhere, can access these stories.”
The content that thrives on Viddsee tends to be authentic, relatable, and shareable, Jia Jian says. “Many of the films on our platform are inspired by the film-makers’ personal experiences.” Giving creative talent a platform is a big part of their vision, and success stories to date include Singaporean directors Jason Lee and Daniel Yam, who have gone on to helm more high-profile projects after their shorts did well on Viddsee. Most recently, the company announced its entry into producing original content, with the launch of Viddsee Studios.
But while commissioned work will become a significant part of Viddsee’s offerings, Jia Jian also believes deeply in the importance of continuing to give new film-makers an avenue for submitting their works. “More people will create content as film-making equipment becomes more accessible, and I hope they will be inspired not just by Hollywood, but also by the local content they watch. We already see this new generation rising up, and that’s really exciting for us.”
Audience development is also crucial. “We have people writing in to us to share how watching certain films on our platform touched them, and often these are not your typical festival-going audience,” Jia Jian shares. “We always have the audience in mind, and how their consumption habits are changing. Our community drives a lot of the decisions we make, and we’ve built everything to be digital first, because that’s where the next billion people are going to be.”
[Coordination Chong Seow Wei; Photography Darren Gabriel Leow; Fashion Direction Desmond Lim; Hair Grego/Indigo Artisans, using Keune Haircosmetics Singapore; Make-up Cheryl Ow/Indigo Artisans, using Parfums Christian Dior and Delanie Wong/Indigo Artisans, using Make Up For Ever; Photographer’s assistant Eric Tan; Stylist’s assistant Joey Tan]