Digital Media in Laos

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Digital Media in Laos


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Map of Laos
Click on the image above for the Population Pyramid of Laos
Located in southeast Asia, Laos is a communist country with a population of 6.477.211 people. The GDP per capita is $2700 USD, with 67% of the population living outside of urban centers. Laos has a very young population, with a median age of 21 years. Laos relies on textile industries and tourism for much of its income.

Of the total population 527.400 have access to the internet, an 8.1% internet penetration. Of those, 129 690 use Facebook, which is 25% of the internet using population, but only 2% of total population. Still by far the most popular website, and search term in Laos. Of Facebook users, 72% are between the ages of 18-34, with 11.000 new users per month over the last 3 months. The young population of Laos makes this the key demographic to target, as they are quickly bringing Laos into the present.



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Internet

Internet Usage

With a population of 6 477 211, and 527 400 internet users, Laos has an internet penetration rate of 8.1%, which is located exclusively in urban areas, the majority in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Since 2000, Laos has seen an increase of 8790% in internet users. Of these users, 129 690 have active facebook accounts, which represents 25% of internet users in Laos, but only 2% of the total population. However, Facebook is also numbers 1 through 3 on the most searched terms in Laos (www.facebook.com, facebook, facebook.com respectively) with growth rates of 250%, 110% and 80%. Of all Facebook users in Laos, 72% are between the ages of 18-34, and this age group accounts for 11 000 new facebook accounts per month. Since 2010, over 100 000 new facebook accounts have been created. [1]

Internet access in Laos is very PC heavy, with 73% of users using only computers to access it. Mobile only is currently a much smaller market, as only 4% of users are strictly limited to their phones. Overall 27% of users have access through their mobile devices, a number which will grow as mobile networks increase within Laos.[2]

Activities Online

On top of this, 36% of users have purchased a product online, using predominantly credit cards and money transfers as payment. [3]



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Mobile Penetration

The lack of infrastructure was a barrier to early development of the telecom industry of Laos. The mobile phone market took off in early 2003, with the number of subscribers increasing sevenfold in the two years following, however the telecom sector in Laos has many issues to address, especially with the recent price wars between Beeline and other Laotian mobile operators. The current market leader is Unitel, which has driven the market with its recent collaboration with Vietnamese company Viettel. Following right after, are Vimplecom (which recently acquired Tigo) and Beeline. The current mobile penetration has reached 80% of the population and 2011 saw a 25% increase in the number of mobile users moving from 4 million to 5 million. [4]

Mobile Broadband Services

While the internet services across the country still continue to lag, 2011 saw the boom in mobile broadband internet services, making internet accessible to the rural areas as well. All the mobile operators now offer 3G services, and free internet sites like 0.facebook.com have become popular. Unitel downloads up to 5 Mbps – faster than LaoTel and ETL. Currently,Beeline has the fastest 3G in Laos. Mobile broadband services got a further boost when the ISP Planet launched a 4G WiMAX service in Vientiane. While the numbers on mobile broadband penetration are unavailable, the government has said that they are building infrastructure to penetrate more into the rural areas of the country. Laos is still well behind many of its neighbours in terms of speed and price, although 3G is more widely available than in NE Thailand.[5]

Smart Phone Usage

Laos is dumped with rip offs of iphones and android based phones, with pirated softwares and fake phones being imported from China. Chinese Android Tablets (Chipads) come with several language options, but not Lao. They are sold at $90-$100 in Vientiane, only 15% of the actual cost. Genuine Samsung and Apple phones and tablets are also available in Vietiane. Android also has a Lao Language software pack which is available for free with the phone.

Collaboration with neighboring countries

Thai mobile phones can be used near the border in Laos. Similarly other neighboring country services like Cambodia, China and Vietnam are found near their borders. Laos telecommunications and IT improvements result from joint ventures between Thai, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Australian private enterprise and the Lao Government. Lao Telecom, Tigo (now Beeline), ETL and Unitel (StarPhone) are the main Lao mobile phone operators offering a variety of services including internet access via GPRS/EDGE, 3G, CDMA, WiFi, 4G WiMax wireless broadband and ADSL in some areas. Users can connect direct from a suitable phone or use the phone for tethering a modem to a laptop or PC. [6]



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Digital Media Platforms

Blogging

It is inaccessible to reach bloggers in Laos.

Micro Blogging

There is limited micro blogging in Laos.

Facebook

Facebook is by far the most popular website in Laos, with over 25% of internet users having an active Facebook account. Despite this penetration, only 2% of the total population of Laos maintains a profile. The fastest growing user age group is 18-24 year olds with 7000 new accounts per month, followed by the 25-34 age group with 400 new accounts per month. [7]

Popular Laos based Facebook Pages

Beerlao Music Zone[8]

Facebook page of BeerLao, and central to the musical events they plan as promotions.


Laos Travel [9]

Community page for travellers, tourists and those living in Laos.


LaoFriends

Laofriends is a community site for people to meet and interact with Lao citizens. It offers penpals, friendships, and possible relationships. This is very quickly linked to sister sites Laogirls.com and Laobabes.com, which are very targetted towards western travellers, and seek to promote Lao girls to foreigners. Although this is essentially a mail order bride type website, it is actually one of the few websites originating from Laos that is not Beerlao or LaosAir. It is also the first line of sites users find when searching for Laos websites.


LaoBuddy.com

A site for Lao citizen abroad, based out of United States. Has more activity than other Laos websites despite, which really demonstrates the lack of internet access within Laos.


Sounay Phothisane’s Museum [10]

The only visible scholarly blogger in Laos, Sounay is a teacher at Mahasarakham Business School in Laos. He maintains a twitter account @Aodto, and has created websites for entities like Vientiane High School, and VientianeHour.com, a lifestyle website in Laotic. His main interests are business and developmental politics relating to Laos.


LaoBumpkin [11]

A blog about life in Laos, including travelling, politics, and news. Offers insight into local customs, indigenous life, and national news.

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Traditional Media Platforms


With a low internet penetration of 8.1% traditional media continues to be the best way to reach out to the mass population of the country. In fact the top twitter channels are also the ones maintained by the Laos Newswire and Vientiane Times. (link to twitter channels) Being a communist state, the Laotian government maintains a strict control over the media. The government owns all newspapers and broadcast media. [12] Khaosan Pathet Lao (KPL) is the official news agency, which supplies information to the other media houses, according to the government regulations.[13]

Newspapers

Vientiane Times is Laos' first English newspaper, launched is April 1994 as a weekly tabloid, by the Lao People's Democratic Republic. By 1996, it expanded to Monday to Friday, and Saturday edition was added in 2007. Vientiane Times newspaper covers a wide range of domestic and international news and provides information reflecting government policy and socio-economic development. It is part of the Lao Press in Foreign Languages, a specialised agency of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. [14] Le Renovateur is the only Laotian French newspaper (also under KPL), started in 1988, and is also part of the Lao Press in Foreign Languages. It is published weekly, and covers similar topics to the Vientiane Times. Vientiane Mai is a state-run daily and Pasaxon the Lao People's Revolutionary Party’s monthly publication.

Television & Radio

The 1990s saw a rapid growth of the number of television and radio sets. The Ministry of Information and Culture of the Lao PDR co-operated with a Chinese cable TV company to establish a cable TV in Laos, enabling Lao audiences to watch more foreign television programmes. Thus today, people with access to cable TV living in the centre of Vientiane are able to watch up to 30 foreign television channels, including BBC, CNN, CNBC, Worldnet, ABC Asia Pacific, TV5 (France), DW (Germany), RAI (Italy), MTV, Startsport, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, Korean and other channels. [15] There are 7 television broadcast stations and 52,000 television receivers. Lao National TV (TVNL) is the state broadcaster; Laos Television 3 a joint venture with a Thai company. The main radio station is Lao National Radio. [16]

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Impacts of Digital Media

Business

Social media in Laos is yet in the infant stage, where users make use of social platforms to share personal stories and stay in touch with each other. Due to the low internet penetration, corporations are yet to optimize social media from a commercial aspect. The brands which have a maximum presence on Facebook are Pioneer with 128,000 users and Nokia Centro América y Caribe with 16,563 users. However, neither is dedicated solely to Laos. [17]

Society

Blogger Sounay says, “Social media has become a platform for Lao people especially teenagers to express themselves and to be heard. Facebook, Twitter and Blogger are intermediaries for them to personally express on online society. These platforms have become essential tools for them to show their talents, personality, behaviors which are rarely shown on offline community.” [18] However, this is limited to urban area of Laos. Those living in the rural areas are only recent adopters of Facebook and use it primarily on their mobile phones to connect to their friends.



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Expert Opinions

Sounay Photisane

Sounay
Sounay is an influential Laotian blogger spoke about social media conference at Jakarta.

“Social media in Laos has been increasingly changing in a constant rate due to its fast growing economy and IT infrastructure expansion. Social media is basically used for entertainment and communication with their friends, family and love ones. Nearly eighty percent of the population working in agricultural sector and education is hardly accessed and people are pretty not sophisticated in using the internet, in another words, they use social media (internet) in comfortable ways by socializing and entertaining but not for complicated or flexible stuff. For example, on a daily basis, Lao people use the internet for email, news, visiting social networking sites, viewing photos and videos. Gaming is not a significant preference in Laos. Browsing for merchandise/services is only a second level daily preference. Buying and trading online, job hunting, and banking rank as some of the least practiced activities on the internet. This shows that the internet in Laos is primarily a social rather than a business of transactional tool.” [19]



Simon Kemp

In a quick twitinterview with Simon Kemp, MD, WeAreSocial (follow #DMLaos)

1. What are your views on the future (next 5 years) of social media in Laos I think things will pick up rapidly in Laos in the next 2-3 years thanks to mobile data, particularly driven by social media

2. We realised that there were no Twitter stats available for Laos, why has the nation not adopted the concept of microblogging? Lack of stats doesn't mean lack of activity. Where mobile dominates web access, stats are harder to find due to capture method.

3. Would lack of data imply that this market is yet untapped by social media researchers? Yes, that's not unreasonable. It's not a big ad market, so there's not sufficient commercial incentive to study it yet.

4. Why does Laos local SNS involves mainly dating sites and not the type which citizens can connect on a regular basis? It is perhaps because only a small percentage of the population has access, so everyday chat isn't workable

5. While the government claims not to control the internet in Laos, it controls all other media, do you think there is a censorship which the government in refusing to reveal? We must distinguish between 'censorship' and monitoring; most governments are exploring how to protect people in online communities

6. Will the communist nature of the state impact the way the government regulates Social Media? I'd imagine they'd need to keep a close eye on how sudden, large-scale access to the 'outside' world impacted Lao culture




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Case Studies

Lao Music Awards

Lao Music Awards [20] is organised by the Ministry of Information and Culture of Laos to honor major achievements in the local music industry, collaborating with Sengdara Communications Ltd., a Vientiane-based advertising and marketing agency. It has been held since 2008 and never fail to receive wide media attention every year, with many prominent artists performing at the show.

Digital Media Platforms

This event has a formal website [21] with various links to headlines, videos, photos and sponsors. On the LMA website, there is a clear call of action to the public with how to participate in the voting process. Laotians are also able to tweet and comment (illegible font) about a specific headline. As of 31 March 2012, their Facebook page has 2,909 likes (a respectable number given its humble establishment in September 2010) and is kept active with an average of over 40 people talking about the event each month (March has 30 people and February has 62 people talking in 2012). The most recent post was a youtube video posted by a Laotian. The Facebook pages features a timeline with highlights and posts of photographs (such as The LMA Red Carpet and the Vientiane Road Show)

The Facebook platform has facilitated a two-way dialogue between the Laotians and the LMA, with the Laotians posting enquires about the event and the LMA responding in a matter of days, it also uses the FB page to urge the public to click on likes and to show their appreciation for their participation.



References

  1. http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics/laos
  2. http://www.aseansec.org/documents/ASEAN%20eCommerce%20Database%20Project.pdf
  3. http://www.aseansec.org/documents/ASEAN%20eCommerce%20Database%20Project.pdf
  4. https://www.budde.com.au/Research/Laos-Telecoms-Mobile-Broadband-and-Forecasts.html?r=51
  5. http://www.retire-asia.com/lao-communications.shtml
  6. http://www.retire-asia.com/lao-communications.shtml
  7. http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics/laos
  8. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Beerlao-Music-Zone/131434086942743
  9. http://www.facebook.com/pages/LAOS/51035150965
  10. http://sounay.com/#Portfolio
  11. http://laobumpkin.blogspot.com/
  12. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-15353971
  13. http://www.kpl.net.la/english/about%20us.htm
  14. http://www.vientianetimes.org.la/About_us.htm
  15. http://www.kpl.net.la/english/media.htm
  16. http://www.asianz.org.nz/our-work/media/covering-asia/laos
  17. http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics/laos
  18. http://blog.sounay.com/2012/02/24/got-interviewed-by-vilnius-universitys-research-student-about-lao-social-media
  19. http://blog.sounay.com/2012/02/24/got-interviewed-by-vilnius-universitys-research-student-about-lao-social-media
  20. http://profile.ak.fbcdn.net/hprofile-ak-ash2/188041_121682094552829_7271090_n.jpg
  21. http://profile.ak.fbcdn.net/hprofile-ak-ash2/188041_121682094552829_7271090_n.jpg