Evolution of the online media marketing in the last years
If we talk about ‘digital media’ in the Philippines, we talk largely about the rapidly expanding communication spaces networked by the internet. As of 2019, 79 million out of about 110 million Filipinos (72 percent) use the internet, an increase of more than 3,300 percent from 2000 figures, based on the data from Internet World Stats (2020b), which combined the figures published by Facebook, International Telecommunications Union, and other sources. Internet penetration rate is rapidly increasing in the country, as evidenced by an increase of nine percentage points in just one year (from 2018 to 2019). The figures published by We are Social, an advertising agency, and Hootsuite, a social media management platform (2020, cited by Kemp, 2020), are more recent but slightly lower: 73 million internet users as of January 2020, which means that the internet penetration rate is at 67 percent.
The Philippines is ranked 12th worldwide in terms of the number of internet users as of the first quarter of 2020 (Internet World Stats, 2020a), this despite having one of the slowest average internet speeds in the world (ABS CBN News, 2019; Akamai Technologies, Inc., 2017). According to the Speedtest Global Index, which ranks over 130 countries according to average internet speed, Philippines ranks 103rd out of 139 countries with its average speed falling below the global average (ABS CBN News, 2019).
Filipinos are also at the top spot worldwide when it comes to the amount of time spent on internet: an average of nine hours and 45 minutes everyday (We are Social and Hootsuite, 2020, cited by Kemp, 2020). This is probably linked to the slow average internet speed, but the factors have yet to be determined through empirical studies.
Despite the convergence of technologies and the internet coming of age especially in the urban Philippines, internet penetration, literacy, and speed particularly in the countryside remains hindered by poor infrastructure (Pablo, 2018). The pandemic crisis has drawn attention to how poor internet can sabotage essential activities or functions. For one, the poor internet speed makes it extremely difficult for many schools, especially in the rural areas, to switch to online learning as the crisis forced schools to close down (Gascon, 2020). The business processing outsourcing industry, once described as the ‘sunshine industry’ because of the huge number of jobs it generated in the past decade, may also suffer because the work-from-home set-up – the new normal – can be adversely affected by poor internet connection (Ibañez, 2020). Unless these conditions change, corporate clients ‘may look to have alternative destinations serving particularly premium customers where they just can’t afford to have long wait times and outages,’ said Sharon Melamed, managing director of Matchboard, an Australian-based outsourcing matching service, in an interview with BusinessWorld (Ibañez, 2020).
The younger population uses the internet most often, although this does not come as a surprise. The highest amount of internet usage was observed among Filipinos in the 18 to 24 age bracket (81 percent), followed by the 25 to 34 bracket (65 percent), based on a 2018 survey by the Social Weather Stations (Flores, 2018). More recent data points at a large generation gap in internet use: 94 percent of people aged 18 to 29 use the internet at least ocassionally and own a smartphone, as opposed to 36 percent for those aged 50 years and above (Schumacher and Kent, 2020). There is also another gap in internet usage according to income: people with higher income are more likely to use the internet than those with lower income (Schumacher and Kent, 2020).
Filipinos access the internet primarily through the smartphone, according to a survey done by advertising agency We are Social and social media management platform Hootsuite (2020). An overwhelming 94 percent of the sample (Filipinos aged 16 to 64) are mobile phone users, 93 percent of which are smartphone users. More than 70 million are mobile internet users (majority of the population), accounting for 97 percent of the total number of internet users, and there are even more mobile phone connections than there are people in the Philippines. Smartphone access also accounts for much of the web browser traffic (We are Social and Hootsuite, 2020).
The number of smartphone users in the Philippines are expected to more than double from about 40 million in 2016 to 90 million by 2021, according to the 2016 Ericsson Mobility Report (Jiao, 2016). To put these figures into perspective, one has to consider that the Philippine population has reached 109 million as of 2020.
The mobile internet penetration rate was said to be increasing by 30 million users every year (Garcia, 2016), despite the poor mobile internet speeds. In the ‘State of the LTE report’ published by mobile network research firm OpenSignal (Boyland, 2019), the speed and availability of the long-term evolution or LTE mobile connection in the country fared so poorly that it ranked 71st out of 87 countries.
Nevertheless, despite the long history of sluggish internet, internet speeds in the country appear to be increasing at a fast pace. The same report states that there is an 11 percent increase in the mobile internet speed connection from 2018 to 2019 and a huge leap of 34 percent in the case of fixed internet connection.
The same survey also covered how Filipinos use the internet every month. Respondents reported spending most of their time online on social media (98 percent) and messenger (97 percent), followed by entertainment and video apps (92 percent). Other priorities include navigation (75 percent), gaming (68 percent), music (65 percent), and shopping (59 percent). In terms of ‘online content activities’, most Filipinos use the internet to watch online videos (98 percent of the survey sample), watch vlogs (80 percent), and listen to music streaming services (84 percent) (We are Social and Hootsuite, 2020).
Philippines is also ‘the fastest growing app market’ in Southeast Asia, as more and more Filipinos are availing of services (e-commerce, for instance) through their smartphones (Garcia, 2016). According to report, 91 percent of the sample said that they searched online for products to buy in the month preceding the survey. The same percentage also visited an online retail store and 76 percent purchased a product online. Moreover, more than 48 million people (roughly 45 percent of the population) reported purchasing consumer goods online in 2019. Kemp (2020), however, said that despite these figures, the Philippine online economy is ‘still relatively small’. In fact, the country posted the lowest average revenue per ecommerce user among the sample of countries included in the Digital Market Outlook survey of Statista, an online portal for statistics from various sources worlwide (2020, cited by Kemp, 2020).
The Philippine youth expect that the networked technologies that will have the greatest impact in their lives in the future include the ‘Internet of Things (IoT), virtual/mixed/augmented reality (VR/MR/AR), and next-generation computing experiences’ (Microsoft Philippines, 2017). This is based on a survey with a sample of the younger population in Asia-Pacific. The IoT, ranked as the top technology projected to have the biggest impact on people’s lives, now exist in the form of ‘confluence of power devices, cloud and data’ (Microsoft Philippines, 2017). However, six out of 10 Filipino respondents in the sample felt that the country is ‘not ready to adapt to digital disruptions’. For instance, only a small number of Filipinos relative to the total population owns or uses a smart home device, as suggested by the results of the survey published by We are Social and Hootsuite (2020). Only 4.2 percent of the respondents reported owning or using a smart home device.
Traditional media (print and broadcast) have long invested in online presence to expand reach given the pervasiveness of the internet in the Philippines. Newspapers like The Philippine Daily Inquirer and broadcast networks like GMA put up their respective news websites, which either reprint stories or videos published in print or shown in television programmes (or appropriate content into the online format) or publish entirely new stories ‘as soon as they happen’. One firm, Rappler.com, is a purely online news outlet.
Like the traditional media, news websites source their revenues largely from advertisements, and advertising revenue is a function of reach and audience engagement. Hence, news firms re-post content in social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), which as the abovementioned data suggests, is where many Filipinos discuss or communicate with their networks.
The internet coming of age also provided cause-oriented groups and individuals with a cheaper if not entirely free platform in which they can disseminate information to an increasing number of netizens. Even belligerent forces are using social media networks and websites to reach more audiences, as in the case of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ and Moro International Liberation Front’s websites and accounts in Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter.
Alternative or non-mainstream media found the internet as a cheap platform for their content, which compensates for their meagre resources when compared with those of mainstream media. Pinoy Weekly and Bulalat.com, for example, publish most of their stories online, and these stories were mostly guided by news values different from those that guide mainstream news. However, alternative media outlets, which have a long history of reporting on government transgressions, recently reported cyberattacks especially in January this year. Bulatlat.com, for example, was inaccessible for a period of time because of a ‘Distributed Denial of Service’ or DDos attack, with the ‘attackers using 1,100 compromised computers to flood the website with requests’ (Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, 2019).