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YouTube bets its future on Asia

YouTube is betting big on Asia, aggressively pushing to expand localized content in the region, even as the online video platform threatens to eclipse television viewership in the U.S., Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl said.

Speaking at Google's APAC headquarters in Singapore, Kyncl said the momentum in user and revenue growth throughout Asia highlighted a key opportunity for the company.

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Alphabet's video platform has seen triple digit growth across the region in all metrics, including viewer watch time and partner uploads in the last year alone.

"Not only does Asia have the largest amount of people, in a few decades, countries here will have the largest GDPs," Kyncl said.

Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, and India already rank among the top 10 markets with the highest viewership. In India alone, there are 500 YouTube channels that surpassed the 100,000 subscriber threshold within a year, Kyncl said.

Hoping to capitalize on the momentum, the platform has unveiled features that address the region's specific needs. YouTube first introduced its offline function in India 2014, before expanding the service to 80 markets globally. Most recently, the platform rolled out the "YouTube Go" app in India, allowing users to view video content offline through its app. Earlier this year, it launched a new Video Checkup Tool in Malaysia, to enable users to check the mobile data quality of different telecommunications providers.

The region-specific products are aimed at reaching users with limited connectivity and data, part of a broader initiative to get the "next billion" users online.

"We're constantly trying to remove friction from the system, whether it's advertisers, users, or telcos," Kyncl said.

In addition to making the platform more accessible to Asian users, the site is investing in localized content for its subscription-based YouTube Red service, launched in 2015.

Case in point: a new reality series featuring Korean Pop boy band Big Bang, the platform's first Asia-specific show. Titled "Run, Big Bang Scout," the series was timed to coincide with the band's 10th anniversary. The five-member group already boasts more than 7.1 million subscribers on its YouTube channel.

While the platform doesn't break out specific numbers, YouTube sources say the move from free demand to subscriptions had been successful so far.

"Creators featured in Originals get a significant boost in YouTube subscribers and watch time on their main channels as well," Kyncl said.

The growth in Asia has been driven in large part, by content providers' desire to reach a global audience.

About 90 percent of K-pop watch time, for example, comes from viewers outside of South Korea. And Clicknetwork, a lifestyle channel which recently surpassed 1 million subscribers, is based in Singapore, but gets nearly a quarter of its viewers from the U.S.

With YouTube users watching more than 1 billion hours of video a day, the platform is now on track to surpass television viewership stateside.

But the company's rapid expansion has resulted in growing pains. Major advertisers including AT&T, Verizon, and Volkswagen recently suspended advertising on the platform, after some ads were featured alongside extremist content.

The company has since implemented several changes, including giving advertisers more control over where their ads appear on the platform and other Google services. YouTube has also beefed up investments in additional staffing and artificial intelligence, to expedite the process of reviewing content.

"We can't fail at this," Kyncl said. "This is the number one thing we have to resolve."