Story-sharing app Wattpad looks to Asia

Story-sharing app Wattpad is riding branded content’s pivot to video to Asia.

Wattpad Studios, the company’s entertainment arm that partners with entertainment studios to turn stories that appear on Wattpad into print, films, digital videos and TV shows, is expanding into Asia as the app’s popularity grows in the region.

Last week, Toronto-based Wattpad hired Dexter Ong, previously the director of corporate development for 21st Century Fox Asia, to oversee a new office in Hong Kong, where he will oversee the company’s expansion in Asia. With 130 employees worldwide, Wattpad plans on adding 40 more positions this year to support its entertainment business. The Asia expansion comes after the company recently raised $51 million in funding from Asian investors, including Tencent and Globe Telecom’s Kickstart Ventures.

“Southeast Asia is one of our most important regions globally, with some of our most dedicated and passionate users,” said Aron Levitz, head of Wattpad Studios.

The move helps the 12-year-old company, which has also worked on growing its presence in the U.S. and Europe in the past year, in its push to become a multiplatform entertainment company and work with global brands interested in reaching its international community of users, according to Chris Stefanyk, head of brand partnerships at Wattpad.

Today, brands and publishers are figuring out how to effectively create entertaining video content that relates to specific audiences. Wattpad doesn’t just want to be a platform brands can advertise on, but the creator of branded content. Asia is proving to be a hotbed for marketers and platforms that want to expand because of the high adoption rate of mobile overall.

Entertainment companies can work with Wattpad Studios to determine what Wattpad stories might have the most commercial success as video and TV products. This opens up integration opportunities with Wattpad Brand Partnerships division to create branded content to promote these projects or find influential new writers brands can tap into.

“For us, we’re on the path of being the owner of social storytelling,” said Stefanyk.

Known for its community of fan fiction writers, Wattpad started off as an online community for a young audience that enjoys reading long-form content. Wattpad Studios launched a year and a half ago, creating a new opportunity for Wattpad’s Brand Partnerships team to connect brands to Wattpad stories and creators. Then, a year ago, Wattpad introduced Tap, an app where users read short stories in the format of text messages. According to the company, 90 percent of its traffic comes from mobile and consists of a millennial and Gen Z audience.

Wattpad has 65 million users worldwide, according to the company, and 17 million of those users live in Southeast Asia. Overall, Wattpad has seen a year-over-year growth rate of 40 percent, according to Stefanyk.

Since Wattpad’s brand partnerships division was formed four years ago, Wattpad has worked with over a hundred brands such as AT&T, Kraft, GE and Coca-Cola to run campaigns on Wattpad, including story contests that ask users to write about a certain topic, branded lists, sponsored posts and display and video ad formats. Movie studios such as Lionsgate, Fox and Paramount have also recently worked with the platform. For writing contests, brands examine the number of impressions, the minutes spent reading a piece and how much of a piece is read to assess campaign performance. Wattpad does not reveal the prices of its branded content offerings.

Stefanyk said Wattpad users have spent more than 200 million minutes consuming lists and branded stories, reading, on average, 30 minutes at one time. “Wattpad community produces thousands of stories as part of branded writing contests each year,” said Stefanyk.

So far, Wattpad is working with around a dozen brands in Asia on branded video content through Wattpad Studios and Wattpad Brand Partnerships. Stefanyk said putting more resources in the area should increase these opportunities.

Stefanyk noted a 2017 campaign Wattpad worked on for Unilever ice cream brand Cornetto for the Philippines. Together, they created a branded story on Wattpad written by one of 200 Wattpad Stars, the platform’s influencer network. Cornetto also conducted a contest that asked Wattpad users to submit stories about summer romance. Wattpad Studios took the winning story and made it into a full-length movie called “This Time,” featuring Filipino teen stars James Reid and Nadine Lustre.

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