Aquino reaches out… on YouTube World View

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on November 5, 2011

Yesterday, Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III was the first Asian head of state to be interviewed live on the online video social network YouTube. Moderated by APAC Google Policy Director Ross LaJeunesse, YouTube World View provided the opportunity for 30 million Filipinos who regularly access the Internet and netizens around the world to ask Mr. Aquino a question. Contributors proposed questions and then voted to rank the most important.

According to the YouTube World View website, one of the top questions was, “NAIA is now tagged by a party as the ‘world’s worst airport.’ NAIA is named after your late father and is a historical landmark so I think it is valuable to you personally. What are your plans (and DOT) to improve its current state?” Recent reports suggest that Department of Science & Technology Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II will have some input for the response.

NAIA is of course the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and the site of the assassination of Mr. Aquino’s father, former Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. The “party” the questioner referred to is a website, Sleeping in Airports. It ranked NAIA Terminal 1—in operation since 1981 and operating overcapacity since 1991—as the worst airport in the world and in Asia.

Mr. Roxas plans to turn Clark International Airport (CIA) into the Philippines’ principal international port of entry. But the airport is 100 kilometers away from the country’s central business districts, and has no high-speed rail access. The heavily trafficked North Luzon Expressway doesn’t have the capacity to handle the anticipated increase in traffic if CIA is upgraded.

Perhaps as a result the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) is recommending a P1 billion upgrade of Terminal 1, which it says can be completed in 12 months. According to NCC co-chairman Guillermo M. Luz, the proposal is awaiting the approval of the Manila International Airport Authority. Mr. Luz believes that even if CIA is upgraded and access improved that the principal international airport should be physically closer to the business community.

He probably has a point. Narita International Airport in Japan is 70 kilometers from Tokyo, making travel to the airport time-consuming, hectic, and annoying. According to figures cited in a news report by Mr. Luz, the Hong Kong and Bangkok airports are about 50 kilometers from their central business districts. Hong Kong’s Airport Express is just fast-enough and reliable-enough to be endurable.

So it makes sense that Filipinos want to know where Mr. Aquino stands on this issue. Not so much because of his family history, but because Terminal 1 really is the worst airport in Asia and it needs fixing. And Mr. Aquino obliged, noting that while Terminal 1 will likely be renovated, long-term the country needs a new principal international airport.

Speaking on behalf of Mr. Aquino at the recent launch of YouTube Philippines, Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ricky Carandang explained why his boss is embracing online video as a communications medium. “Open and transparent governance has always been one of our priorities, and we have been actively exploring the ways through which social media can deepen democracy.

“And so, knowing that it can be difficult for the ordinary Filipino to view his government as accessible and transparent, we are taking the first step in coming to you.” Mr. Carandang also announced two presidential YouTube channels, govph and rtvmalacanang.

The move makes a lot of sense. The Philippines’ online population is growing rapidly as access is made increasingly available to far-flung provincial areas. In the same way that Filipinos dominate SMS—with close to 2 billion messages a day—they dominate social networks. An August 2010 comScore study showed that Filipinos spend more time on social networks than users anywhere else in the world.

The Philippines is the eighth-largest Facebook population in the world, with more than 90% of Internet users regularly accessing the site. More people visit brand communities on Facebook than brand websites, according to studies by Universal McCann. The top five brands in the Philippines are Smart Communications, Hair Experts, Starbucks Philippines, Nescafe Philippines, and Red Horse Beer.

Smart has more than 1.1 million fans on Facebook, who visit the site for product announcements, promotions, and to meet other users. Filipino Internet users are also among the top viewers and uploaders of video. According to Universal McCann, virtually every Filipino who uses the Internet watches online video. Globally, as of March last year, 24 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and views exceed two billion every day.

Although Google—which owns YouTube—doesn’t release country-specific information, executives do say that views from the Philippines are among the highest in Asia. The platform is there. It’s relevant. It’s popular. Now let’s see how well Mr. Aquino leverages it.

(Disclosure: Google is a client of my firm, TeamAsia, and TeamAsia was involved in the recent launch of YouTube Philippines. This column was not reviewed by Google executives.)

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn. Copyright © 2011 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

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