Tencent launches venture to find new music, video and writing talent in Southeast Asia

Platforms like Musical.ly and Vine have helped find the next-generation of internet stars in the West, now Chinese internet giant Tencent is aiming to ride that wave to boost its presence in Southeast Asia’s emerging internet space.

Tencent has teamed up with Ookbee, a digital content startup that runs an online book and magazine business, to launch Ookbee U. The venture is designed to identify and promote “user generated content” in Thailand, and later the wider Southeast Asia region, with a focus on all kinds of online media. It aims to gather over a million pieces of content over the next three years.

“Ookbee was born in time of ebooks and magazine, working with professional content creators and publishers. We used to compete with traditional book stores, but for this new company idea is to be more flexible,” Ookbee CEO Natavudh Pungcharoenpong told TechCrunch.

“The format can be anything,” he added. “More than just books: music, comics, and experimenting with video.”

Southeast Asia is home to more than 600 million consumers and, thanks to steadily growing sales of smartphones, its internet economy is tipped to grow more than ten-fold over the next decade. Thailand, the region’s third-largest country with a 65 million population, is seen as a key part of that promise.

Tencent has long seen the potential and it has a significant presence in Thailand via Sanook, the country’s most popular online portal which it fully acquired last month following an initial $10.5 million investment back in 2010. While terms of the new joint venture were not made public, a source with knowledge of discussions revealed that Tencent has agreed to invest at least $19 million in the entity. (The deal doesn’t include an investment in Ookbee itself, Pungcharoenpong did confirm.)

Tencent has struggled to make WeChat, the messaging app that dominates in China, popular in Thailand — Japan’s Line is the leading player — but it has seen success with Joox, its free music app which claims over 20 million registered users in the country. The Ookbee U initiative is closely aligned with Joox and other Tencent initiatives. Artists who upload music and gain attention on the platform could be mentored and fast-tracked into Joox stars, according to Pungcharoenpong, who is also a partner with 500 Startups’ Thailand fund ‘500 Tuktuks’.

“Hopefully we will have some new talents. Everyone will start out not so professional but eventually would love to be on board as establish artists,” he told TechCrunch. The aim is “finding talent and eventually making them professional.”

With Tencent also planning to produce video content in Thailand, according to a Bangkok Post report, there’s yet further synergy.

Music and video are perhaps the most obvious areas for finding new talent, but Ookbee — which has raised over $9 million from investors to date — is very much on board for content itself. The five-year-old company is present in five countries in Southeast Asia but the majority of its eight million registered users are in Thailand. Pungcharoenpong said he hopes Ookbee U will help it will unearth star writers of the future.

“We plan to empower our artists. They will start out independent, but if they want to monetize then they can own their IP and we will do revenue share. There is also an IP sign-up where we select good content to buy [outright] or share revenue,” he explained.