Japanese messaging company LINE announced recently the official launch of its news aggregation service, LINE Today, as parts of efforts to expand its footprint in the Hong Kong market. In an interview with EJ Insight, Hyun-bin Kang, senior vice president of business development, LINE Plus Corporation, and Hanna Lee, head of content business, Taiwan and Hong Kong, share the company’s plan to target people’s demand for a news aggregator, and how the new service is expected to help LINE in its business expansion strategy.
Excerpts from an interview:
EJ Insight: As LINE rolls out the news-aggregation feature that provides a new channel for local news media and influencers to reach their target audience, how does it stand out against other competitors in Hong Kong?
Lee: We see that people in Hong Kong read news on the social network, but it’s not a news-oriented curation, it’s a lot of mix of information. We found an opportunity as there is a missing element in the aggregation media in Hong Kong. That’s how this idea [LINE Today] started [in Hong Kong], and that’s how we started in other markets too.
With LINE Today, a content aggregator service, we want our readers to read more interesting news without missing the important news. And by the second quarter of 2018, artificial intelligence will be deployed to customize news updates and provide users with the news and feature stories that are more relevant to them.
Q: As we understand, some 20 content providers from Hong Kong and Taiwan are already contributing to the new service. So, what would the monetization strategy be?
Kang: One of the keys at this moment is to provide users the best reading experience, rather than focus on monetization. What we are initiating in Hong Kong market is content first, we aim to become the No.1 content portal in the city. It is not easy to set a date for this [goal], but we are very optimistic about it.
Q: With the recent political pressure on social network giants in the US and Europe, over issues such as fake news and duplicate accounts, as well as the impact on users and the society, does LINE face similar pressure in these areas in the content business?
Lee: We don’t currently face a serious problem with that, that’s not a key topic of our content business at the moment.
Kang: In terms of the philosophy of the news service, we do have a more secured environment and we emphasize on how to secure the quality of the content.
We have the ‘Official Accounts’ as one of our advertisement channels; for those accounts, or the partnered companies, clients or advertisers [on LINE platform], they need to sign a contract with us first, otherwise, they cannot reach our users.
By doing so, LINE users can safely consume the content, and they don’t need to worry about any fake content or improper content. We are trying to secure our safe environment and also controlling the quality of the content.
Q: Based in Japan, LINE messaging app launched in June 2011 and has since grown into a diversified platform with a range of services and content. How does LINE intend to expand to other countries in the Asia region?
Lee: LINE has been successful in securing strong market position in Japan, Indonesia, and Taiwan. We believe the key to success is localization. LINE has been very early in localizing services, instead of remaining just as a messaging platform; we keep on localizing our digital services. What we are trying to do is becoming a ‘Smart Portal’ in each market with great localization, and it is hard to actually localize without knowing the market.
For localization, we work closely with local [content providers], and give a lot of freedom to local talents, as we trust them. We are pretty flexible on that, and I think that is our strength on localization.
Kang: For localization, it is more conceptually about what is your ‘focus’ in your target market. LINE is a platform that supports user engagement, traffic, and also targeted products. That’s how we help our users to interact with other users and also the key players in each different business domain.
What we see in Hong Kong is that content localization can be boosted by the LINE cartoon characters, which appear on popular stickers within Line messenger.
During the recent Chinese New Year period, we promoted our sticker content, and we saw that a lot of Hong Kong users are responsive: they saw the promotion message, downloaded LINE stickers, and sent out the stickers to others. We believe that by localizing the sticker content and targeting for Hong Kong users, there is a huge opportunity to promote LINE in Hong Kong.
Q: There are quite a number of features available in Taiwan, but not yet in Hong Kong. Are there any plans to launch other features such as LINE Pay and LINE Shopping in Hong Kong?
Kang: As soon as we realize that we are achieving a status as a leading content portal in Hong Kong market, we can move to the next item; probably you can think of different items. One of the key topics can be in the payment area as well. But we need to understand more about the local demand in the market [first].
LINE’s expansion in Taiwan can be a good example. We have a success story for our payment service LINE Pay in Taiwan. What we are seeing now is the change of consumers’ behavior in transaction payment. Normally when given the options of paying by credit card or debit card, people’s preference is paying with the credit card.
But the user behavior now in Taiwan is that people use debit card as well, which integrates with the LINE platform, so that they don’t need to actually pull out the credit or debit card from the wallet and show that to shop owners. Shop owners can let you swipe barcodes, and that will atomically charge to you through LINE platform. This is a huge change from card-spending to a platform-driven payment behavior.
We don’t have any specific figures on the market share [of LINE Pay in Taiwan], but basically most of the [LINE app] users in Taiwan are using LINE Pay.
Q: Compared with other social network giants, LINE seems to go faster in financial services, particularly in cryptocurrency, as we know the company has announced that it plans to launch a cryptocurrency exchange. What are the firm’s plans in the crypto arena?
Kang: I would say finance can be one of the core values LINE can provide users with, but [the situation] is more like that we are going to enhance our communication platform capability [of LINE’s messaging platform], and at the same time, we are also expanding into other service domains, including financial service. Content is actually one of the key core values that we want to provide users with.
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