As investments within the ASEAN region continue to grow despite the economic instability globally, the VC trends in Southeast Asia are beginning to move towards previously underfunded and untapped sectors. One such sector is media technology and startups in Southeast Asia received a massive boost in recent weeks. Media moguls James Murdoch and Uday Shankar recently launched a joint venture, Bhodi Tree, which is likely to turn the spotlight on the media tech division in India and SEA. 

But what does this new conglomerate really mean for the region, and how will it impact this growing industry? We take a look at the founders, company, and the impact it is likely to have on media and technology in Asia. 

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The history of James Murdoch and Uday Shankar

Son of billionaire media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, James has worked in the industry his entire adult life, starting at his father’s NewsCorp firm. James resigned from NewsCorp in 2020 and has since brought his experience to form the new investment platform, Bhodi Tree, with Uday Shankar. 

Shankar began his career as a Political journalist with The Times of India newspaper before moving into television as a news producer. He later moved to one of Murdoch’s companies, Star India, as CEO and in 2017 became the President of 21st Century Fox Asia. When the Walt Disney Company acquired the Fox suite of companies in 2018, he became the President of Disney Asia Pacific. These companies were under the Murdoch banner. 

With Shankar stepping down from his roles at Star India and Disney in 2020 and Murdoch also leaving the Murdoch group in the same year, the two teamed up to form the Seven Island Inc company and set about raising capital through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) funds. In 2019, Murdoch started Lupa Systems, a Venture Capital (VC) company, and this company, in conjunction with Shankar, has led to the formation of the Bodhi Tree platform. 

More about Bodhi Tree

Shankar and Murdochs unveiled the Bodhi Tree investment platform on February 9 2022 and announced that Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) was backing the venture to the tune of $1.5 billion USD. The new platform is due to focus on funding the development of consumer and media technology in India and Southeast Asia. 

With such robust backing and the wealth of experience of the two founders, Bodhi Tree is likely to be a very successful venture and be in a position to help many other startups and media technology companies in the region to achieve their potential. 

When announcing the new company, co-chairs Murdoch and Shankar stated that “opportunities abound to scale exciting businesses in India and the broader Southeast Asia region. Our continued focus on investing and building relationships in these regions comes from our deep conviction in the long-term growth of these economies and the incredible power of these consumers, as these sectors are transformed by technology.”

Impact on media startups in Southeast Asia

While the sector is still nascent, there is clear potential in areas such as robot journalism or AI content creation. As many media companies continue to digitalise and invest in consumer products such as apps and augmented/virtual reality technology, the opportunity to reinvent how media is created, dispersed and consumed is at an all-time high. 

The global health crisis also spurred development as companies had to find new ways of reaching their locked-down audiences and covering news items remotely. With an increase in the region of 9.9% in web usage in 2020, bringing internet penetration to over 460 million people, the ASEAN region offers a massive client base for online and digital media companies servicing the area.   

Although the region already has several “new media” companies working in the digital space, its founders’ confidence, knowledge, and funding brought to the Bodhi Tree venture are unparalleled in the media sector in Southeast Asia and will undoubtedly be good news for many startups. Other companies, such as Caixin Global, are already forming partnerships with mediatech companies to invest heavily and shake up the industry. 

With the QIA committing funding for investment in the sector in India and SEA through Bodhi Tree, and with two seasoned veterans of the media world at the helm, other VC companies will start to take notice of the opportunities that media technology and startups in Southeast Asia operating in the sector present. Further funding is likely to follow from other firms and individuals as it becomes clear that the region’s huge population of digital-savvy consumers are ripe for the media tech explosion that is sure to follow. 

As the VC trends in Southeast Asia continue to follow what is happening elsewhere in the world, and the media tech sector tipped as the “new fintech”, investments in innovative ideas in the space will inspire further development and encourage startups to move into this potentially highly lucrative industry.