Can the Southeast Asian YouTube scene go beyond comedy skits?

e27 finds out from one of comedy channel TreePotatoes’ founders Aaron Khoo

treepotatoes

The TreePotatoes gang from left to right: Clifford Yow, Elliot Lucas Marcell Tan , Aaron Khoo, Janice Chiang, Zhen Jie

YouTube — The very act of mentioning the conglomerate and online video service’s name brings to mind internet memes and new ways to broadcast news on entertainment and politics in short bursts. Or in local startup TreePotatoes’ case, do comedy videos with a Singaporean flavor.

The video channel’s Co-founders are Aaron Khoo, Janice Chiang and Elliot Lucas Marcell Tan. Khoo and Tan are known for shoutcasting for popular PC game League of Legend matches under the banner of online games provider Garena. Despite that prestigious gig, all three of them are better recognised as the original cast for the Wah!Banana YouTube channel. “We started out making gaming-related videos [for Garena],” said Khoo to e27, “but soon found out that there was a lack of local comedy content in Singapore. So we made the jump to focus on that.”

TreePotatoes, which is its own independent brand, currently has 160,536 subscribers, with each of its videos averaging about more than 200,000 views within a few days. Its most popular video is a comedic take on 16 types of people who frequent the Sentosa resort; one can imagine that this sort of content is pandering towards a younger demographic of Asian viewers.

So why leave the cushy gig? “It was a tough call to leave Garena and Wah!Banana,” said Khoo, “but one of the main reasons was the fact that we didn’t have any ownership over the content we created there. Ultimately, we felt that we wanted to create something we could call our own.” As with any startup, the road to maintain relevance and keep up as a smaller outlet is tough. Khoo said that the team’s challenges range from financial to logistics. “[Still], it’s been a great learning experience for us.”

But what is it that struck Khoo and Marcell to come up with such an esoteric name for a channel? “Two reasons,” said Khoo, “Firstly, Elliot and I are ‘potatoes’, a local slang for Asians who’ve been influenced by Western culture. Secondly, our initial team consisted of three people and the name three potatoes was taken on YouTube, so we decided to go with ‘Tree’ instead, which sounded more whimsical.”

The YouTube channel seems to be doing well for itself on the Southeast Asian side.

The YouTube channel seems to be doing well for itself on the Southeast Asian side.

The team’s type of humour shines on the video content they do, as the TreePotatoes’ 156,170 YouTube subscribers are treated with skits such as “14 Things Villains Do”, to “How to Pick Up Girls”. While not as huge as Wah!Banana’s numbers, the startup’s videos get a lot of view numbers. The highest-rated video is the skit “11 Differences Between Dating & Marriage” that showcases the trio’s talent of playing different roles and male/female archetypes. “In just four months,” Khoo said, “our channel has moved to the list of top five local channels in Singapore.”

The bigger takeaway from the aforementioned comedy channels is whether that’s the only viable route to take. Khoo said that the YouTube scene in Asia needs to grow in order to make that a reality. “[The YouTube channel scene is] still very young [in Singapore] and there’s a lack of content diversity. We feel there’s a lot of potential that has yet to be tapped out there. Some of the channels we love working with include The Ming Thing and The Hidden Good. [Our ultimate goal with this is to] make SEA content visible on the international space.”

He also doesn’t believe that there’s a set formula on a YouTube video’s success, as part of its high viewer count is on how relatable the content is to current events or even trends, as well as its ability to evoke emotion. In TreePotatoes’ case, it’s playing with its strength to convey laughter which works well. Or if all else fails, use cats as the team believes that felines will remain the longest-standing trend on video content.

Then there’s the current influx of video game content presented either in short-but-sweet YouTube fashion or long playthroughs with insightful commentary, case in point critics like John “Totalbiscuit” Bain and Joe “AngryJoe” Vargas. Asia has yet to feature anyone doing video game critiques on that level as Khoo believes that the gaming market is too saturated and too self-centered to make such a concept work in Asia. “It would be great to see more companies in the gaming scene try to foster a sense of community rather than just pouring money into advertising and prize money for semi-professional tournaments that don’t necessarily benefit the average gamer.”

Until that day comes when Southeast Asia becomes a rising force in digital entertainment criticisms, local users can support and get their content fix from mainstream comedic groups like TreePotatoes.

Jonathan Toyad

If you want an elaborate answer on who would win in a fight between Ultraman and Godzilla, Jonathan Toyad is your man. A six-year veteran in the game journalism industry, he did words and videos for outlets such as GameSpot, GameAxis, IGN and Stuff.TV. Fears coyotes and scorched earths.

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