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Switching Off by Switching On: Consumers in Asia Are Turning to Their Mobiles to Boost Leisure Pursuits, Says Telenor Asia study


People across Asia are increasingly switching downtime pursuits into ‘up-time’ opportunities, according to the latest installment of a study into people’s digital lives by Telenor Asia.

In Asia, people are socialising more online than they do in person. Nearly half of the respondents said they meet new people regularly online and three-quarters of them expect to spend even more time socialising via social media apps in the coming years. People are also spending a good chunk of their leisure time tapping into mobile technology for online investing, social gaming as well as on-the-go learning apps and podcasts.

This study forms the third and final part of the Telenor Asia “Digital Lives Decoded” series, launched in 2022 in conjunction with Telenor Asia’s 25th Anniversary. The series sought to understand the role of mobile connectivity in how we live, work and play, surveying over 8,000 mobile internet users across eight countries (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) in South and Southeast Asia. This concluding report examines the changing spectrum of consumers’ leisure-time pursuits—supercharged by a more digitally-savvy, post-pandemic user base.

“The standout finding from these results is how mobile technology has transformed gaming. Mobile access has turned gaming into a mass phenomenon, embedding virtual interactions and virtual worlds into daily life. We see now that gaming is bringing positive impact to real-life communities, reinforcing relationships and making other areas of daily life like work, healthcare or learning more efficient,” said Jørgen C. Arentz Rostrup, Head of Telenor Asia.

“This growth comes with even higher expectations of mobile operators as people seek more dependable, faster mobile networks. The trends from this Digital Lives Decoded study highlight the opportunity for operators to expand beyond the traditional towards new capabilities and services, becoming not only an enabler of the technology but also a partner in the virtual world,” he added.

Social Media Still Second Nature

Some of the habits formed during the two-plus years of the pandemic are becoming hard-wired in the way we live our lives today, with two-thirds (66%) of people saying they now socialise more online than in real life.

Younger generations tend to spend more time socialising online, but Baby Boomers say that mobile technology is helping them feel more connected to their loved ones. More than half of our respondents (55%) say they feel better connected to people they know because of social, with respondents in Thailand (63%) and Bangladesh (61%) responding most positively, while nearly half (47%) regularly meet new people online.

As seen in previous reports, Singaporeans are the least likely to recognise the benefits of mobile technology on their day-to-day lives. They are also the least dependent on their mobiles for downtime activities (32% versus 47% overall) and the least likely to socialise more virtually than in-person (49%).

Mobile Is the New Face of Gaming

Four out of five people play some mobile game, with close to a third (31%) playing every single day, led by those in Thailand (44%) and Vietnam (41%). Our research suggests that stereotypes on gamers need updating as this pastime now reaches across genders and generations. This development points to the positive role of mobile in making gaming more inclusive and accessible than ever before.

In-game spend continues to grow in appeal with half of those surveyed spending some disposable income on gaming and in-game features while nearly a third of people spend between USD$10–100 per year. Those in Singapore represent the largest spenders with one in five people spending between USD $100–300 per year on in-game items.

The growing popularity of the social side of gaming is also evident in the findings with close to two-thirds (64%) of respondents either watching eSports or video game streams, led by those in Vietnam (76%) and Bangladesh (71%). Nearly half of the respondents expect an increase in the time they spend on social gaming going forward, led by respondents in Thailand (62% versus 45% overall).

Downtime Becomes Uptime

Respondents across the region are increasingly looking to their mobile devices for self-improvement, personal upskilling and development. 40% of respondents are using mobile devices to tap into learning and educational apps or websites, with women and younger generations most likely to say they feel the benefits. In particular, more than half of Gen-Zs (51%) surveyed said that learning on their mobile has significantly improved their quality of life, in contrast to only one quarter (25%) of older generations.

The growing desire for consumers in the region to learn on-the-go and enhance their personal development during downtime is reflected by 45% of respondents who spend at least an hour a day listening to podcasts, with respondents in Thailand (66%) and Pakistan (65%) most likely to do so. Singaporeans are least likely to experience benefits from using such apps, with only 20% feeling that they significantly improve quality of life, compared to a 40% average.

Metaverse Yet to Truly Convince

Looking to the future of play, while there is growing interest in virtual reality, our study indicates that people are currently on the fence about shifting their downtime activities to the metaverse, defined as a virtual world where people, digital platforms and businesses co-exist and interact.

Just over one-third (39%) of respondents are keen to socialise and make new friends in the Metaverse. Singaporeans are the most resistant or sceptical about this, with only 26% keen to explore this possibility. In contrast, respondents in the Philippines are the most enthusiastic, with more than half (55%) keen to do so.

Will On-Demand Content Lose Ground?

Streaming on-demand content is a top activity people are spending time on daily. 63% of respondents spend at least an hour a day doing so on their mobile phones, coming in second to listening to music (65%) and more than gaming (59%). Millennials and Gen X are more likely to stream on-demand content than Gen Z, who prefer to spend their downtime on social media or gaming. Across the region, Thai respondents are likely to spend the most amount of time—with 8% estimating that they spend 7–8 hours per day streaming content on-demand, compared to an average of 3% of respondents across the region.

Although video streaming has disrupted the media and entertainment industry, the study revealed that streaming on-demand content does not have the same pull or staying power as other mobile activities. As compared to socialising through social media apps (74%) or online social gaming (45%), only 37% of respondents said they expect to spend on more time on this in the next one to two years.