Facebook becomes No 1 news source in Cambodia

By: Paul Millar - Posted on: December 16, 2016 | Cambodia

With almost half of Cambodians now owning a smartphone, increasing numbers are turning online for their news

A young Cambodian uses a smartphone at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
A young Cambodian uses a smartphone at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 06 July 2016. Photo: EPA/KITH SEREY

Almost half of Cambodians own at least one smartphone, according to an annual report on mobile phones and the internet from the Asia Foundation and Open Institute.

Their survey of urban and rural Cambodians found a marked rise in smartphone ownership, with the number of people saying they own at least one smartphone rising from just one in five in 2013.

Asia Foundation country director Silas Everett said the increase in smartphone ownership was promising news for the country’s fledgling e-commerce industry.

“Mobile internet is opening up new opportunities for branchless banking, the backbone of future e-commerce activity,” he said. “There are a number of signs in Cambodia that demand is strong for e-commerce, yet adoption will depend on the speed the regulatory frameworks can be set up.

“There has been large-scale consolidation in the telecoms. Competition has lowered prices and larger operators are achieving larger economies of scale while their revenues are increasing, due to expanding data use.”

Of the 2,000 Cambodians aged 15 to 65 surveyed in the report, just under one in three respondents said they had never used any mobile payment system, with sending and receiving money still the leading uses of the technology. Money transfer and payment service Wing remained by far the most popular service, with 96% of mobile service users, followed by eMoney at 18%.

Although the most popular smartphone manufacturer remained Samsung with 43% of the market, the survey found that Apple had grown the most in 2016, up 36% from last year’s study.

“Apple/iOS has been treated as playing second fiddle to Samsung/Android for the last five years, ever since smartphones have hit the Cambodian market,” Everett said. “The survey suggests that these days are over. iOS is a contender. Developers will need to be fluent in both operating systems.”

Significantly, the proliferation of smartphones also means that more than three-quarters of Cambodians now have the technology to send and receive messages in Khmer script. The shift follows a move away from video and back to the written word as Facebook surpassed television as the nation’s foremost news source.

“Mobile telephony has brought a huge change to Cambodian culture: reading and writing outside of school or work,” the report stated. “Over a third of Cambodians now read every day or every week on their phones, and 27% write with this same frequency.”

“There has been an ethos that ‘Cambodians don’t read’ or ‘Cambodia doesn’t have a reading culture’ therefore everything has to be voice or video based,” Everett said. “The survey suggests that this isn’t true, that when given a smartphone that is Khmer-script enabled, people will read and write in Khmer. Developers would be wise to take notice.”