The Singaporean government is betting big on its communications and media sector, recently issuing an “Industry Transformation Map” for the business to drive revenues and job creation. The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) is at the heart of that roadmap. The IMDA led a large delegation of companies to MIPCOM this year, allowing Singaporean producers to showcase their wares on a global stage and network with potential partners. The delegation was joined by Hong Tat Chee, the senior minister of state for Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI). He tells TV Asia about his perspectives on what the future holds for Singaporean content producers.
TV ASIA: What gains have you seen in terms of the presence of Singaporean content on the global landscape?
CHEE: Our companies are making good progress. Very often they are working in new areas, either on their own or with other companies. At MIPCOM, we were very happy to see the MOU signing between three companies, Tiny Island Productions from Singapore, Shellhut Entertainment from Thailand and WingsMedia from China [for the co-production of ten animated feature films]. This is an example of the kind of partnership that we hope to see more of in the future. Beyond animation, we’re also trying to see if we can encourage similar kinds of partnerships in other areas within the media sector. So one thing IMDA will continue to do is try to see how we can build up stronger capabilities within Singapore. And not just indigenous capabilities, but how we can bring resources, ideas and talent from around the region and develop content that will not just do well in Singapore, but also in the region and maybe even around the world.
TV ASIA: Tell us about the steps being taken to develop skills locally and attract regional talent.
CHEE: It requires a whole ecosystem to make this work. You start with the schools—you have to have a pipeline of students who are exposed to the latest skill sets required by the industry. We have to work closely with the industry when we design our courses for technical education, polytechnics and universities. So the students, when they are still in school, are exposed to the skill sets companies will be looking for. The second thing that is critical is that, because this is a fast-moving industry with new technologies, ideas and types of formats, there’s a need to always be well connected with the movers and shakers. Some, I hope, will come from Singapore, our locally grown capabilities and companies, and some will come from international companies. That’s why part of our strategy is to get as many of these companies as possible to be based out of Singapore, not just to do work in Singapore but do work for the region. So Singapore then becomes like a gateway to Asia, it becomes a regional headquarters.
TV ASIA: Do you see certain trends in the business at present that make it a good time for Asian content to be in the spotlight?
CHEE: There is huge potential for growth in Asia, for various reasons. We have a very large population enjoying rapid increases in their quality of life and purchasing power—a rising middle class. This is seen in many parts of India, China, Southeast Asia. This will drive quite a bit of demand for entertainment. Asia also has a lot of untapped potential in terms of talent, storytelling and a rich heritage and culture with many folklores and many historical characters that are yet to be discovered. In the past, the market was not as well developed, the industry not as vibrant. Increasingly you see this critical mass being formed, talent coming out onto the global stage, being recognized for the top quality work they are able to produce. This is something audiences in more established markets in Europe and North America are also beginning to appreciate. So we’re seeing an increase in demand for not just global content, but a lot of local content, local stories, local characters, local heritage. We’re also seeing some interesting combinations in how people are taking international formats but localizing them, customizing them and making them even more relatable to local audiences. And the other way around, taking local content and being able to use digital platforms as a way to reach even more consumers at a relatively low cost. In the past, to go into new markets, the cost of entry was much higher. Now with the internet, the cost of reaching your end consumer has dropped significantly. This has led to a situation where you can see a lot more creative content and a lot more talent being discovered and having the opportunities to showcase their work.
TV ASIA: You mentioned a three-company alliance earlier. Do you think that’s a good model for Asian producers and distributors as they look to deliver bigger projects?
CHEE: I believe so. This industry is going to be fast-moving and we’re going to need good ideas, and no one can claim to have all the expertise, all the ideas, to do it singlehandedly. Partnerships make a lot of sense because they speed up your learning curve, allow you tap into strengths that, if they were to grow organically, would take too long. Partnerships speed up the whole process, and through collaboration and interaction you can spark off new innovative ideas. I think it will be a very powerful force. Singapore is one of the many players in this industry. We can’t be doing all parts of production. But you need a nerve center, you need a place where you can coordinate, integrate and pull things together. We hope that Singapore can play a role in Asia as that nerve center.