IMDA’s Howie Lau on Singapore’s Media Industry


Howie Lau, chief industry development officer at Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), tells TV Asia about the shifts he’s seeing in today’s media landscape and how Singapore is well-placed to ride the wave of Asia’s dynamic growth.

TV ASIA: What are the major key shifts in today’s media landscape?
LAU: There are four key trends that we see in today’s media landscape.

Firstly, we see that content producers are going East, and are attracted to Asia as a market and a place where they can embark on successful ventures with Asian talent. This bodes well as the world increasingly looks towards Asia and Singapore for new talent and stories.

Secondly, players are aggregating to scale. With the rapid developments in technologies and rise of digital platform giants, traditional players have been responding through consolidation, to compete with the rise of streaming services and increasing costs of content production.

Thirdly, we see the blurring of lines between tech and media. Tech giants are extending their reach into creative content, while likewise the use of technologies such as immersive media are being applied to media content such as films and games.

Lastly, content owners are moving towards direct-to-consumer distribution models, with major players like HBO and BBC launching their own streaming services, and more players expected to follow.

TV ASIA: With all these shifts, where do you see Asia and Singapore’s media industry headed?
LAU: There is no denying that these shifts have created a massive disruption in media business models, and that media companies are still navigating through these challenging and fast-evolving times. Nevertheless, these shifts and disruptions also bring about new opportunities to harness technology and capitalize on new markets. In fact, Asia is seeing dynamic growth with the rise of new business models and the rapid expansion of OTT and streaming platforms arising from the region, with video revenue in the Asia Pacific forecasted to reach $50 billion by 2024.

Singapore is well-placed to ride on this wave, being located at the heart of this growth in Asia, and home to where East meets West, and tech meets media. In fact, we see that the world is starting to notice Singapore as a place for content and talent, with globally recognized productions that are loved and watched by people all over the world such as Crazy Rich Asians and HBO’s Westworldbeing filmed and produced in Singapore, and featuring homegrown talent.

We are also heartened to see that the international community and world-renowned platforms are recognizing the value of talent and content from Singapore. Two films from Singapore, Wet Season and A Land Imagined, clinched ten nominations at the Golden Horse Awards. Singapore TV production FAM! by Oak3 Films was also nominated for the International Emmy Awards. Homegrown filmmaker Stanley Xu won the best director award at the Wutai Mountain Global Short Film Competition in China for his short film, Lullaby.

As the world continues to watch Singapore and Asia, we want to continue to ride on this wave and celebrate the best in Asian talent and content through events like the Singapore Media Festival (SMF), and create a platform to showcase the best of Asia to the rest of the world.

TV ASIA: Is there anything new that IMDA has been working on to grow the media industry in the past year?
LAU: To open new doors for international partners to collaborate with Singapore, tap on our vibrant media ecosystem to expand into the region and create “made-with-Singapore” content for Asia and the world, we have been working on several partnerships and initiatives to develop media content and talent.

On the content partnerships front, we launched the Southeast Asia Co-Production Grant, which is the first in Southeast Asia to fund feature-length regional co-productions between Singapore creative producers and regional filmmaking talent. Through this initiative, IMDA has shortlisted eight projects with the potential to be further developed. IMDA and the Digital Industry Singapore office also facilitated a collaboration between Grab and the media company VICE that will allow works from Singapore digital-content creators to reach a regional audience via their platforms. To bring public service content to a wider regional audience on digital platforms, IMDA has partnered with Singtel and Creatives At Work this year, with more companies to come on board.

Developing the next generation of media talent who can produce quality stories for the world is also key. IMDA has established several partnerships with key media players like HBO Asia, Disney and Facebook, to train and collaborate with Singapore talent to create quality content for regional audiences. This year, we also launched the Story Lab Apprenticeship program for young media professionals to be mentored by award-winning media companies. IMDA is also working with various partners such as LASALLE and the British Film Institute to bring in a range of training programs and masterclasses by international experts.

To celebrate all the great content and talent Asia has to offer, IMDA hosts the annual Singapore Media Festival. This year, we have expanded the festival to include new events like the Singapore Comic Con and VidCon Asia Summit, bringing wider offerings for both industry players and the public alike across different formats—from film, television, comics and popular culture, digital video content, VR and AR technology and more, reflecting the vibrancy of the media ecosystem.

There is also the new SMF Festival Village, which aims to bring the excitement of the festival to the public through an array of exciting activities, screenings, workshops, masterclasses and immersive VR showcases. The SMF Festival Village will be held at Armenian Street from November 22 to 24 and November 29 to December 1, and we welcome everyone to join us there.

With a bigger and better lineup this year, we expect to draw new regional audiences, with over 50,000 thought-leaders, creative professionals and members of the public from Asia and beyond to be part of the festival, more than double the number last year.

There are more exciting initiatives in the pipeline that we will be announcing at the Singapore Media Festival. We welcome international partners to get in touch with us or our Singapore companies at the Asia TV Forum & Market and ScreenSingapore to find out more.