For the last two years, Loke Kheng Tham has been tapping into her vast experience in the Asian television ecosystem, across free and pay, to reinvent Mediacorp, Singapore’s largest content creator and media platform. From ushering in innovative storytelling methods to pioneering new partnerships, Tham has been focused on making the public broadcaster—with assets across television, radio, digital and content production—a “bigger, better, bolder launchpad for the creative ecosystem.” She speaks with TV Asia about her strategy for Mediacorp in the year ahead.
TV ASIA: When you came into the post at Mediacorp, what was the strategy you felt you needed to put in place to help the group navigate a changing media ecosystem?
THAM: At my first town hall, I shared with my colleagues that in a changing media landscape, what we needed most was not a new business strategy but a client-focused mindset and culture. All of us have clients that fall into three groups: firstly, consumers of our products across multiple platforms; secondly, commercial clients who invest in our advertising solutions, and thirdly, the larger creative ecosystem with whom we partner.
If we designed our services and our processes around our clients and put their wants and needs front and center, we could do remarkable things.
TV ASIA: How are you maintaining the relevance of your linear channel brands?
THAM: Mediacorp is Singapore’s national media network and delivers our content across multiple platforms, including over-the-top, digital, television and radio. We’ve made the shift from broadcaster to fully transmedia company, going where our audiences go. More than 4.2 million people or 91 percent of people here engage with our network weekly. While TV is still a very important platform and delivers mass audiences very efficiently, we have shed traditional TV as our marker of success. Instead, we are opting for a multiplatform distribution model that reflects the range of consumption habits today. This includes partner platforms like YouTube.
With this multiplatform model, we see accretive audience growth. Free-to-air television is holding ground and digital reach and engagement are growing very well across video, audio and editorial platforms.
Video is the fastest-growing segment, not only in content consumption but also in advertising. Mediacorp now offers clients transmedia video solutions across an unmatched combination of TV, Toggle and YouTube.
TV ASIA: How have you and your teams innovated in your original programming efforts?
THAM: We are creating IPs and adapting them in formats that suit the audience segment in their preferred consumption platforms across the day. We have consciously designed all of our content to exist on at least two platforms, providing different entry points to a story.
This requires us to really know our consumers—their tastes, preferences and consumption habits. At the same time, we carefully consider how an IP can be experienced across platforms. That way, we engage our consumers—and our clients—in ways that relate to them.
Thoughtful extensions of the content allow for continuity across multiple mediums, from digital to TV to radio. Our content now moves with our consumers wherever they may be. One clear example is how we have made the CNA brand a truly transmedia one. We leveraged the perception of CNA as a provider of credible, essential information to build a number of extensions: radio channel CNA938 and digital brands CNA Lifestyle and CNA Luxury. The CNA938 radio channel is linked to the newsroom for live interaction between the video and audio extensions of the brand. This way, we are also better able to cater to morning commuters who can watch CNA on TV at home before tuning in to CNA938 during their commute to work. By expanding the genres associated with the CNA brand to include luxury and lifestyle, we have significantly increased CNA digital consumption. In a digital-first initiative, CNA Luxury premiered episodes of its Remarkable Living series online prior to telecast on CNA TV. Subsequently, the CNA TV episodes provided material for some 40 feature articles on CNALuxury.asia.
Podcasts are another touchpoint in our transmedia approach. MeRadio (soon to be renamed meLISTEN) has had about 70 podcast programs amounting to 1,200 hours of content this year. For example, building on the IP of our multilingual drama 128 Circle, we produced a tongue-in-cheek podcast about how to get the best deals at Singapore’s hawker centers.
We are using our IPs to meet clients’ marketing briefs, too. Our recently concluded Star Search, a talent discovery platform, provided an engaging, highly appealing IP for our clients, including Samsung, to create powerful brand stories around.
By training our teams to think horizontally across different mediums, we are structuring our production processes such that a single topic can yield multiple pieces of content, amplify stories and engage target audiences in the most relevant ways.
TV ASIA: How important are alliances, both within Asia and elsewhere, to your original programming efforts?
THAM: We have co-produced current affairs and entertainment content with regional partners over the years. The most recent is the high-concept series All Is Well, a co-production of Mediacorp, Taiwanese production house Eightgeman and Taiwan Television Enterprise. The interwoven series has parallel plotlines, one set in Singapore and the other in Taiwan, and its story hinges on a real-life, high-profile hacking of ATMs across Taiwan. In each series, the seismic cybercrime occurs in the first episode, after which events diverge in dramatically different directions. In August, All Is Well was launched and simulcast on Toggle and our Chinese-language Channel 8 as well as on Malaysia’s 8TV and Vietnam’s HTV.
We are also building alliances across the creative ecosystem. “Lights. Camera. Singapore.” is a collaborative initiative where we partner with local playwrights to bring their works from stage to screen. Through it, we have produced highly successful adaptations of Dick Lee’s Fried Rice Paradise and Michael Chiang’s Mixed Signals and are currently producing the screen retelling of another iconic Singapore play, Titoudao.
Beyond co-productions, we are innovating our formats in a variety of ways. We commissioned a multilingual drama in English, Malay, Tamil and Chinese, 128 Circle, set in a hawker center, to depict a microcosm of Singapore’s multicultural society.
We’ve also commissioned a telemovie about the mythical monster Rakshasa terrorizing local waters in two languages, Malay and English. Originally we commissioned the production for our Malay-language channel Suria but saw the potential for licensing to partners in the region.
Mediacorp wants to tell not only local and regional stories but global stories, too. We’re working with Wattpad to identify stories from their rich depository and bring them from written word to screens. Wattpad is using its Story DNA Machine Learning technology to find exceptional stories from the over 500 million uploads shared on the platform. We will leverage the same technology throughout the development process, extracting audience insights and perspectives to guide each project.
We’re open for business and look forward to working with like-minded partners who share our passion for storytelling, creativity and quality.
TV ASIA: Are you investing in sports rights?
THAM: As the national media network, we provide coverage of key sporting events of national interest, for example, the Olympic Games and SEA Games. We are the “Singapore stadium” for these events. We have secured broadcast rights to Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 and will deliver multiplatform coverage—live, delayed and via catch-up—over-the-top, digitally, on TV and over radio, on outdoor displays and social media. Partnerships are vital to expanding this offering and serving the interests of sports fans. Investing in partners like beIN Sports, we can offer a wide range of live sporting action on Toggle, like UEFA Champions League, La Liga, Ligue 1 and ONE Championship.
TV ASIA: How are you positioning Toggle?
THAM: Mediacorp will be renaming our digital products to reflect our commitment to designing experiences around our consumers. In January 2020, we will be bringing Toggle, MeRadio and MeClub under an umbrella “me” branding, emphasizing the increasing personalization of our services.
Toggle will be renamed as meWATCH and revamped into a total video destination. meWATCH offers Mediacorp’s rich original content as well as a broad catalog of other content aggregated from partners like HBO, tvN Movies and beIN Sports. Mediacorp will fulfill its role as Singapore’s Olympic network and be the home of the 2019 SEA Games, including special coverage of Team Singapore, largely through meWATCH. Through subscriptions, we may offer fans further coverage of the Games and more options to follow their favorite sports, events and athletes.
TV ASIA: What are your primary goals for Mediacorp in 2020?
THAM: To be a launchpad for the creative ecosystem. Mediacorp has always played a key role in Singapore’s media industry. What we want to do now is create stronger IPs, explore every potential, build more robust partnerships and become a bigger, better, bolder launchpad for the creative ecosystem, taking it from Singapore and together succeeding in the region.