S Iswaran

Singapore’s new Minister for Communications and Information, S Iswaran, was at MIPCOM this year touting the country’s proposal to the global content community: “Make with Singapore.” The shift in thinking from the “Made in Singapore” tagline comes on the heels of Crazy Rich Asians, the blockbuster Warner Bros. film that is largely set in the island nation. With Asian storytelling in the global spotlight, Iswaran tells TV Asia, Singapore is keen to entice more international media companies to work with local talent to create globally appealing titles.

TV ASIA: What potential do you see for the Singaporean production sector in the global market today?
ISWARAN: I came on board [as Minister] in May. The first thing that struck me about this space was the convergence of media and technology. You see the tech giants, Amazon and so on, increasingly moving into the media space and acquiring content, because they recognize that’s going to drive some of their other businesses. And then the media companies are increasingly going towards the technology side, trying to acquire new kinds of capabilities. The telcos and the cable guys are also migrating into the media space. From my perspective, this convergence creates a unique opportunity for Singapore. Facebook, Amazon and Google are present in a significant way in Singapore. We have media companies like Disney, HBO and Netflix. And then we have Singaporean companies. That’s one reason Singapore has a unique positioning and value proposition in the context of the current shifts we see in the global media landscape.

The second thing that struck me, and in a way, it’s an extension of what we’ve been seeing in the more general economic space, is the rising interest in Asian markets. It’s not just about Asia as a market with a few billion consumers; the interest in Asian storytelling has picked up significant momentum, not least because of Crazy Rich Asians. Not that that [film] encapsulates all that we are or what we can do, but it’s emblematic of what is possible in terms of partnerships and capabilities.

The third piece is talent, both in Singapore and in the region as well. We have people who are very capable. Collaborations are becoming more common between our own and international players. And our own talent is making an impact on the international scene.

It’s a good convergence of factors—industry trends, market relevance and our own capabilities. When you put them together, we have a more than even chance of carving a niche position for Singapore in this exciting space.

The tagline is, “Make with Singapore.” Come to Singapore and work with us to address the larger opportunity in the region.

TV ASIA: What’s your sense of the biggest challenges Singaporean creatives face in tapping into opportunities in the global landscape?
ISWARAN: The biggest challenge is that, if you’re a content creator or content owner, you need to be able to think in a platform-agnostic way and not get locked into any one platform. It’s not just cable, not just free to air, not just a subscription model, not just mobile and internet—it’s all of the above. The same content can be adapted to different channels because they reach different market segments. Of course, you have to start with a focal point. You can’t say, I’m all things to all [platforms]. You could start by saying, I have a piece of content I am gearing towards the youth and for that, maybe optimizing for the mobile platform makes a lot of sense. But you should also be looking at, How can I leverage this for some of the other platforms? This is the big challenge—understanding this diversity. With the OTT and direct-to-consumer business gathering momentum, the temptation would be to focus on that. While that could be an interesting and lucrative area, you do need exposure in other aspects. And if you’re in the business from the other side of it, let’s say a Mediacorp, the key is to start thinking about how you can have more collaborative models for generating content. If you’re a telco you have a different challenge—it’s no longer about just having the pipes, it’s what you put through the pipes and how much of it you have influence over and ownership of. I don’t think these challenges are unique to Singapore.

TV ASIA: In what ways are you supporting talent development to help create the next wave of media entrepreneurs and storytellers in Singapore?
ISWARAN: Singapore is very good at developing programs—so things don’t just get talked about, they get done. The government can create the enabling conditions, but ultimately the talent has to run with it. You can’t hothouse this. We have various programs and are talking about what else we can do, working with different parties, to give our talent more exposure. But first and foremost, you must have the spark; you must want to tell a story. Then all these [programs] become relevant. But if you don’t have the inner spark, then it’s a very different game.

There are a lot of people in Singapore who are very excited about storytelling and getting their perspective out. Our key challenge is to create different platforms for them to [find partners] and also to showcase their work. So we had 19 companies at MIPCOM, with 460 hours of content. This is one angle—bringing Singaporean companies to the world. The other aspect is the Singapore Media Festival, where we’re trying to bring the world to Singapore, and to Asia through Singapore. So to answer your question, it’s about developing people, trying to create opportunities for them to work on their own, showcase their work and partner with others. It’s about working with our companies to bring them abroad, and also bringing the industry to Singapore.

TV ASIA: I’ve been covering the IMDA’s presence at MIPCOM for a long time and was struck this year at the huge range of content being showcased by Singaporean companies, from traditional animation and docs to short- and long-form drama and entertainment formats.
ISWARAN: That goes back to the whole point about the way the world is seeing Asia as a source of content. It’s not just about cartoons or anime; it’s not stereotypical content anymore. The appreciation for Asian stories and narratives [is growing]. That creates a window of opportunity.

TV ASIA: What other developments do you see that will impact the Singaporean media industry?
ISWARAN: Funding models will change. Everyone is talking about different ways of funding. This is all very reminiscent of venture-capital funding. This could be interesting in our context because Singapore is a business and financial center. There could be funding solutions in the private sector, maybe helped along by some government initiatives.