Government support is crucial to the growth of any industry, more so the nascent animation and gaming sector in India. Point in case is Singapore’s Media Development Authority that has given a fillip to the entertainment space in Singapore, raking in US$12.26 billion. In an exclusive interview with Bollywood Hungama Dr Christopher Chia, Chief Executive Officer, Media Development Authority of Singapore, speaks about the his organization’s initiatives and the industry’s growth curve. Excerpts…
Where is Singapore’s media industry headed?
Since the launch of the Media 21 blueprint in 2003 to chart growth for Singapore’s media sector, the industry has experienced steady growth with revenues increasing to S$19.5 billion (US$12.26 billion) and employment numbers at over 54,000 as of 2006. Moving ahead, our next phase of growth will be guided by the newly-launched Singapore Media Fusion Plan, which aims to equip Singapore media companies to exploit the opportunities in a rapidly-changing global environment, marked by increased convergence and the rise of Asia as a content powerhouse and one of the most influential markets in the world.
What about the animation and gaming industries?
Singapore is also making headway in the fast-growing interactive and digital media space, boosted by the Government’s commitment to invest in this sector as a future growth engine for the country. Today, international giants such as Lucasfilm, Electronic Arts and Ubisoft are based in Singapore, working in partnership with Singapore companies and talents to produce and distribute media content and services for the their customers worldwide. Last year, Singapore became the first country in Asia to launch the developer access to the Xbox LIVE Community Games Channel, less than a month after the service was launched in the US and Europe. To support budding game developers, MDA teamed up with software giant Microsoft to create games for the Xbox LIVE Community Games Channel.
Another coup was scored when Carneyvale:Showtime, a game fully developed by a group of Singaporean students under the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, beat 350 entries from around the world to win the top prize in the Microsoft XNA Dream-Build-Play competition. The GAMBIT Game Lab is an initiative announced in 2006 and is aimed at promoting research and development in the interactive and digital media space. It went on to become the first made-in-Singapore game on the Xbox Live Community Games Channel. Game developer portal Gamasutra voted Carneyvale the No.1 XNA Community Game of 2008, winning praises for its high fun factor.
Efforts to promote a culture of innovation in the interactive digital media field have resulted in a growing number of start-ups by enterprising individuals, offering innovative services and applications which have captured millions of users. For example, Garena by Singapore company, Garena Interactive Pte Ltd, is one of the most sought-after gaming platforms. It houses an online gamer community of 14 million registered users worldwide from over 200 countries. As Garena International has their own servers in place to host online games, they have the added advantage of marketing their new games to their global users all at once.
What about the TV/film industries?
Singapore television content, which was serving the needs of just the local audience five years ago, has expanded its reach with distribution in over 50 countries. Driving this outcome is a content strategy that encourages co-productions with leading international players to facilitate access to worldwide markets, as well as skills and knowledge transfer.
The film industry here has had a long history. In fact, the country was well-known within the Southeast Asian region for its creative output of Malay films in the 1950s and 1960s. Although output dipped in the 1980s and 1990s, Singapore filmmakers, with the support of the MDA and Singapore Film Commission, are once again coming to the fore in recent years, producing films that are winning accolades in the international film festival circuit. For every year in the last five years, a Singapore film has been featured at the Cannes Film Festival either in or out of competition, starting with director Eric Khoo’s Be With Me in 2005, which opened the Director’s Fortnight. Last year, Eric Khoo’s My Magic was in competition for the prestigious Palme d’Or while visual artist Ho Tzu Nyen’s HERE was screened at the Directors’ Fortnight at this year’s Cannes.
Tell me more about the funding initiatives for talent and capability development. What results do you expect from these and what gaps do they plug?
Education, training and upgrading of skill sets are of paramount importance as they nurture and groom a continuous pool of media talents, providing the skilled labour for media enterprises to take on higher value work.
Apart from the five local polytechnics which offer media-related programmes, several international media schools have establishes a base here. These include: Tisch Asia School of the Arts (film and media), Sheridan Global Animation (animation and design), and the DigiPen Singapore (animation, research and games development).
Beyond formal media education provided by the schools, MDA partners with various agencies – both private and government – on various programmes to train and upgrade the skill sets of media professionals. These benefit some 6,000 talents each year.
A recently-launched programme – Media Training & Attachment (META) – complements the existing network of manpower development initiatives. META aims to provide international exposure and work opportunities to local talents and media professionals by matching and upgrading their skills where needed, to projects and companies with corresponding needs.
What is the scope for foreign investment in Singapore?
Starting from the 1990s, Singapore’s efforts to attract foreign investment into the country have, among other things, helped anchor a strong base of international cable and satellite networks in Singapore. Today, 15 out of 17 of the major international broadcasters are based in Singapore, uplinking content for their audiences in the region and beyond. In addition, networks such as CNBC Asia Pacific and ESPN Star Sports have also grown their businesses in Singapore. They have extended the production and reach of their content from the traditional television platform to interactive platforms such as mobile and the Internet.
Complementing this is the increased presence of international media players here, such as Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Lucasfilm. These international companies have collaborated with local media companies, enabling co-production and other partnerships and opening up a wide spectrum of job opportunities, not only in the areas of broadcasting animation, games, film but also management positions.
On the publishing front, Singapore’s strength in education and science has attracted four of the top five STM (Scientific, Technical and Medical) global publishers – Elsevier, Taylor Francis, Wiley-Blackwell and SAGE Publications. One of the world’s favourite leisure titles, Reader’s Digest, and leading in-flight magazine publisher Ink Publishing, also have their regional headquarters in Singapore.
For many years, MDA has also been working with financial institutions and media enterprises to encourage private sector’s involvement in media financing. In the last few years, we are beginning to witness progress that suggests that a momentum is in place. We are seeing more and more of our local companies collaborating with banks, venture capitalists, business angels and private institutions in various ventures.
To date, there are more that S$1.3 billion (US$818 million) worth of media funds based in Singapore, covering the TV, film, animation, games and distribution sectors. The figure is a cumulative total, as a result of private capital injected by banks, financial institutions and strategic Investors over the past few years.
What kind of support can the creative professionals/ business expect from Singapore?
MDA has been and continues to extend its support to Singapore-based companies and projects with Singapore involvement. Our priority is to help our companies grow and boost the export of Made-by-Singapore content overseas. Underscoring this initiative is a co-production strategy that emphasis collaborations and co-production between Singapore companies and their international counterparts.
So while we support local media companies by growing the media ecosystem, including infrastructure, talent and technology capabilities, we are open to international companies partnering like-minded local players to set up their base in Singapore.
To support local media companies in light of the current economic situation, we have in place business-friendly policies to help industry players cope with this downturn.
- Stimulating Demand by Providing Stronger Support to Industry in co-productions:
MDA will boost the development of content, applications and services by making more calls for proposals to develop niches in content, applications and services.MDA will also work closely with broadcasters to carry even more of such content on their platforms.
- Provide Opportunities for Re-Skilling: With Singapore’s media sector becoming increasingly globalised in the last few years, companies are creating internationally recognized media products and services. As the sector grows in sophistication, new jobs and skill-sets are required.MDA continues to work with companies to upskill, retrain and upgrade workers through talent development programmes such as the Media Training and Attachment Programme (META).
- Market Development: In this economic climate, MDA recognizes the importance of ensuring that our local companies gain traction in the international arena so that they have access to new partners.