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Local TV channels into film biz

Gov't initiatives to boost local filmmaking

SINGAPORE — Singapore may pride itself on being regional HQ for some 19 international TV companies, but has this emphasis on TV proved detrimental — or developmental — to the country’s fledgling film industry?

Daniel Yun, managing director of MediaCorp Raintree Pictures — itself a subsidiary of the national TV broadcaster — says it’s been easier to develop the TV side of things, but film is growing slowly.

“It was possible to build up a successful TV industry despite Singapore’s relatively small population. But for the local film industry, it’s been harder to get beyond our small market size,” he says. “That said, our film industry is still very young, and there is a lot of government support to try and nurture it. The Singapore Film Commission (SFC), for example, was set up in 1998 — the same time that Raintree Pictures started.”

Certainly there are plenty of government initiatives to boost local filmmaking, from the Media Development Authority (MDA) to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the Economic Development Board (EDB), which was instrumental in bringing Lucasfilm Animation to Singapore’s shores.

But EDB and MDA have also been actively attracting international TV broadcasters here for the past 12 years. The city-state is now home to networks like CNBC Asia Pacific, ESPN Star Sports, HBO, Sony Pictures Entertainment Networks, Fox Intl. Channels Asia, Discovery Networks Asia and Viacom .

“The MTV production facility in Singapore has a history of 12 years. The Singapore government was enormously helpful, cooperative and eager to have MTV locate offices and production facilities here. MTV Networks Asia entered into an alliance with MDA in 2003 to collaborate on the production of the first-ever regional TV series to be aired on MTV’s channels across Asia,” says Chris Steward, exec veep of Viacom brand solutions Asia Pacific & MTV Networks Asia.

Some 30%-35% of MTV Southeast Asia channel’s content is produced in Singapore.

Discovery Networks Asia has used Singapore as a launch pad for a number of panregional initiatives, as well as benefiting from government support.

Back in 2001, in conjunction with EDB, it formed a $7.5 million content development fund to finance 50 hours of local documentary production over five years.

Network also has a close partnership with the MDA for projects like the Documentary Director’s Chair, the Gateway Asia reversioning project and two development funds established in 2005 worth $3.2 million to create 40 hours of factual programming.

According to Tom Keaveny, exec VP and managing director of Discovery Networks Asia, far from undermining the local film industry, such projects help develop local filmmaking talent.

“Both the EDB and the MDA have been very supportive of Discovery, and in return we have been committed to helping develop the local production industry and produce more ‘Made in Singapore’ content,” he says.

Steward echoes that theory. He believes in the crossover, but also that there is always room for growth and improvement.

“We believe that continued support on a bigger scale is essential if we intend to establish Singapore as a TV and film hub in the region,” he says.

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