Singapore heats up with high-def biz

Asian television feeds tech-savvy island nation

Singapore, a small island nation of 4.8 million people and very limited resources, has built a formidable reputation as a can-do society.

A prime recent example: the city-state’s adoption of high-definition television within a short span of three years.

While other Asian countries continue to struggle with various regulatory, technical and commercial issues surrounding HD, viewers in Singapore already have a choice of 12 channels featuring content ranging from sports to docus to movies.

This HD fare is offered across three platforms: free-to-air broadcaster MediaCorp, cable TV operator StarHub and the Internet-protocol television (IPTV) service of SingTel’s mioTV.

Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA) has played a pivotal role in accelerating this adoption. According to Yeo Chun Cheng, chief information officer and director of broadcast and music at MDA, the org’s overall vision for HD is multifaceted.

“Our strategy includes (direct) investments in supporting broadcasters to facilitate the delivery of HD content and services,” he says.

It also includes making sure that people have the right training and that facilities are up to snuff.

“Upgrading the production skills of local players and ramping up production of Singapore-made HD content for local and international markets” are part of the plan, he says.

The overall HD initiative also includes support for Singapore companies and their international partners on a number of Asian-themed international productions, according to Yeo.

The ratification of the Australia-Singapore Co-production Treaty, for instance, has encouraged Singaporean and Australian companies to jointly develop and explore the potential of multiplatform intellectual properties. As a result, ThreeSixZero and Infocus Asia, two Singapore-based production houses, are now developing Aussie-Sino co-productions.

One factor essential to the industry’s growth is the MDA requirement that foreign productions in which it co-invests must use Singapore-based talent for such key positions as producer, director, production manager and cinematographer.

This policy has created an abundance of opportunities for Singapore-based production and post houses to be involved in HD. Now, five years later, there’s a ready pool of creative talent capable of handing HD productions. For example, local HD players such as production company Most Wanted Pictures and post house Blackmagic Design Singapore have aggressively focused on HD work and benefited from the government’s initiative.

When Aussie d.p. Brad Dillon, owner of Most Wanted Pictures, made the decision in 2003 to switch to HD cameras, it was a leap of faith. Back then, not many people or houses were capable of handling HD productions.

His vision has been vindicated. Dillon now counts Discovery and National Geographic Channel — both of which have high levels of HD production — among his clients.

“Being in Singapore has given me more opportunities to work on more HD projects,” Dillon says. He adds that producers and broadcasters realize that producing in HD is a way to future-proof their work as the entire world eventually moves to the format.

HD post pioneer Blackmagic was established in 2004 — just around the time HD started taking root on the island republic. “Our business plan was to do HD at standard-def prices,” says Peter Barber, Blackmagic’s creative director. “If we want to encourage Singapore to adopt HD, there shouldn’t be a penalty (on price).”

Barber believes MDA has done a good job in positioning Singapore as an HD hub in Asia, and especially in helping Singapore-based production and post houses link with the international marketplace. “MDA introduced us to companies and markets that want to make documentaries, TV and films, which we would otherwise have not known about,” he says. “They promote our name.

Proof that MDA’s efforts have paid off is the international recognition Singapore-made HD productions have garnered, both through awards and collaborations with players such as Voom HD Networks, Discovery Channel and National Geographic in the U.S.; FremantleMedia Enterprises in the U.K.; and New Zealand production house Natural History. These arrangements have yielded co-productions across a wide range of content, including film, TV and animation series.

“Singapore Inc. is a company, not a country,” Barber quips. “The broadcast regulations and the rules for producing content are different. Large broadcasters like Discovery, Nat Geo, CNBC and History Channel are here. The HD infrastructure is in place. (And on the consumer side), viewers just need to get a set-top box and a big flatscreen TV and they’re ready to watch HD. All these little building blocks paved the way for what we see today.”