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Industry practitioners from Southeast Asia deliberated the devastating effects of COVID-19 on the entertainment industry in the region, but also found some silver linings, at the concluding session of the Asian Television Forum, part of the Singapore Media Festival, on Friday.

Speaking at a panel discussion moderated by producer Jeremy Chua of Singapore outfit Potocol (“A Love Unknown”), Micah Tadena, country manager, Philippines, 108 Media, said that the government’s decision not to renew the franchise of leading broadcaster ABS-CBN had shaken up the Philippines industry. Cinemas remaining closed because of the pandemic caused a shift to digital, Tadena said.

Rashid Karim, CEO of Iskandar Malaysia Studios, said that the Film in Malaysia 30% cash rebate incentive, worth $40 million remained open throughout the COVID period and is likely to continue into 2021. Though Malaysia and neighboring Thailand have remained relatively unscathed, compared to the West, strict border controls and quarantine requirements mean that international productions are still weighing their options about filming in the region, Karim said.

Paul Spurrier, managing director, Commercial Films Siam, Thailand, pointed to 2019 where revenue from incoming films and production services were up 65% in 2019, compared to the previous years, and 2020 was supposed to surpass that until coronavirus intervened. He described Thailand’s 15% incentive as a “well thought out scheme.”

“Where I think we still lag behind a bit, is in terms of supporting local productions and co-productions,” Spurrier said.

Tadena and Karim both mentioned that international producers are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach before returning to the region. The panelists also noted the lack of dedicated COVID-19 insurance for productions, with plans usually only reducing hospital costs for individuals diagnosed with the virus.

Talking about the silver linings in an otherwise bleak year, Tadena said that the shift to digital had heralded a move away from the theatrical romantic comedies that the Philippines is known for, towards genre themes, especially LGBT content, reaching mainstream audiences. She said that the pandemic had also led industry workers to campaign for their rights.

Karim said that the situation had led a lot of producers to begin exploring new technologies, like digital sets as pioneered by Epic Games on “The Mandalorian.” “This is not so much a phase, as people learn more about it and be more familiar with it, I think it’s going to be something that is necessary, going forward,” said Karim.

The panelists agreed that while local content will always remain important, this is the time to get global eyeballs on the region and tell universal stories produced in the region, for international consumption.