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IP development crucial to promoting creative culture

SINCE 2003, Singapore has been shifting its economic focus from manufacturing to innovation through a host of policies, including promoting a creative culture.

After talking with industry experts, participants in the 2014 Asia Journalism Fellowship programme found that intellectual-property (IP) development was crucial in dealing with these challenges.

Although government bodies and private content producers are working to produce a number of films and TV programmes serving local demand, the problem is that the industry is in the early stage and suffers from an insufficient number of skilled independent content producers.

Also, there is poor IP protection among local consumers.

Juan Foo, a veteran independent film-maker, explained that the quality of IP creator was key to whether a person or a company could create their own unique story, film or TV programme or format that would attract an international audience, or for a business to acquire the rights.

With the right IP, the creator will be able to monetise the right as well as create merchandise and related products from the story, film or TV programme.

Foo pointed to a limitation of resources and talent in Singapore for the generation of quality content and IP.

However, although it will take time, he believes the country has the potential to be a regional IP centre for the film industry, because key infrastructure such as Mediapolis@one-north and other facilities is already in place.

In TV broadcasting, content and IP development appear to be encouraged by the revision of public service broadcasting (PSB) content ownership. In 2012, the Media Development Authority (MDA) decided to return all rights to independent TV-content producers after MDA-subsidised programmes are broadcast on MediaCorp's channels.

Joachim Ng, the MDA's director for industry operations, explained that this decision was aimed at motivating local independent TV-content producers to develop the quality of their content, so that these TV programmes could be monetised and distributed in overseas markets.

The TV broadcasting industry has responded to this move positively, he said.

Jean Yeo, creative director of Ochre Pictures - a leading independent TV-content producer - said returning broadcasting rights to content owners would open more doors for the company to exploit opportunities overseas after domestic broadcasting via MediaCorp's channels.

However, it does not mean that MediaCorp will lose all control of broadcasting rights for programmes that used to run on its channels, Yeo stressed.

Doreen Neo, managing director of MediaCorp Studios, a TV-production arm of MediaCorp, said such a move would help the whole industry to compete with high-quality content.

MediaCorp has been experimenting on transmedia to support its IP content, too, she added.

Meanwhile, independent TV-production houses will also have more alternative platforms to supply PSB content beyond MediaCorp after the MDA granted pay-TV operator StarHub 6 million Singaporean dollars (Bt153.5 million) to produce up to 100 hours of PSB content. This is a first for a pay-TV operator in Singapore.

The funding came under the MDA's Public Service Broadcast Contestable Funds Scheme, which was set up in July 2012 in attempt to extend the reach and improve the quality of PSB content.

Moreover, the issue of IP protection is also important because the problem has eroded the creative industry for a long time.

According to a recent study on the digital habits of 900 Singaporeans, conducted by Sycamore Research and Marketing, an international research consultancy, about six out of every 10 Singaporeans said they had engaged with online piracy for movies, music and television programmes.

The study was conducted last year, covering Singaporeans aged between 16 and 64.

To tackle the problem, relevant parties have jointly addressed the issue as a public agenda item.

For example, the Law Ministry announced on April 9 that it would amend the Copyright Act to allow copyright holders to file take-down applications directly with the courts. This will help the industry to prevent the illegal download of content.

The ministry, which has been involved with and supported the industry for a long time, in 2001 established the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which aims to promote the usage and building up of expertise to facilitate the development of Singapore's IP ecosystem.

In another development, leading cable-TV operator StarHub has launched its own anti-piracy TV commercial via its system this year. The campaign advert is called "StarHub Supports the Original - Say No to Piracy Today".

The final part of this series will look at market and talent development and other key challenges for Singapore to achieve its target of becoming an Asian creative and media hub.

This is the fourth in a five-part series. The first three parts were published from August 18-20. The series was written as part of the author's participation in the 2014 Asia Journalism Fellowship, a three-month training programme for 16 senior journalists across Asia, under the Temasak Foundation and Nanyang Technological University. The programme ran from March to June in Singapore.


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