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Singapore Media Festival 2020: An Interview with Joachim Ng, Director, Media Ecosystem Development, IMDA

Screenshot 2020-11-03 at 8.51.41 AM

In spite of a trying year we’ve had, the Singapore Media Festival (SMF) returns this November for its 7th edition in an all-new hybrid form, once again celebrating the industry with programmes showcasing and honouring all that they’ve achieved this year. From the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) celebrating film, to the all-new SuperGamerFest (SGF) heralding the power of gaming and e-sports, this year’s SMF is all about how creativity continues to survive and the industry thrives.

In the lead up to the festival, we spoke to Mr Joachim Ng, Director, Media Ecosystem Development, IMDA, to find out what IMDA’s stance on the rapid digitilisation has been, the highlights of this year’s festival, and the support they continue to offer to the media industry today. Read the interview in full below:

Mr Joachim Ng

Bakchormeeboy: The media industry has always been hailed for its adaptability, with this year’s pandemic proving that especially necessary. How do you find that the media industry has been coping with the drastic changes and limitations brought about by the pandemic this year, and how has the IMDA been closely involved as partners and facilitators in that process?

Joachim: COVID has affected just about every aspect of our lives, and the media sector in Singapore and Asia is no exception. Productions came to a halt as lockdowns, social distancing measures, border and travel closures were implemented to protect the public’s safety. This has impacted our talents, production houses and media freelancers. As we recover from this challenging climate, we have been working closely with media companies, partners and individuals from the media industry to ensure that there continues to be opportunities for the region’s talents to develop their craft, and that doors for cross-country collaborations continue to be open to catalyse more production projects, that will in turn, benefit media professionals and companies in this road to recovery.

For instance, we put in place several grants and initiatives to catalyse more production projects, or provide training grants that encourage upskilling in this sector, such as the $8m Public Service Content Fund to catalyse more production projects in order to benefit media professionals during COVID-19 for partnership opportunities and skills training. Under this initiative, Mediacorp, SPH and Viddsee will commission short-form content for their digital platforms through a Call for Proposal. The results of the shortlisted projects will be shared at a later date.

IMDA also encouraged media professionals to make use of this slowdown to deepen their tradecraft by bringing forward their training plans so that they are in good stead for the upturn. To attain that, IMDA supported the upskilling of SelfEmployed Persons (SEPs) by providing a training grant of up to 90% of course fees, capped at $3,000 per course under the Talent Assistance (T-Assist) Programme. In addition to subsidised fees, Self-Employed Persons, including freelancers, can benefit from training allowance for eligible courses. We were also very heartened by ground-up initiatives that supported the industry – the Singapore Association for Motion Picture Professionals relief fund, for instance. Which IMDA matched the contribution of $20,000 to support media practitioners affected by the cancellation and postponement of projects.

Bakchormeeboy: The biggest change we’ve probably seen this year is the move towards streaming and media learning to work remotely as opposed to on location. What is IMDA’s stance on digitisation, and do you see it more as the future we’re tending towards, or that it continues to be an option rather than necessity once things return to ‘normal’?

Joachim: Digitalisation is not new to IMDA, as we are working with all sectors of the Singapore economy to support their efforts to go digital. The COVID-19 pandemic has made imperative the need for digitalisation. With this year seeing the acceleration of media and content consumption patterns eg. online video streaming in Southeast Asia increasing by 60% from Jan to April this year. We believe that such online behaviour is here to stay, as evident by the latest eConomy SEA Report which stated that Singaporeans are spending more of their leisure time online ‒ with an average of 3.6 hours daily pre-pandemic, rising to 4.5 hours at the height of the Circuit Breaker, and now settling at about 4.1 hours daily.

Speakers at the Asia TV Forum & Market (ATF) 2020

Bakchormeeboy: As regulators of the infocomm and media industries, how has IMDA itself adapted to and come up with new rules and regulations when it comes to the new normal? Were there any particularly big challenges the stat board has faced during this 1 Media Partners Asia (20 Apr 2020): Online Video Streaming Minutes In Southeast Asia Skyrocket After COVID-19 Impact According To New MPA Study 2 e-Conomy SEA Report 2020: At full velocity: Resilient and racing ahead 3 process?

Joachim: When COVID-19 hit, the main focus for IMDA was pivoting quickly and strengthening our efforts to support the media sector in Singapore during the current COVID-19 situation, while taking into consideration the need to protect the public’s safety. With the social distancing guidelines in place, IMDA worked closely with representatives from the media industry to draw up guidelines for the resumption of content production and cinemas.

Asian Academy Creative Awards 2020

Bakchormeeboy: The Singapore Media Festival this year will primarily be taking place online, including networking sessions and awards ceremonies. Do you feel that this lack of physicality in any way detracts from the strength of real-life events, and can the SMF still do justice to its 7th edition in spite of the challenges?

Joachim: This year’s Singapore Media Festival will undoubtedly be a different experience as it takes on a hybrid format, with physical events taking on a virtual format instead. However, spotlighting Asian storytelling and uncovering the latest trends and innovative media content still remains the core of the Festival. Through a mix of physical and virtual programmes, this year’s SMF will continue to showcase the sector’s ingenuity, creativity and resilience and present diverse experiences that reimagine Asian storytelling.

Our partners are also pushing through with new formats to continue engaging with their audience in different platforms. For example, although the Asia TV Forum & Market is going online this year, it will still provide ample opportunities for media companies to network in different forms such as the continuation of pitches that give individuals, students and small- to medium-sized companies the rare opportunity to present new and innovative concepts to financiers and investors; as well as ‘speed dating’ programmes, where industry players get 10-minute conversations with potential partners they might otherwise never meet.

For our film and TV lovers, Singapore International Film Festival also presents a strong array of more than 70 films through digital and physical screenings while the Asian Academy Creative Awards will also break innovative boundaries to deliver a unique four-day virtual awards experience this year for audiences in APAC to continue to join in the crowning of this year’s winners.

Bakchormeeboy: One interesting aspect of the SMF this year is SuperGamerFest, which casts a spotlight on the growing esports industry. It feels almost ironic how our own parents used to tell us to get off the computer and do our homework when we were younger, yet gaming has become one of the biggest industries today. How has the IMDA been supporting the esports sector, and is there sufficient opportunity for local budding competitive gamers and those interested in joining the gaming industry to get a foot in the door?

Joachim: The esports and gaming sector is a booming and vibrant sector in Southeast Asia. Its significance was also demonstrated during the debut as a medal sport at the 2019 SEA Games, where Singapore also notched several milestones by bringing home two medals – a bronze and silver during the games in the Philippines. Beyond playing games, viewing of game-related video content is now also an integral part of the global games market. In fact, according to statistics by Newzoo , well-over half of people in SEA’s online population watched content such as livestreams, pre-recorded and VOD content related to gaming in the first half of 2020.

To spotlight this growing industry, we are excited to have on board two new programmes – Singtel’s inaugural SuperGamerFest, and gamescom asia’s Singapore Games Market Bootcamp (this was just announced week of 23rd Nov) – as part of the Festival this year, bringing together popular esports personalities and insightful masterclasses for the growing pool of gamers, gamedev and gaming esports enthusiasts in this region. The first-ever SuperGamerFest Awards will also honour and recognise gaming content creators and esports talents from Southeast  The gaming and esports sectors have immense potential to grow and we will continue to provide opportunities for budding creative talents to develop their craft, and grow the industry.

Bakchormeeboy: Do you feel content creators and people working in the media get enough support? Is there any particular sector of the media industry you feel needs more help to get their feet off the ground than others, and if so, what are IMDA’s plans for that sector?

Joachim: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented changes to the entire media sector as a whole, from media companies to individuals. To help bounce back from this crisis, we are working to support the media sector as a whole through the provision of jobs and catalysing productions, or providing opportunities for cross-country collaborations. Through the Singapore Media Festival, we look to facilitate the creation of quality content and commercial opportunities within Southeast Asia’s vibrant media ecosystem.

This year, more than ever before, the Festival plays a significant role in re-gathering the community, and provides an important multi-medium, multigenre platform for local companies and professionals to exchange ideas, acquire and distribute Asian content, and explore collaborations – altogether uncovering opportunities for recovery and growth amidst this challenging climate: We also continue to forge partnerships with global players for “Made with Singapore” content to raise the capabilities and expand the business networks of local media companies and talent. For example at SMF 2019, a series of new partnerships with global media and tech players were announced with CJ ENM Hong Kong, Tencent – VS Media (China) and Viacom International Media Networks (US), to develop content that will be distributed first on digital platforms to reach a wider audience outside of Singapore. This year we will see more partners joining us with more details to be shared at a later date.

Through this year’s SMF and the various initiatives and collaborations, we hope to establish Singapore into a regional gateway to Asia and a media-tech hub that uncovers growth opportunities for media sectors in the region for collaborations amidst this challenging climate, and continues to be a platform for talent discovery.

IMDA-Collage

ScreenSingapore 2020

Bakchormeeboy: How do you personally see the future of media developing, and what are your hopes for the industry?

Joachim: We are in the Asian decade. There is no denying that the media industry has made a shift towards Asia in recent years and we are right in the midst of pivotal times where Asian content, talent and storytelling are gaining spotlight across the globe. And this demand is only going to continue growing. Singapore itself is incredibly well-placed as the hub and heart of Asia, with our rich media ecosystem, internationally recognised projects and trusted support for innovation. Tencent recently announced setting up its new regional hub in Singapore, joining ByteDance and Alibaba who have set up shop in Singapore over the last couple of years. With the presence of established tech companies, continued opportunities and initiatives for growth, I hope that Singapore’s and the region’s media industry will continue to present innovative stories, break new ground and make waves across the globe.

The 2020 Singapore Media Festival runs from 26th November to 6th December 2020. For more information and the programme lineup, visit their website here

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