Singapore had a tough time with the coronavirus outbreak, which means the entertainment industry was hit hard. It was one of the first countries outside mainland China to confirm a COVID-19 case, recording its earliest case on Jan. 23, 2020, the same day that Wuhan, China, was locked down.
Rapid border control and quarantine measures quickly slowed the import of a large numbers of cases, and local transmission at first seemed containable.
But April shattered Singapore’s exemplary status, as the disease took root in cramped dormitories that are home to large numbers of migrant workers. Daily case numbers leaped from low double digits to over 1,000 per day and the country imposed stay-at-home orders, known locally as a “circuit breaker.”
For a period, tiny Singapore had more cases than vastly larger Southeast Asian neighbors Indonesia and The Philippines, and months later Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong admitted to shortcomings and missteps, and to “wisdom after the fact.”
Enforced through fines and technology — the country’s TraceTogether app was released in March — the restrictions meant normal daily life ground to a halt. Cinemas were closed between March 26 and July 13.
The entertainment production sector has scarcely begun to recover, even though the country officially started de-escalating from June 15. That makes Singapore’s expected presence at Mipcom a thinner-than-normal affair.
The InfoComm Media Development Authority is the only Singapore entity scheduled to take a virtual booth at the market. The IMDA’s presence will be an umbrella stand, but by Sept. 25 the organization was still unable to confirm which companies would be sheltering under its canopy.
Instead, and boding well for future markets, the IMDA has busily rolled out measures to ensure that companies survive the storm.
Chief among these has been the $5.8 million (S$8 million) Public Service Content Fund. Administered by Mediacorp, Singapore Press Holdings and streaming platform Viddsee, the scheme encourages the production of factual and educational content promoting Singapore identity, values, and social-racial harmony. Grants were worth $109,000 (S$150,000) per successful application.
Another effort is both a relief measure, and part of the city-state’s much wider attempt to stimulate the digital economy through retraining. “Media professionals 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,” the IMDA explains. The self-employed and freelancers can apply for training grants worth up to 90% of course fees, capped at $2,809 (S$3,000) per course under the Talent Assistance Program.
While times are tough the government is to help companies cut their operating costs. Film exhibition and distribution license fees were waived starting April 17, both for new license applications and renewal of existing licenses. Classification fees for public exhibition and video distribution of films, video games and label fees are waived until further notice.
Perhaps the smartest initiative of all is the Capability Partnership Program (CPP), which gets large international corporations to help Singapore’s small to medium businesses. Having attracted the likes of Disney, Discovery and Netflix to set up their regional HQs in Singapore, the country is now encouraging skills transfer and multi-party production, while also ramping up Made-in-Singapore content.
“ViacomCBS Networks Asia will develop up to three regional entertainment or family content intellectual properties in May 2020. WarnerMedia Entertainment Networks APAC plans to commence development of up to three regional original content IPs for HBO Asia in June 2020,” it said in April.
It announced that “the CPP program is expected to benefit 80 to 100 local media companies over the next 12 months.”