With a limited box office, unlimited online options and piracy still rampant in the region it seems Singapore’s filmmakers have given up on charging audiences and are going to charge advertisers instead. But what will brands get for their money and how will that impact artistic integrity?

At yesterdays MDA-hosted Media Industry Conversation, the first since 2011, leaders from across the TV, film and games industry in Singapore gathered to hear the latest developments from the country’s Media Development Authority. MDA CEO Gabriel Lim opened with a keynote presentation highlighting some of the key initiatives and successes of recent years including, of course, Ilo Ilo before taking his seat for the panel discussion.

The panel, moderated by MDA ACE Angelina Poh, was intended to take a deep dive into the authority’s four thrusts for the future: develop capabilities, grow enterprises, cultivate fan bases and innovate content. However, with panelists from film production company mm2, Asian short film platform Viddsee, and talent agency Fly Entertainment the conversation inevitably turned toward Singapore’s film industry.

Acknowledging that Singapore is a small market all the panelists agreed on a need to create content for more international audiences and that, to do that, filmmakers would need to become more business savvy. In a reference to Singapore’s famous five C’s campaign mm2 CEO Melvin Tan urged them not to forget the three C’s of filmmaking, “content, customer, and commercial viability.” He was also excited about the prospect of working with brands, adding, “the advertising industry is really beefing up, it’s really instrumental, lots of money.” Veteran actress and founder of Fly Entertainment Irene Ang was in strong agreement but complained about the lack of business savvy exhibited by the younger talents in her stable; “It’s hard for creative young people to learn to make money out of their creativity. I bring them to brands and they have their vision but cannot see the client’s.”

When it came time for the Q&A I posed a question to the panel about their relationship with brands, asking: “Should we really be pandering to advertisers, there is already an established industry for that? Should we not be trying to monetize audiences instead by enforcing IP laws, improving the cinema experience, hosting more live events and building better online platforms?” The MDA’s Mr. Lim responded, saying: “The two things aren’t mutually exclusive, ad companies are developing upstream concepts and even engaging downstream production, and production companies are creating advertising. The government should take a leading role as a customer of both.”  (Try copy-and-pasting it into Google Translate!)

The point I was trying to seed was that if we give up entirely on monetizing audiences we put too much control into the hands of advertisers whose first priority is not to make a great film but to sell a product (with a few rare exceptions like Lego). I should know, I run a content marketing agency and a production company and though both engage with brands they do so in very different ways. The first is a service provider; it sells its capability to create content to brands that are largely in control of what is created. The second presents developed concepts to brands and invites them to sponsor those concepts exactly as they are. The difference is the nature of the commercial relationship; one is a straight purchase of services, the second is a sponsorship and there is even a third option I haven’t tried, which is brand as investor. All of these are viable ways to get content funded and distributed but before Singapore’s filmmakers go banging down the doors of brands and agencies I would urge them first to consider what they really need to get their content made and what they’re prepared to give away for it. Maybe that’s a topic for another discussion?

Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/dJ94N2

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Written by Neal Moore

Co-Founder & Content Director at award-winning content agency Click2View. Filmmaker and blogger at Moore's Lore Media.

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