Building a Digital Media Industry
By: Karen Moltenbrey
March 5, 2010

Building a Digital Media Industry

Singapore focuses its efforts on making the country a leading force in this arena
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In January, Contact Singapore—an agency of the Singapore government whose primary function is to attract people from around the world to work, invest, and live in that country—invited me to visit. Of course, they hoped that I would spread the word about what I found there, as they continue with their mission of building their digital media segment into a world-class operation. No promises were made, but after what I saw, I feel compelled to pass along the information.

We started off with a briefing by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), the lead government agency responsible for planning and executing strategies to enhance the country’s position as a global business center and to grow the economy. We heard how Singapore aims to attract global talent in all its business sectors. After all, 30 percent of the workforce comprises foreigners. And as we heard from the director of the International Manpower Division, the government makes it very easy to get work passes (online processing can produce a work pass in a week). In fact, there are no quotas on the number that is issued. That means if a Singapore business can use your skills, you can work here. Plus, companies actually receive monetary rebates (to offset relocation fees) for importing high-level staffers.

Throughout the trip we met with folks from a number of government agencies involved in advancing business in Singapore. Looking at the acronyms for these divisions felt like looking into a bowl of alphabet soup: IMD, EDB, MDA, IDA, and even MOM…the list goes on.

Singapore prides itself on being world hubs for the banking/finance, shipping, and biomedical markets, having seemingly done all the right things to attract the right people and the right companies. The infrastructure is cutting-edge—the broadband, for instance, is very high quality. The people are highly educated. English is the main business language. The economy is stable (actually, it is up while in so many other countries it is down). The crime rate is low (monetary fines can deter undesired activity, such as J-walking and littering).  Another attraction, as we heard from some expatriates now living here temporarily (and some indefinitely): Singapore’s location. It is in the heart of the growing Asian market, and if you are trying to play in the global market, you need to do business in Asia. Unlike its neighbors, Singapore’s laws and policies are business-friendly, providing protection of intellectual property; its government is stable; its infrastructure is modern. So, businesses located here have these advantages and protections, and yet are in the heart of Asia.

According to the director of the International Manpower Division at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Singapore recognizes the need to attract skills to support its growth. Thus far, Singapore has already lured some big names within the digital media segment: Lucasfilm, EA, Ubisoft, Double Negative, and more. Local companies are also spreading roots in the digital media garden. And there are a number of schools—DigiPen Institute of Technology, LaSalle College of the Arts, and NYU Tisch School of the Arts—that have set up campuses in the country. Local schools, including Egg Story Digital Arts Academy, are also stepping up to the plate and offering classes and training. In all, Singapore boasts five universities and five polytechnic schools/academies with digital media programs—sending 1000 digital media grads into the industry a year. Singapore’s hope: Many of them will stay and work in Singapore.

The goal of the Media Development Authority (MDA) is to make Singapore the center for digital media and entertainment—and to do so in terms of development and publishing, not just as a production center. The government wants to develop homegrown titles here.

One of the biggest milestones for the segment is the development of Mediapolis, a self-contained, vibrant digital media cluster for promoting the flow and exchange of ideas and talent within the industry. The facility, which sits on nearly 47 acres of land, contains soundstages with greenscreen capabilities, digital production and broadcast facilities, work lofts, incubators, and more, making it the ideal home for international and local media companies, media schools, and R&D firms. (Local media company Infinite Frameworks is building three soundstages here.)

Illustrating Singapore’s commitment: Currently, more than 400 startups are taking advantage of a $500 million (Singapore dollars) government fund administered by the Interactive Digital Media Research and Development Programme Office and offered to techno-preneurs who wish to employ 3D virtual and digital media technologies for commercial use. Indeed, the country is putting money where its mouth is doing far more than giving this endeavor lip service.

This year, a plethora of new grads will flood the digital content creation market. Many will be attracted to the bright lights of Hollywood. Others will be happy just to find employment. Some will find work in the UK, and others here and there throughout Europe. Perhaps some may find that Singapore suits them well. (Check out our video section to hear why some students from schools around the world are visiting the country and pondering whether Singapore can offer them their ideal job—or at least their first job in the DCC market.

Click Here to get a day by day summary highlight of the trip
Clink Here to see the videos from the trip

Karen Moltenbrey is the chief editor for CGW.