Singapore raises media game at ATF

The new format is a boon, exhibitors say

SINGAPORE -- Singapore's latest multimillion-dollar production ambitions and a whole new exhibition hall format took center stage at the opening of the Asia Television Forum on Wednesday.

Economic indicators for 2009 also were a hot topic at the annual regional programming conference. Widespread hopes are that Asia's media industry will escape the worst of the global economic crisis, though buyers already are reporting budget cuts.

"The long-term growth outlook for Asia's media industry remains encouraging and is expected to grow at 8.8% annually," Lee Boon Yang, Singapore's minister for information, communications and the arts, said at the opening ceremony.

Singapore's new production complex, Mediapolis @ One North, is a part of the government's ambitions to make Singapore into a "trusted global media capital," Media Development Authority executives said.

Chris Chia, MDA chief executive, said the facility would support Singapore's "unfulfilled demand for larger budget films and reality series."

Four government agencies are involved in the development -- the MDA, property developer JTC, Infocomm Development Authority and the Economic Development Board.

"To elevate ourselves to the next level we are finding ways to add scale and synergy to what we already have," Chia said.

The country already boasts media funding worth S$1.1 billion ($733 million), including a new $100 million film and television fund announced in Singapore on Tuesday. The fund, Salon Media Management, is driven by Hong Kong's Salon Films Group.

The first Mediapolis facility will be the city-state's first soundstage, featuring greenscreens for special effects, built for S$80 million-S$100 million ($53 million-$67 million) by private local production and postproduction house, Infinite Frameworks, Mike Wiluan, Infinite's managing director, said.

On the ATF show floor, exhibitors and buyers welcomed the upgrade to the new exhibition hall venue, the Suntec Convention Center, after eight years of cramming into hotel suites on multiple floors, this despite significantly higher costs of constructing and decorating booths.

"This format is a lot easier for buyers," Dai Huang, an MTV Networks International sales exec, said.

Reed Exhibitions Singapore GM Michelle Lim said participation this year was up 15%. Nearly 700 companies from 50 countries are involved in the market this year, including 138 distributors taking part for the first time, Lim said.

The biggest exhibitor at this year's event is newcomer Al Jazeera Children's Channel, which said in a preshow statement that the Asian market offered appropriate television content with similar values to the Middle East.

Al Jazeera Children's produces more the 45% of its shows, and is after wider distribution of its in-house content.

Al Jazeera's presence in the region runs alongside rising ambitions by Malaysia's monopoly direct-broadcast satellite platform, Astro, to produce Islamic content for local and global distribution.

"It's a relatively untapped market," Astro's content development general manager, Richard Langridge, said.

Astro produces more than 3,000 hours of content a year for its in-house channels. New shows include the second season of talent format, "Kalam Suci," which tests contestants' Koran recital abilities.

Developed in house, "Kalam Suci" has been extended from a half-hour format to a full hour for its second season, Langridge said.

With the exception of Sony Pictures Television International, U.S. studios gave the three-day event a miss.

Many came to the show with sales closed for 2008. FremantleMedia Enterprises announced sales of 1,500 hours over the past two months, including more than 200 hours to Thai pay TV platform TrueVisions.