Boosting the business of storytelling

Boosting the business of storytelling

New initiatives announced at the Singapore Media Festival are helping local content creators reach a wider audience

Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran announced several new digital and media initiatives during Singapore Hour at the ATF. Photos: IMDA, SMF 2018

Content creators today are spoilt for choice – there have never been more ways to tell and hear a story than in today’s rapidly evolving media landscape. The challenge lies in creating compelling stories that reach diverse, multifaceted audiences across a variety of platforms.

But never mind changing tastes and technological disruption – the ability to tell a good story and deliver it effectively remains as important now as it was when cave dwellers carved hieroglyphics and communicated tales verbally.


To help local storytellers reach wider audiences, the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) recently announced two new funding initiatives: The Public Service Media (PSM) Digital Partnership Fund and the Southeast Asia Co-production Grant. These are intended to help foster regional and international co-productions.

The emphasis is on collaboration – the programmes aim to expand the scope of local content; think stories that are made “with Singapore” instead of being just made “in Singapore”.

These initiatives spell good news for local content creators like Mr Kenneth Goh, director of Business & Content Development at local production and distribution house Monstrou Studio.

He said: “For the longest time, we’ve wanted to tell not just Singapore stories but Asian stories to the region. The Southeast Asia Co-production Grant allows us to partner our friends in neighbouring countries to tell Asian stories, not just within the region but potentially for the rest of the world.”

“The PSM Digital Partnership Fund gives us a larger playing field. We no longer target just traditional media but are also working with partners from digital platforms to understand their needs and audiences.”


Both initiatives were announced at the recently concluded fifth edition of the Singapore Media Festival (SMF), which was held from Nov 28 to Dec 9.

Other initiatives announced by IMDA during SMF include:

  • The Skills Framework for Media, which helps the industry identify career progression paths and the skills needed to stay up-to-date.
  • The Media Industry Digital Plan (Media IDP), which supports SMEs in the media industry as they digitalise their businesses.
  • A partnership with Disney to train local content creators to develop the studio’s first eight digital-first titles for distribution on Disney’s platforms in South-east Asia.
  • The Facebook Creator Lab, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, which will teach creators to manage their presence, build their businesses and grow their community on the social media platform.

The SMF was a fitting cap to a stellar year of Asian storytelling – this year’s edition of the festival saw a bumper crop of exciting collaborations, film screenings, insightful talks with renowned names such as Hong Kong actress Sammi Cheng and Korean-American star Daniel Dae Kim, and a new awards ceremony and skills development initiative, the Asian Academy Creative Awards (AAA).

Hosted by the IMDA, the SMF was attended by over 23,000 international media and creative professionals, industry stakeholders and television and film enthusiasts. Under the festival’s banner, several constituent events took place: the Asia TV Forum & Market (ATF), ScreenSingapore, the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF), SMF Ignite, and the AAA.

Said Mr Howie Lau, IMDA’s chief industry development officer: “SMF is Asia’s leading international media event that showcases the best of Asian storytelling, and brings together Asian talent from around the region to network, connect and collaborate.”


Chen Xiao
Mr Chen Xiao, vice president, iQIYI, delivering his keynote speech at SMF Ignite 2018.

Digital content was given a place of prominence, with the day-long SMF Ignite conference featuring industry thought leaders such as Mr Chen Xiao, vice-president at iQiyi, one of China’s biggest OTT content players, and Mr Jim Louderback, general manager of VidCon, a huge festival celebrating online video content that started in the United States.

The conference focused on big data, AI and storytelling, in keeping with the SMF’s overall mission. For Mr Louderback, storytelling remains paramount even as technology advances: “Storytelling is always the most important thing. All the great technology in the world can’t get anyone to truly care about what you’re doing, thinking and passionate about.”

Still, he acknowledged that telling good stories is only part of the equation today. “The best story wrapped in the worst technology will still be a failure. You must practise platform-intentional storytelling. You can’t tell a story the same way everywhere.

“Understand what makes each platform unique, the details about format, discovery, sharing and promotion, and you’ll be much more likely to find success.”

Nuseir Yassin
Mr Nuseir Yassin (right) conducting a workshop on storyboarding and content creation, as part of SMF Ignite.

Helping local storytellers find success was Mr Nuseir “Nas” Yassin, founder of popular video site Nas Daily. Apart from giving a keynote speech at SMF Ignite, he mentored three Singapore digital content creators, whose one-minute videos premiered during Singapore Hour on Dec 6.

Mr Eugene Kam, one of the three workshop participants, said that the experience taught him just how much planning and effort went into a minute-long video.

Referring to the Nas Daily project, which sees Nas commit to posting one video a day for 1,000 days, Mr Kam said: “Thinking of new content, finding partners or companies to work with and finally telling a story in a way that can effectively capture the audience’s attention – all this done every single day consecutively for 1,000 days. The amount of creativity and critical thinking that goes on behind the scenes is indeed stunning.”


The inaugural star-studded edition of the AAA took place on Dec 6 and 7 at the Capitol Theatre. It honoured winners from 16 territories in 49 production and acting categories. According to the chairman of the AAA, Mr Ricky Ow, who is also president of Turner Asia Pacific, the AAA has been created “for the industry, by the industry”, adhering to the same high standards as the International Emmy Awards.

“The vision of Asian Academy Creative Awards is to acknowledge and recognise the already high standards of the storytellers and craft-makers in this part of world. With the rise of China and India – and of Asia in general – the world is today keen to hear the Asian story.

“We’ve also seen more and more Asian stories being watched by global audiences, whether they be K-dramas or hit movies like Crazy Rich Asians.”

In addition to celebrating the professionals already in the field, the AAA also has another goal – to nurture the next generation. To this end, it conducted for students and other interested parties master classes and panel discussions with winners and creatives from around the region.

In line with this goal of nurturing up-and-coming content creators, the first ATF Chinese Pitch was launched. This pitching competition aimed to find innovative Chinese content concepts in three film genres: Thriller, sci-fi as well as legends, horror and fantasy.

Three winners emerged from the competition:

  • Hong Kong’s Please Do Something For This Land by Liang Shengfa
  • Malaysia’s One Night In Geylang by Tang Jia Jie
  • Singapore’s Mulan, the Robot Girl by The Big Shots LLP


Both Mr Louderback and Mr Ow believe that Singapore’s connectivity and infrastructure make it the ideal location for Asian storytelling to launch itself on a world stage.

Added IMDA’s Mr Lau: “There is a high demand for rich Asian content, representation and stories globally. The world has seen a big shift towards Asia, and Singapore, as a key gateway into the region and the South-east Asian market, is in a prime position to bring the media industry together.

“SMF is where international media industry players have to be in order to navigate Asia, leverage the best business networks for media, and experience the innovative formats and unique content we have to offer in this part of the world.”