Singapore Budget 2015: Funding boost for PSB programmes; $250 million a year in next 5 years

SINGAPORE - More Government funding is being earmarked for public service broadcasts (PSB), including new allocations for content on online and mobile platforms.

Total yearly funding will increase by 28 per cent to $250 million over the next five years (2015-2019) to strengthen the quality of PSB programmes, which aim to promote national values and celebrate the Singapore identity, culture and heritage. These programmes are primarily aired on national broadcaster MediaCorp's free-to-air TV and radio channels.

But moving forward, part of the increased funding will go to extending the programmes' reach to online and mobile devices, including enhancing existing platforms such as MediaCorp's video-on-demand and live TV service Toggle.

Second Minister for Communications and Information Lawrence Wong announced the funding increase and emphasis on new media platforms in Parliament on Tuesday, saying that Singapore's current budget for local productions "pales in comparison with international production".

From 2012 to 2014, the Media Development Authority dished out $195 million per year to fund PSB production, with the bulk going to MediaCorp.

In comparison, Korean dramas typically cost three times as much to produce and American TV programmes, six times more. "Good, compelling programmes need heavy investments in writing, editing, casting, camerawork, as well as innovative concepts and treatments," he noted.

There is also a need to reach out to new audiences, especially the younger ones, via new media outlets.

For instance, the reach of free-to-air TV in Singapore has fallen sharply from 92 per cent in 2005 to 66 per cent in 2014, while the reach of the Internet has increased from 43 per cent to 73 per cent over the same period, he said, adding that this is likely to continue over time.

The increased spending is part of continuous efforts to raise the quality of PSB programmes. For instance in 2013, pay-TV operator StarHub became the second commissioning platform, and the only other alternative to MediaCorp, for PSB content.

StarHub's funding came under the Public Service Broadcast Contestable Funds Scheme, set up in July 2012 to extend the reach and improve the quality of PSB content. Last year, StarHub commissioned 150 hours of local PSB programmes for its E-City and SuperSports Arena channels.

Mr Wong said that the scheme will open up production opportunities to more media companies, including smaller production houses and freelancers.

itham@sph.com.sg