Singapore content investment at risk

Hong Kong: Singapore’s future as a regional media hub is under threat as a result of new government rules for the pay-TV industry, said the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA), which represents the interests of 130 content producers, pay-TV platform operators and equipment-and-service suppliers across 16 Asian markets.

According to CASBAA, the latest “Media Conduct Code” mandates that key Singapore pay-TV programming is shared between cable operators StarHub and SingTel, depriving content owners and creators of their freedom to negotiate contracts in a competitive market. “Most importantly it is consumers who will be the losers, with long-term access to a whole generation of new video content jeopardized,” said Simon Twiston Davies, the CASBAA CEO.

Ultimately, the new regulations violate Singapore’s international commitments to the likes of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) copyright agreements,” said CASBAA.

CASBAA also believes that if providers cannot negotiate free and fair contracts and conditions in Singapore, the pace of investment in creative content, additional channels and technological advances (such as high-definition TV and even 3-D TV content) could be shut off.

“Over more than a decade, Singapore has made the most notable progress in the region when attracting international content companies to the country,” said Twiston Davies. “Yet the ‘cross-carriage remedy’, insisting on the sharing of high value programming, damages the interests of every content owner and distributor.”

The regulations, introduced on March 12th, encompass all types of television programming, whether delivered via traditional TV channels or Video on Demand (VOD).

If the new regulations are implemented as announced, Singapore’s investment environment as well as its global reputation as a regional content centre, will suffer.

Until now, Singapore has been viewed as a “poster child” for open market regulation based on the rights of all parties to contract with whom they wish to engage. “However, this time Singapore is providing a very negative example to the rest of the region,” said Twiston Davies.

According to some analysts, an alternative approach to further regulating the local pay-TV market could be to extend Singapore’s existing list of “Category A” content such as the Olympic Games and other public interest content that must be made available to all consumers.

CASBAA noted that numerous domestic and international content producers and distributors have established regional headquarters in the country, employing thousands of Singaporeans, annually contributing millions of dollars to the local economy.

“We believe the government and the regulator, the Media Development Authority (MDA), have made a serious miscalculation of the damage to Singapore’s economic interests through this excessively broad regulatory decision,” said Twiston Davies.

CASBAA reports that a chorus of industry objections has already been made to the MDA decrying the circumvention of internationally-guaranteed rights to freely negotiate distribution of TV content in Singapore. “The new regulations impose a form of ‘compulsory licensing’ that is not acceptable,” said Twiston Davies.

Meanwhile, consumer complaints about multiple set-top boxes required to view some kinds of programming will be resolved by the development of a common-featured set-top box for Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network, deployment of which has already started.

“This will render the new rules unnecessary,” said Twiston Davies. “With that in mind, there is no need to deprive the entire content industry of its business rights or consumers of a potentially vast range of new programming.”

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