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Lawrence Gray
Director , Producer , Screenwriter , Author
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Singapore V. Hong Kong

Well, perhaps this is not so much about Singapore V. Hong Kong but The Straits Time V. The SCMP. But I think it is indicative of the priorities of the two cities in the media arena.

In Hong Kong there is little in the way of training for film makers, TV producers, and most certainly not writers, whereas in Singapore there is a very strong, high profile, government funded initiative in this area. Hong Kong may feel that it has the upper hand because its films managed to create an international profile, though it has to be said on little more than some cultish martial arts movies now long past their sell-by dates.  Even so if you mention Hong Kong anywhere in the world someone will yell the name of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, and if you dig a bit deeper they will mention John Woo. And that is about it. Aficionados of TV might well mention how successful TVB's soap operas have been and how the Chinese diaspora snaps up DVD's of the serials, but the appeal is more nostalgia for home than a desire for the latest innovations in Hong Kong's TV. In fact, given the financial problems of local media one suspects that there is little left of this market. Nothing new has emerged and as far as the internet is concerned, I haven't heard much at all.

Which brings me to Singapore. It has no international profile as a media hub, and yet quietly one finds Singaporean money in international co-productions, and international TV production companies tend to based there rather than in Hong Kong. If you look closely at the English language cable and satellite services you will find shows from Singapore and none... that's right... none from Hong Kong.

Of course Hong Kong is concentrating on Chinese language material and looking towards the mainland for its opportunities. But there is no government support for any of this. The co-operation agreements forged by the government seem to be quietly downplayed nowadays as most people found them unworkable. And I know from my own experience with trying to do things with Chinese TV, the contracts essentially require you to pay for everything, do all the work, and then give all the profits to your mainland partners and hand over all the rights. You can save yourself a lot of time and effort by simply writing them a cheque and not bothering making the programme.

I am pretty ignorant on the Chinese side of things but so far nobody has called me to task for suggesting that one's assessment of the English language side of things is not comparable to what is happening, or not happening, on the Chinese language side.

So take a look at Razor TV , The Straits Times on-line TV channel. It's well laid out. You get nice streaming videos. Racy commentaries. Issues and news are covered in a youthful down market manner. They have titillating items. They have some serious stuff. They even have a soap opera! Now, this is Singapore, so innocuous is the first word that comes to mind. But it is done with style and professionalism.

Let's take a look at The SCMP. For a start, their video area is hidden away under an obscure and unsung link that hardly anyone can find. And what you get is a list of infomercials and interviews and that is it. It takes some doing to make The Straits Times look cutting edge, but the SCMP manages to do it in spades. It is thrown together with only one thought, to keep the costs low.

Does Razor TV make money or is it simply a PR job? Whereas, does the SCMP make money, by having a realistic low cost approach and understanding that no matter how bad or good they are, they will get the same number of subscribers?  One might say that the Straits Times does not need to be profitable and therefore it can put money into slick presentation, though if anyone sees the actual paper, the word slick does not come to mind.

What this is indicative of is the skill levels of the people involved. It is indicative of research and development spending and in a depression, which is what we are in regardless of how the financial industries paint their recent rescues, the industries that master new technologies and innovate, are those that create the wealth. Basically, in the media industry, where the skills are, is where the content providers will gravitate. And Singapore has been slowly gathering its strength for the passed twenty years, where Hong Kong has got weaker and weaker. 

There are a few areas in Hong Kong where one sees a little glimmer of risk taking and innovation but as ever it comes from the little guys, and not the big monopolies. But without resources, progress is slow and coverage is slight. But head off to: www.choochootv.com which still seems to be hanging in there with it's coverage of the local live music and arts scene.

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I write and direct movies.

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Johor Bahru, Malaysia
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October 19, 2007

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