M'sian content sector grows, challenges remain

Malaysia's creative content space makes good strides but still needs to resolve several issues to better compete with peers in region, say industry players.
Written by Edwin Yapp, Contributor

KUALA LUMPUR--The country's creative content industry has made good strides in recent years, but must address several challenges to move up the value chain and compete with its peers from the region, say industry players.

Claus Mortensen, principal of IDC's emerging technology advisory services, said Malaysia's creative community has been steadily growing and the industry is currently doing well as a whole.

"When we look at where Malaysia can grow, especially in the digital media industry, it's really down to the talent and Malaysia has good talent," Mortensen told ZDNet Asia in an interview.

With the advent of the Internet, there has been an explosion of demand and need for content. This, he noted, included short-form films and animation movies.

"We're beginning to see more people creating this kind of content," he said. "Besides talent, Malaysia also has cost advantages over other countries in the region, including Singapore."

Brett Bibby, CEO of GameBrains, said the Malaysian creative content scene has continued to grow, despite the country's emphasis on other industries such as outsourcing. GameBrains is a local game developer that has built titles for the Nintendo, Sony PlayStation, Game Boy Advance, Windows and Mac platforms.

"If you survey the region, you'll find that Malaysians are some of the most sought after employees in the creative content industry," Bibby said in an e-mail interview. "For instance, some of the well-known Singapore-based studios recruit heavily out of Malaysia."

This was a remarkable achievement for the country, he said, given that 15 years ago, many locals frowned upon the creative content industry.

"Parents were resistant to letting their children pursue a creative career and there was not much in the way of education and training for creative professions," he explained. "Today, you have numerous schools offering a diverse range of creative courses and general public interest and awareness in the creative fields."

Maxime Villandre, general manager of local animation company, Codemasters, said Malaysia's creative content sector is slowly waking up from a five-year slump and now going through a revival.

He attributed this cycle to market changes, talent migration and the economic downturn, which caused some companies to close and foreign projects unavailable.

"But, after five years, these same [talent] are slowly migrating back as they start their families and want to be on native shore to do so," Villandre explained in an e-mail. "They bring with them what they have learned abroad and are contributing to this renewal, either by joining existing companies or starting their own."

Addressing local impairments
However, IDC's Mortensen noted that one of the main challenges facing Malaysia's creative content scene is the lack of awareness among global producers about the country's local talent.

The Malaysian creative industry may have the technical know-how but not the marketing savvy, he said. "Malaysia already has government agencies such as the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) helping to market initiatives, but what is needed more is a framework that teaches these creative companies to better tell the world of their capabilities," he added.

Burhanuddin Radzi, managing director of Les Copaque, agreed. The local animation company has exported products overseas and produced a Malay feature-length film "Geng", which raked in over 6 million ringgit (US$1.7 million) at the local boxoffice.

"As far as animation is concerned, we have the talent here," Radzi said. "But to be successful, it's not just about a one-off show; it's about monetizing the other aspects of the product like merchandizing and branding."

"For 'Geng', we created the script, storyline, animation and brand. By doing so, we own the intellectual property rights and we were able to grow our revenue beyond what the show raked in," he said.

He suggested that companies first prove that their products are acceptable before funds are released for these companies to produce an entire full-length feature.

"It's important to test your product first by putting trailers on platforms like YouTube," Radzi said. "Only if they receive good feedback should funds be given to companies to proceed."

GameBrains' Bibby said Malaysia's focus on small investments is ideal for the creative content space, rather than simply fork out millions of dollars to just two or three companies.

"I think their strategy of investing seed money up to a million or so makes a lot of sense," he said. "The goal should be to establish Malaysia as a creative hub capable of developing ideas, showing what it's capable of across many areas rather than a small part of something that's only big occasionally."

IDC's Mortensen said: "Challenges that must be addressed include improving improve Malaysia's broadband infrastructure because often, creative sparks take place at the grassroot level and these people, potentially based anywhere in Malaysia, need to be connected with other like-minded communities so that an ecosystem can be built and ideas spawned."

Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.

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