S'pore goes high on TV

Singapore's Media Development Authority CIO Yeo Chun Cheng discusses hurdles the media regulator had to cross when the country kicked off its high-definition television trials in May 2006.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
Television isn't just entertainment for him, it's also work. And when Yeo Chun Cheng watches the goggle box, he gets up on a high--on high definition, that is.

As CIO of Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA), Yeo oversees the government agency's IT deployment and develops strategies on knowledge management and various emerging technologies.

He also champions several key initiatives for the country's media industry, including the ongoing campaigns to drive the adoption of high-definition (HD) television and Internet Protocol television.

Under his guiding hand, the MDA has been collaborating with market players and providing research and development support to beef up HD content for audiences in the island-state and around the globe.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Yeo talks about his unique role as the IT head of a government agency and how the MDA--along with the industry--can help boost Singapore's status as a regional media exchange hub. He also touches on challenges the authority had to deal with when HDTV trials commenced in the country last May.

Q: In your role as CIO of a government agency, what issues or concerns occupy your mind most of the time?
Yeo: As CIO of the MDA, I oversee the organization's acquisition, management and implementation of IT assets and solutions. A key thrust of my role lies in facilitating the growth of the media industry by looking at its information and technological needs.

Specifically for 2007, I will be overseeing two key areas--the nationwide deployment and adoption of high-definition television (HDTV), and the growth of the Internet Protocol television market (IPTV) market in Singapore. These areas are critical to Singapore's transformation into a global media city.

Yeo Chun Cheng
Job title
CIO, Media Development Authority of Singapore
Work experience
A 20-year IT veteran, Yeo oversees the MDA's IT deployment and develops strategies on knowledge management and various emerging technologies. He also helps drive campaigns and initiatives for the media industry including Hi-Def Showtime, a creative contest targeted to engage the community to learn more about the technology and its benefits.
Before joining the MDA in 2004, Yeo spent eight years in San Francisco's Silicon Valley where he headed the engineering departments of various startup companies, ranging from data warehousing specialists and online B2B and B2C organizations.
Currently in his 40s, Yeo was also the senior software manager of Singapore's public-listed Aztech Systems, where he led the company's software operations and set up its Beijing R&D facility.
Yeoh has a Masters degree in Computer Science and Physics from the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand.
About MDA
Formed out of a January 2003 merger between the Singapore Broadcasting Authority, the Films and Publications Department and the Singapore Film Commission, the Media Development Authority of Singapore establishes guidelines and policies pertaining to the country's media industry including television, film, video, radio, publication, and more recently, new media.

MDA will continue to support the broadcasters and industry players where possible, and drive initiatives and efforts to accelerate the deployment of HDTV and IPTV in Singapore. For instance, our efforts have included working with service providers like MediaCorp, StarHub and SingTel to roll out HDTV trials on terrestrial, cable and IPTV platforms.

We're also working with industry partners to drive HD content production and collaborations, as well as organizing a slate of ongoing publicity and consumer outreach programs to reach out to Singaporeans on the benefits of HD technology.

Could you share with us some of the results from the HDTV trials which were conducted by MediaCorp and StarHub last year? What challenges did the MDA face in rolling out the HDTV trials?
We have had very encouraging results from the HDTV terrestrial and cable trials. Participants on the MediaCorp trial provided generally positive feedback. For StarHub, four out of five respondents reported high satisfaction with the way the trial was conducted. The positive feedback and potential customer demand were critical factors for StarHub's launch of commercial services in January this year, making Singapore the first in Southeast Asia to offer commercial HDTV services.

Coupled with SingTel's ongoing IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) trial, which includes HD content, we now have three platforms capable of delivering HD content to Singaporeans. To date, the feedback from SingTel's trial participants has also been very positive.

Akin to HDTV rollouts in other countries like the United States, Japan and South Korea, Singapore faced similar challenges when we decided to start our own HDTV project. As with the introduction of any new technology, industry players must first see the benefits of investing in new equipment and facilities to broadcast and produce shows in HD. Concurrently, consumers must also be aware of the benefits of the new technology to facilitate mass adoption.

To address these challenges, the trials proceeded in tandem with a slew of efforts driven by the MDA to gear up the nation to embrace HDTV. As mentioned earlier, they include providing research and development support for broadcasters and other players in the industry, and facilitating local production of Singapore-made HD content as well continual publicity and educational initiatives such as Hi-Def Showtime. This program is a creative contest targeted to engage the community to learn more about the technology and its benefits, in a fun and interactive way. The contest is a part of our continual efforts to raise awareness of the benefits of HDTV and complements ongoing initiatives in the nationwide deployment and adoption of HDTV.

So far, Singapore is making good progress in deploying HDTV nationwide.

What is the MDA doing to drive HD content creation?
We have been actively encouraging and supporting local producers to create quality HD content for the domestic and international markets. About 100 hours of made-by-Singapore HD content was completed last year. This will double by the end of 2007, and the MDA will continue to support HD productions to widen the variety of quality HDTV services and content for consumers to enjoy.

Other factors which can help accelerate HDTV deployment in Singapore are: the rapidly declining prices of HD-ready TVs, and the popularity of games machines such as Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox. This will further reduce the barriers to purchase and, in turn, lead to a virtuous cycle in HD adoption. And with growing consumer awareness of the benefits of HDTV, falling prices of hardware and greater consumer demand for richer TV experiences, we expect the industry to respond with better and richer HD content, leading to the faster adoption of HDTV as the standard.

Analysts estimate that IPTV subscribers will hit 48.8 million worldwide in 2010. Last year, South Korea's Ministry of Information and Communication said it would spend US$6 million on an IPTV trial. Does the MDA share the same sentiments about IPTV's growth potential?
IPTV is a key platform to deliver innovative content and services for consumers. Its introduction will further develop Singapore's media industry, increase the choice and quality of channels available to consumers and enhance Singapore's status as a regional media exchange hub. With cable pay-TV penetration currently at 43 percent of the local market, we believe there is still room and opportunities for new players to enter Singapore's pay-TV market.

The recent introduction of the two-tier license framework by the MDA aims to provide a conducive environment for new service providers to leverage IPTV to seamlessly roll out different types of services for both niche and mass audiences. Services that include scheduled TV programs, VOD programs and other interactive applications such as T-commerce (television e-commerce), video conferencing and games, can be delivered under one license.

Besides targeting the local market, IPTV also offers new entrants--both local and foreign--opportunities to leverage on Singapore's key strengths, and use Singapore as a hub to export its content to a much larger global market. Specifically, some factors which make Singapore an attractive hub for IPTV development are:

  • Pro-business license environment which factors in market demands and trends worldwide;
  • Our extensive broadband infrastructure makes Singapore a viable test-bed for new IPTV development;
  • We have fast and high-speed Internet connectivity with other neighboring countries which enables Singapore to be a hub for the processing and distribution of IPTV content;
  • Strong intellectual property laws;
  • Singapore's diverse ethnic groups and cosmopolitan society allow the service providers to better understand market and consumer trends;
  • Sophisticated consumers who are early adopters of new technologies; and
  • Strong government initiatives to promote the development of IPTV and IDM (image digital media) sectors.
  • We welcome those interested in the IPTV business to tap on the above strengths to use Singapore as a hub to deliver innovative media services and content, not just in Singapore but also to the rest of the world.

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