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Tweak your own TV
You can help shape content on new experimental channel
 
Loh Chee Kong
cheekong@mediacorp.com.sg
 
SINGAPOREANS may soon have a television channel that they can both watch and shape. If it takes off, that is.
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Its tentative name says it all. It has been dubbed The Experimental Channel and the Media Development Authority (MDA) invited proposals from industry players on Wednesday to make it work.
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"This is a new experimental channel to reach out to the community. We want a channel that the community can participate in, not just consuming the content but creating the content," an MDA spokesperson told Today.
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Details have not been spelt out, but if BBC's community TV channel launched in Wales last year is anything to go by, film-makers, community groups and even the man-on-the-street could post digital videos to this channel to tell their stories and share their thoughts.
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The MDA also wants the channel to cut across different media platforms including terrestrial, mobile and Internet Protocol TV (IPTV). This means that you can watch it on the idiot box, on your PC or on your mobile phone.
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But this experiment must be carried out under stringent conditions and some observers pointed out that there is no guarantee that it will succeed.
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For example, while the Government will fund the channel for the first five years, beyond that it will have to stand on its own commercial feet. It could either charge its subscribers or survive on advertising revenue alone.
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The channel will also come with a distinct local flavour. At least half the members of the creative teams producing the programmes must be Singaporean.
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Industry insiders expect the bids to come mainly from established media players. Already, they are weighing their options.
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"StarHub has received an invitation by the MDA to submit a tender. We are presently reviewing this invitation," said its spokesperson Caitlin Fua.
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SingTel, too, was studying the proposal, as was MediaCorp, whose deputy CEO (TV) Chang Long Jong said that it was well poised to "offer new and innovative ways to reach out to and engage its audience".
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While such a channel could offer more opportunities to independent production houses and raises awareness of social issues, the question of dollars and cents would cast a shadow, observers said.
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Nanyang Technological University's Assistant Professor Chua Ling-Yen, who lectures on electronic broadcast media, pointed to one hitch. For example, producing content that could be broadcast simultaneously over traditional TV, high-definition TV and IPTV, would not come cheap. "The cost of creating content using new technologies is prohibitive in a small market such as Singapore," he said.
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At the same time, there will be ferocious global competition, with even Internet-based TV gaining ground.
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"The key is not to end up with a white elephant," said Mr Tony Chow, president of the Association of Independent Television Production Companies. "If we are talking about user-generated content, there is no shortage of it on the Internet with YouTube, MySpace and Skype TV, which is coming soon."
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But Mr Tan Tarn How, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) was more hopeful. "No one can predict what technology or creative ideas will succeed commercially, so the policy should be to have a go at trying out a wider variety of concepts," he said.
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And Mr Henry Tan, Director of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film and Media Studies, pointed to the obvious upside. "As Singaporeans become more civic-minded, such a channel could offer many possibilities, including raising social awareness and greater involvement in policy-making. In Britain, BBC runs programmes where the audience can use their remote controls to give donations or indicate whether they would like to volunteer for certain social services," he said.
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He felt that the new channel could take off if the right elements were in place. After all, hybrid models had succeeded elsewhere. He pointed to The Interactive Channel, started in 2004 by Hong Kong media veteran Robert Chua, which combines the medium of free-to-air television, Internet, radio and mobile phones. Said Mr Tan: "The key challenge is for the content to be compelling enough to engage the consumers."
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IPS' Mr Tan, meanwhile, appealed for a lighter touch to make the concept work. "Overly onerous conditions on what can be shown may limit creativity," he said. "The authorities also have to be ready to handle complaints about 'undesirable' content in a manner that is not knee-jerk."

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