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Netflix, HBO, Other Global Content Creators Set Up Asian Bases in Media-Friendly Singapore

Pavan Shamdasani

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Netflix runs its Asian operations from the swanky Marina One mixed-use development in Singapore, an architectural masterpiece that fits in with the streaming giant’s dedication to Instagrammable real estate.
Netflix’s presence in Singapore follows other major media names over the years, including HBO Asia, Vice Media and HOOQ, all of whom have Asian headquarters in the island state.

“Singapore has many location advantages,” says Chang Long Jong, CEO of local production company, mm2 Asia. English is “the functional language” and productions can easily tap into “multi-lingual, skilled and experienced production crews.”

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Political stability and the country’s many tax- and grant-based incentives are also regularly cited as key factors that make filming — as well as establishing companies — there attractive, and some predict the number of regional headquarters will only increase over the next decade.

“It’s an encouraging sign that major OTT players are stepping up their presence in the Asian region, and using Singapore as a landing spot,” says Ho Jia Jian, CEO and co-founder of local streaming service Viddsee. “As with new growth markets, what we’ll see are different players coming in to provide diverse avenues for content for a variety of market niches — so it’s not a one-winner-takes-all situation.”

Indeed, diversification and variety are essential, but not everyone is so positive about the growth. Content is becoming borderless, and China and India are starting to assert their dominance in the entertainment stakes. With that in mind, many see the concept of a “regional headquarters” as eroding.

The sudden breakup of Asian network Star TV a decade ago is often cited as an example of how quickly bases can fall.

“Admittedly, as companies mature and scatter, hubs may lose their importance,” says Juan Foo of local production company Taipan Films. “But regional headquarters are still fundamentally a first beach-head strategy for any business, especially businesses that rely on tech and distribution. … Many consider this region as the next growth region after China and India. Singapore can remain significant in this situation as a first touch-point for a foreign company who is keen to venture here.”

An important factor to also consider is Singapore’s conservative stance. Censorship and media control are essential to the government, with shows regularly pulled from streaming services and content routinely edited. Most won’t comment directly on the issue, arguing that the country’s opportunities, innovations and financial incentives outweigh any sort of fears.

“The implied conservative media stance does not affect ‘hubbing,’” Foo says. “ ‘Hubbing’ of international players will actually allow local talents to hopefully glean a more world-class perspective on craft and practices to improve local productions.”

Whether that’s true — and whether Singapore retains its regional headquarter status — remains to be seen, but it’s possible that the focus on media alone is niche. With innovation at the core, it might come down to how entertainment evolves in the future.

“Singapore is more than just a growing hub for content creators,” Ho says. “But also, one where good governance, entrepreneurs, tech developers and creative talent combine to form a place where companies can build a trusted product and framework, before expanding across into other countries.”

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