Last week, the Media Development Authority (MDA) announced that it would increase its funding for Public Service Broadcast (PSB) programmes – a notable 35% rise – to, I presume, heighten their accessibility and quality. PSB programmes, ranging from Channel 8 dramas to Channel 5 documentaries, are those that viewers typically see on the seven free-to-air television channels. Naturally, these recommendations accepted by the MDA have been generally well-received, though some individuals have contended that the increase remains insufficient; Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh argued (emphasis mine):
I think MDA should study whether the PSB budget is being spread too thinly over too many programming hours. Let’s look at last year’s budget of S$110 million for 2,000 hours of content, which averages out to, let’s say, S$55,000 per hour. For a one-hour drama episode, this is barely enough to sustain a pool of professionals who are trying to make a decent living as writers, directors, producers, actors, production crew, much less have a budget left over for location, art direction and overheads.
And yet, some PSB dramas today are being funded closer to the tune of S$15,000 to S$25,000 per episode. What are we really envisioning in our heads, and are audiences, broadcasters and the creatives really on the same page when we talk about “quality”?
MDA Increases PSB Funding, But Is It Sufficient?
Of course, the average of S$55,000 does not take into account the possibility that some mainstream programmes – with higher levels of projected popularity, with corresponding levels of advertisement dollars – would get a bigger production budget. An assortment of sponsors could boost the finances as well. Moreover, Miss Koh also has to take into consideration the different types or categories of programmes; one would assume that a drama serial involving prominent celebrities would cost significantly more.
In the United States, the average broadcast network drama and cable drama – according to a 2010 New York Times report – cost S$2.5 million and S$3.7 million respectively. Two points though: first, media companies in America enjoy lucrative advertising revenues; second, higher production costs do not necessarily yield greater standards or audience popularity. Nonetheless, at the very least, a basic level of finance is necessary for the acquisition of reliable manpower and the necessary resources.
I think for members of the public to gain a better comprehension of the concerns Miss Koh has, it would be helpful for her to – in greater detail – explain the components involved in a Singaporean production (whilst highlighting any logistical challenges, especially if an independent film company seeks to create something new). This will not only give Singaporeans a better picture of the developments, but also allow the administration to decide whether present levels of funding are genuinely sufficient. Once the issue of cost is ironed out, probably the next step would be to consistently raise the quality of these productions.