Singapore Strives to Be Asia’s Digital Content Hub

Singapore, long a central shipping hub for the distribution of physical goods throughout Asia, now wants to be Asia's hub for the distribution of digital goods, as well. To realize that goal, and to cash in on its telecommunications infrastructure investments, the Singapore government has formed a trade association called the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

The IDA, which has the mandate to entice foreign companies that own "high value content" (i.e., movies and games) to establish satellite facilities or offices in Singapore, wants foreign companies to use Singapore as the hub for the processing, management, and distribution of content in Asia. According to the IDA, Singaporean service companies can provide that imported content with the following value-add: compression, DAM, DRM, localization, systems integration, and hosting.

The IDA pitch is that, just as Singapore's port offers warehouses and railways for storage and distribution of goods to the rest of Asia, its robust infrastructure offers data centers and servers for storage and high-speed optical lines for content distribution. Singapore boasts that it is "the most connected city in Asia" with more than 10 Gbps of direct Internet connectivity to more than 20 countries including 4 Gbps to the U.S.; 140 Mbps to Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, India, Taiwan, and China; and at least 70 Mbps to all the major ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asia Nations) countries. The IDA also claims that Singapore has one square mile of data center space, 21 Tbps of submarine cable capacity, and that it is Asia's first neutral Peering Point for GPRS Roaming.

Probably the most high-profile digital content company the IDA has succeeded in luring to Singapore is Lucasfilm, which announced last August that it had established Lucasfilm Animation Singapore to produce digital animated content for global audiences. Through Singapore, Lucasfilm facilities will pass digital content back and forth across the Pacific Ocean. As a pioneer of digital cinema, Lucasfilm will likely take advantage of the IDA's recent initiatives to promote digital cinema in Singapore and to become Asia's hub for the distribution of digital cinema content.

Spearheading these initiatives is Thomas Lim, IDA Singapore's director of games and entertainment. Lim emphasizes that Asia already has a well-established digital cinema industry. Despite America's reputation as the leader, Lim says Asia has more digital cinemas than the U.S.—111 compared to 98—not including the subcontinent of India, which boasts 130. Lim believes that this should inspire content owners to bring movies to Singapore to have them digitally distributed throughout Asia.

Besides wanting to rule the digital cinema market, Singapore is also determined to lead the online gaming industry in Asia, a market currently estimated to stand at $1 billion. To that end, the IDA has established the Singapore Games Bazaar, which is a scalable hosting platform that allows game companies, publishers, and distributors to test and regionally deploy game titles faster, easier, and without facing high initial capital costs. It is a partnership between telecommunications and hosting provider SingTel EXPAN and technology provider Hewlett Packard Singapore. This pay-as-you-use platform allows game companies to defray up to 80% of hosting costs during the first six months of the trial.

"The Games Bazaar provides utility pricing and scalability so that games companies can now customize their requirements and scale up as the market demands," says Lim. "With this, games companies can gain market access rapidly to tap into the growth of Asia's online gaming market." Korean game companies currently using the Games Bazaar are Taewool, Magics, Enium, iGames Asia, and PAN*iMX. The IDA reports that 20 other Korean companies are "now eyeing the Games Bazaar to test-bed games."

"Korea is one of the fastest growing games markets in the world," says Lim, "and well known for its vibrant and content-rich domestic industry. In the first half of 2004, the Korean domestic games industry has already developed more than 200 online games titles." Clearly, Singapore is serious about digital cinema, games, and infrastructure. But with the formation of the IDA, Singapore has signaled that it is just as serious about becoming a center for the digital content business.