Singapore: Regional Pay TV Best Options for Imported, Independent Titles

While it is a small territory, Singapore has a highly developed economy. Its per capita GDP ($94,100) exceeds that of many others in the developed world. This economic strength bodes well for the entertainment industry as a whole, but the territory is dominated by the U.S. major studios and it is difficult for imported, Independent titles to succeed except through a Regional Pay TV deal.


The Singapore audience loves U.S. major studio action films. In 2018, the Top Ten was made up entirely of major studio titles -- eight Action titles led by Avengers: Infinity War at #1 ($12.19 million) and Black Panther at #2 ($7.43 million). The animated film, Incredibles 2, was #5($4.88 million) and the comedy, Johnny English Strikes Again, took #10 ($3.12 million).

2018 also marked the third consecutive year in which not one Asian film broke into the Top Ten. The highest grossing Asian title was China’s Monster 2 at #19 ($1.1 million).  Just seven Independent films made the Top 50, all of them either Action or Horror films. The top Independent performer was The Commuter at #22 ($947 K).  

The exhibition sector (257 screens) is comprised of five main cinema operators: Golden Village (100 screens), Shaw Theaters (57 screens), Cathay Cineplexes (64 screens), Filmgarde (14 screens), and WE Cinemas (10 screens). Because Singapore is such a small territory, Golden Village, Shaw, and Cathay (under the Cathay-Keris brand) also operate as distributors doing business across the broader region. The U.S. major studios have representative offices based in Singapore for self-distribution throughout the region which leaves little space for arthouse, foreign language, or local films. Other local distributors are Encore Films and Clover films.

A major studio blockbuster will open on close to 100 screens. A large to medium Independent film will open on 23-30 screens. Arthouse titles can open on 10 screens or as few as one screen. The box office split average is 50/50 for the first week with a 35% floor for the following weeks.

Most films have about a 60-day run in theaters. The EST/DVD/TVOD window follows two to three months after theatrical release and lasts about seven to 10 months. First run Pay TV is nine to 12 months from theatrical, and last is SVOD/ second run Pay TV/Free TV at two to two and a half years from exhibition.

Free TV

Free-to-Air analog broadcasts ended as of December 31, 2018. State-owned

MediaCorpoperates seven terrestrial channels (Suria; Channels 5; U, 8; Vasantham; Okto; Channel NewsAsia) and dominates on the Free TV market. Some residents are able to pick up broadcasts from terrestrial channels in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Pay TV

The private ownership of satellite dishes is prohibited, making cable and IPTV the only means of accessing Pay Television channels. Two companies dominate the market, StarHub TV(cable, IPTV) and Singtel (IPTV). Due to piracy and increasing OTT options such as Netflix and Hulu, traditional Pay TV subscriber numbers are dropping. At year-end 2017, Pay TV penetration was at 55% with majority of the offerings being Pan-Asian regional channels.

HBO Asia is based in Singapore but acquires rights for the entire region and does not split Singapore rights individually. Another challenging factor when selling to Singapore is its censorship. The city-state has some of the most rigorous censorship in the region after Malaysia.

There are a small number of locally based Pay TV channels offered by Singtel (Jai Le Channel) and StarHub (VV Drama, E City, Sensai). The majority of the channels’ programming is acquired from other Asian nations and most movie slots are filled by output deals with the major studios.

Most television deals are with Pan-Asian Pay TV networks for first run Pay TV rights. The Free TV audience is older and prefers more commercial content. Thus, buyers will selectively acquire independent product and more often the slots go to high-budget, well known independent titles. The second run Pay TV window is not very valuable and often is not sold.

Video on Demand

Singapore has some of the fastest internet speeds in the world. With 82% of the population online, the VOD market is on track to reach US$65 million in 2019. There is a large number of VOD services in Singapore with a mix of local, regional, and global platforms available.

Local Services

Singtel’s Cast is an OTT TV service offered as an alternative to a traditional Pay TV subscription. Singtel TV GO is a TV everywhere platform available to traditional Pay TV subscribers. Starhub Go is Starhub’s OTT TV subscription service. Terrestrial broadcaster Mediacorp’s Toggle is a freemium service allowing catchup and live streaming. A premium subscription of US$7.50 (S$9.99) a month lets users access content before its broadcast on television. Other local services are: HOOQ a SVOD service owned by Singtel, Sony, and Warner Bros. and Spuul, a freemium service offering programming in various Indian languages.

Regional Services:  CatchPlay (Taiwan); Dimsum (Malaysia); Tonton (Malaysia); Viu (Hong Kong).

Global Services: Amazon Prime; Fox+; GooglePlay; iTunes; Netflix; YuppTV.

All Rights Deals

Few independent films are released theatrically in Singapore. As a result, most independent films are sold to Singapore as part of regional Pay TV deal. For those films that do get a theatrical release, an all rights deals for Singapore itself is rare. More often the film is included in an all rights deal for Singapore and Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, or for all three, depending on the buyer’s regions of operations. Occasionally, titles that have already been sold in a Pan-Asian Pay TV deal, can still close an “all rights” deal for Singapore that excludes first run Pay TV.