The Media Landscape
Media and content consumption underwent a period of evolution in the last two decades. Traditional media such as television, newspapers, magazines, radio, print ads and books not only retained their material nature but took on digital forms in video streaming services, websites, e-zines, podcasts and electronic books that transcended the constraints of their physical counterparts. While traditional media can still be readily found and remain in widespread use – albeit declining, the younger generation of Singaporeans and a growing body of the elderly population have taken to the new, efficient, and evolved forms of media that have proliferated through all facets of society (Leong, 2016). However, media platforms are still evolving and continue to disrupt entire industries. In the interest of reaching out to citizens, the government must acquire a keen understanding of how Singaporeans use the internet and consume digital media in these changing times.
To understand the disruption in the media industry requires a closer inspection of the causes and trends that exert pressure on the media industry. Traditional printed media like newspapers, magazines, books, and banner advertisements cannot be readily edited and reprinted again, for they incur hefty costs. Their materiality restricts their flexibility, unlike their digital versions that can take on changes in a swift, typically cost-free manner and operate in an ethereal and intangible form. Traditional media also often require transportation for distribution around Singapore. Their physical nature necessitates that physical space be allocated for content distribution into willing hands. This need for space translates into costs necessarily expended, to house such media. Traditional media platforms such as radio and television also tend to reach a largely untargeted general population even though the stations and channels have their own target audience. Above all, the end user often does not have the power to control when they want to listen or watch a broadcast, unlike their digital formats in the form of Spotify and Netflix.
Nielsen reports a decline in print readership that is offset by digital readership growth. Additionally, The New Paper’s reader profile has taken on a more educated and younger readership. Overall, Nielsen reports a decrease in the combined daily readership for all newspapers (Heng, 2018). Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) continues to face disruption in its media business. As a media organisation, SPH also had to make the ferocious transition from its mainly traditional media roots and adopt a digital strategy or face obsolescence (Singapore Business Review, 2018).
The Singapore Government has sounded the rallying call for Singaporeans and all Ministries in adopting a digital mindset. Acknowledging that globalisation and digitisation have disrupted industries and people on a global scale, the Singapore government jumpstarted the Smart Nation Initiative that aims to equip Singaporeans with capabilities in harnessing technology and onboarding them to an increasingly digital way of life as the norm in Singapore (Smart Nation Digital Government Group, 2018). This can only point to a future where Singaporeans stay connected to the internet, transact and communicate online with digital readiness across age groups.
The Digital Efficacy
Singaporeans own an average of 3.3 devices with the smartphone as the most popular device owned. In Southeast Asia alone, Singapore ranks as the top country with the highest internet penetration (Digital Influence Lab, 2015). Today, the internet commands the attention of 4 billion people globally with nearly all connected devices being the smartphone. An average of 6.5 hours is spent online, in activities such as content consumption, communication, shopping, education, entertainment and more (Nielsen, 2018b). Nielsen (2018a) further reports that digital ads for mobile, digital and desktop campaigns aimed at the 18-49 age bracket “reached their intended audience 85% of the time”. This is an increase from 2016 where desktop ads reported 70%, and mobile ads reported a 66% reach to the intended audience.
In a press release, Mediacorp (2019) becomes a “strategic content partner” with YouTube serving as a content delivery platform. That partnership brings together Mediacorp’s expertise in local media broadcasting and YouTube as a heavyweight video streaming platform. That partnership also allows them to tap into the world’s number one search engine, Google (Statista, 2019), and brings access to Google’s analytical, marketing and engineering prowess to target and reach a digitally enabled and tech-savvy audience. Digital platforms and media contain innate capabilities to track and harvest data on user habits and interaction. That targeting is of particular interest and importance to the government should it wishes to run focused campaigns and reach out to a targeted audience.
Taken together, these trends indicate that a digital norm is here to stay, and for good. Engaging citizens in debates and dialogues in Singapore now requires the adoption of digital strategies that effectively reach and target both the digital immigrants, and natives (Prensky, 2001). With Singapore having the highest smartphone penetration in the world (TODAY, 2015), it is imperative that the government adopts a communication strategy involving deep relationships with its digital channels while also catering to the needs of the older generation that have may have limited access to digital platforms. The call for societal and digital inclusivity (Lin, 2018) also suggests that the government can tap onto digital broadcasting and platforms to reach persons with disabilities, many of whom may not be able to access content through traditional media channels.
A communication strategy that has taken effect in recent years can be seen in the government’s initiative to hold simultaneous broadcasts on both television and YouTube such as with the annual Budget statements (Channel NewsAsia, 2018). Through YouTube broadcasts, Sign Language interpreters and captions can be shown on digital media. The broadcast recording can also be stored online across various digital platforms for future consumption and scrutinisation. Additionally, comments and opinions can be shared on forums that allow video embedding, further encouraging dialogue between citizens and government.
Singapore’s low barrier to smartphone ownership and islandwide free Wi-Fi also means that many citizens can access digital content anytime, anywhere. As Nielsen (2018a, 2018b) surveys have shown, a mobile campaign is highly effective and it would be wise for the government to continue and explore ways of engaging its citizens in national debates and dialogues in Singapore.
Channel NewsAsia. (2018). Mediacorp to broadcast Budget 2018 statement live on multiple platforms. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/mediacorp-to-broadcast-budget-2018-statement-live-on-multiple-9963634
Digital Influence Lab. (2015). Singapore Digital Marketing Statistics. Digital Influence Lab. Retrieved from https://digitalinfluencelab.com/singapore-digital-marketing-stats
Heng, J. (2018, November 7). Singapore English newspaper readership stable as digital growth offsets print declines: Nielsen. The Business Times. Retrieved from https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/companies-markets/singapore-english-newspaper-readership-stable-as-digital-growth-offsets-print
Lin, J. (2018, July 20). Blueprint for a digitally inclusive Singapore. Infocomm Media Development Authority. Retrieved from https://www.imda.gov.sg/infocomm-and-media-news/buzz-central/2018/7/blueprint-for-a-digitally-inclusive-singapore
Mediacorp. (2019, February 1). Mediacorp becomes YouTube’s strategic content partner in Singapore. Mediacorp. Retrieved from https://www.mediacorp.sg/en/mediacorp-in-the-news/media-releases/mediacorp-becomes-youtube-s-strategic-content-partner-in-11193534?articleYear=2019&articleId=11193534
Nielsen. (2018a, February 13). Mobile Gains Ground in Digital Ad Campaigns Across Southeast Asia. Nielsen. Retrieved from https://www.nielsen.com/sg/en/insights/reports/2018/mobile-gains-ground-in-digital-ad-campaigs.html
Nielsen. (2018b, November 19). Connected Commerce: Connectivity is Enabling Lifestyle Evolution. Nielsen. Retrieved from https://www.nielsen.com/sg/en/insights/reports/2018/connected-commerce-connectivity-is-enabling-lifestyle-evolution.html
Prensky, M. (2001, October 5). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). Retrieved from https://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
Singapore Business Review. (2018, January 15). Disruption of SPH’s media business spills over to 2018. Singapore Business Review. Retrieved from https://sbr.com.sg/media-marketing/news/disruption-sphs-media-business-spills-over-2018
Smart Nation Digital Government Group. (2018, November 23). Pillars of Smart Nation. Smart Nation Digital Government Group. Retrieved from https://www.smartnation.sg/why-Smart-Nation/pillars-of-smart-nation
Statista. (2019). Worldwide desktop market share of leading search engines from January 2010 to January 2019. Statista. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/216573/worldwide-market-share-of-search-engines
TODAY. (2015, February 11). Smartphone penetration in Singapore the highest globally: Survey. TODAY. Retrieved from https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/smartphone-penetration-singapore-highest-globally-survey