Sunday, February 15, 2009

RTM may turn out to be a white elephant after 2015 - Malaysiakini

Once you are into broadcasting, it would be hard to leave the industry. When I joined Tv3 in 1992, it was like going to be my life time career. I love broadcasting world, not for its glamour but technological advancements.

I recall years before joining TV3, my foster mother in Wainuiomata who was a radio script drama writer brought me to TV New Zealand headquarters in Lower Hutt. My first trip to a TV station and I was excited. The trip had a big impact on me since I was still a teenager back then but I had never really dreamed to be in broadcasting industry.

During my TV3 years, I had the opportunities to visit several overseas TV stations including Media Corporation of Singapore (MediaCorp) (which I got to see Phua Chu Kang in early stage of shooting), BBC, Thames and of course RTM.

Later while in Dubai Media City, I was involved in relocating Middle east Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) from London to Dubai, as well as establishing technical infrastructure for several international news players like CNN, Reuters and other new TV set-ups in Dubai Media City.

The ultimate achievement was to be involved from the planning, development to mobilisation of earth station or teleport in Dubai - samacom. Including satellite connections, broadcasting deployment, product development and marketing.

Then again, for those who had lived years before TV3 came into our homes, RTM was the only choice we had to endure with endless government propagandas. Last but not least, we will continue to endure the poor quality of programmes (and its not-so-clever ministers) for the rest of our life...even with Astro around!

Going digital but will RTM face same woes?

RTM is excited about the prospect of having superior visual and audio quality with its digital transmission starting in 2012. But experts and local industry players are less than thrilled
GOING into digital broadcasting is long overdue for Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM). Other countries such as China and the United States are switching off their analogue transmission by 2012, at the time RTM plans to roll out digital broadcast. We are already three years late.

Technology, like the tide, waits for no man, and by the time RTM switches off its analogue transmission in 2015, other countries will be moving on to something already imminent, like the convergence of Internet and television.

Lifestyles will be permanently altered from passively watching a plasma screen, with astounding sound and visuals, to interactive audience participation.

With a hefty RM2 billion in its wallet to spend in phases on digital broadcasting, RTM should mull over and devise a broadcasting concept and strategy based on how people will watch television in 2015, which is most likely to be a convergence of digital broadcasting and surfing the Internet on the television set.

Consoles for this purpose made by electronic giants such as Sony, Apple, Microsoft and Nintendo are already on sale, while plasma television manufacturers are developing integrated televisions with built-in digital decoders.

In six years, digital highways will be efficient enough to transfer data from one point to another via broadband, offering uninterrupted service. That will convert the television set in the living room into a virtual global village. Now, where will RTM digital broadcasting be by then?

Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, fresh from his visits to television stations with digital broadcasting in Morocco and Britain last month, is brimming with ideas and ideals for getting 98 per cent of the population to be updated, informed and entertained via 19 digital channels by 2012.

RTM, he says, will be optimising its manpower and facilities to churn out round-the-clock news, in-depth news reporting, documentaries and other in-house productions.

"With digital transmission, we will be able to broadcast live reports from our studios in Sabah and Sarawak on the same channel and the viewers can split the television screen to watch the reports simultaneously."

The buzzword here is narrow-casting. Ahmad Shabery wants RTM to target and tailor its programme to specific demographic profiles, leaving no one out. Whether they are urban pensioners, young kampung kids or high-tech housewives, there will be a channel for them.

But splitting screens and 19 channels are not the only things that digital broadcasting can do.

"Why not 100 channels?" says Datuk Khalid Ahmad, pointing out that a transmitter can broadcast up to 100 channels at no added cost.

The former TV3 managing director redefined programming when helming the television station in the 1990s by introducing on-the-hour news reports, live shows and talent shows with juries and voting audiences -- a good decade before American Idol debuted.

Now, he says, a sports event can be broadcast over 10 channels based on different camera angles.

For instance, he says, during a football match, the viewers can select their preferred shots -- from the supporters' seats, the coach bench, the top field view or the side lines -- and alternate these angles by switching channels or splitting the screen.

"Imagine, producing your own television show with your remote control," says Khalid.

RTM, he says, must be aware of the power of the Internet which is fast developing into another broadcasting medium.

"We have entered an era where anyone can have his or her own channel that can be viewed not just in the country but worldwide.

"These alternative technologies will improve and will most likely be the mainstream technology in 2015."

The digital channels will offer local producers 7,000 hours a month, but content providers are sceptical. They are asking the station to look deep into the age-old issues since privatisation days.

One of them says that it is fine for RTM to be enthusiastic about upgraded studios and the installation of digital system from production to transmission, but the network should not sweep long-standing problems under the carpet and pretend everything is well.

"They can't even manage two channels. How are they going to programme more than a dozen?" asks an award-winning producer who has been supplying documentaries and drama series for the past two decades to RTM.

It would surely be a rosy picture if all of the 400 odd production houses registered with RTM get a piece of the pie but, asks the producer:

"Will RTM be fair in distributing the slots or will they continue to play favourites? Because cronyism will only lead to the death of the industry."

RTM used to produce its own content until the mid-1980s when the station began to privatise its drama slots to jumpstart the local creative industry. Gradually, more airtime was given to private production houses to produce children's programmes, weekly magazines and documentaries. RTM spent more than RM200 million annually for local content.

Besides unfairly distributing the hours, says the producer, RTM has also failed to review the programme-purchasing rate, which has remained the same for the past 20 years.

"Living expenses have doubled since the 1980s, but RTM has not reviewed its purchasing rates. How does this help develop the creative industry? The poor rate has forced the industry to cut corners and give sub-standard end products."

Ahmad Shabery rationalised the three-year deadline for national roll-out as necessary to prepare the local creative industry to further develop digital content.

But production house Les Copaque is indifferent towards the station's enthusiasm about the digital infrastructural upgrade.

"We'll produce for the highest bidder," says its managing director Burhanuddin Md Radzi.

The company, specialising in animation and computer-generated images for films such as award-winning children's series Upin and Ipin and the soon-to-be-released Geng: The Adventure Begins is among many local companies supplying animation programmes to the international market.

Burhanuddin says the local creative industry is not short of talented and skilful animators but severely lacks scriptwriters. It is unfortunate that most broadcasting and multimedia schools in the country do not train their students to create strong storylines, he says.

Due to this, Burhanuddin theorised, the young animators are largely influenced by foreign animation and video games and do not know how to assimilate their own unique cultural values into their work.

Khalid says the thick wad of RM2 billion should be used to improve broadband infrastructure and to further increase Internet-readiness for the country.

"I think the rakyat deserve a full explanation on what the programming intentions are since it is their money that RTM is spending," he stresses. "My fear is that this project by RTM may turn out to be a white elephant after 2015."


feichai said...

Excellent article on the overall scenario on Malaysian TV, content and going digital. Very analytical and complete!

Toshio (Zharfan) said...

I belive digital broadcasting abandoned long time ago and become white elephant in Malaysia with the reason is media Propaganda deep hilly area in Sabah and Sarawak, If DTV continues, Sabahan and Sarawakian don't have any channel to watch.

I've lived once in deep hilly area, only RTM is clear than any other channel.

Also, another thing is Astro monopoly. Almost all Malaysian have Astro in their homes. Majority Malaysian subscribe Astro due to lots of channel and latest technology is also come from Astro. Astro B-yond launched.

Almost all people in Malaysia no longer watch terrestial TV anymore. So DTV is abandoned because no demand and many Malaysian subscribed Astro. If DTV completed transition and no more analog signals, it remains unpopular among Malaysians because they have Astro.

This is based on my opinion.

Zhioul Haq said...

I have to admit, there is more to be done since I start working in RTM last year and I so do hope RTM can at least compete with private station. Since the pencen era has started in RTM, more and more young and talented mind have been work here.

There is no use in investing for tech and equipment if RTM still carry on with their standard TV and radio pragramme. Only some few programme I consider good. Their TV reporting is quite excellent.

The only thing I witness that is lacking with RTM, they don't have any effective campaign to promote their programme. Even their radio and television are not united. Take Astro for example on how they promote their TV programme and radio stations. Even Hasbullah Awang, have turn to their side.

I believe RTM have the largest workforce in the media industry. They have radio and television station in each state and still cannot compete with private station. That is how bad it is.

Our ministry should look on that matter and come up with a good solution or system to bring back RTM's glory. I heard that during 70's RTM is quite a glamorous place to work. Same like how it feel to work with Google nowadays Haha

This is just my opinion.