Fundamental rethink of grants critical
MDeC submits proposal to raise the bar
THE Malaysian Government has pumped in money into the creative content industry in the hopes that it will become a growth industry, says Kamil Othman (pic), Creative Multimedia vice-president at the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC).
But something unhealthy happened. “The same people were applying over and over again, and sometimes you wonder if they hadn’t generated enough profit to plough back into growing the business,” he adds.
The answer came to Kamil when he realised that the whole thing, “is actually the result of us not consciously wanting to turn this (creative industry) into a business,” he says.
He defines business as an ecosystem with sufficient entrepreneurs and companies in the space, with the type of projects where venture capital companies are keen to get into the action and also where banks come in with confidence. Alas, no one is going to look into that for now because the content creators are busy depending on government grants.
Kamil notices a disconnect too. “How come those who are outside the (creative content) system [with no access to public funds] can be successful while those within, struggle?” he questions, pointing to the likes of independent songwriter Yuna and other independent content creators who have thrived.
Easy money is a bane as it dulls one’s edge, kills the hunger, takes away the sense of uncertainty and even fear within the entrepreneurs. Nor is it used for maximum efficiency. Kamil notes that many content developers use their grant money not to solely create the actual content but to buy equipment too.
He has seen this enough times that he calls the phenomenon, “grant-preneurs.” One other negative phenomenon is this: Because these so called grant-preneurs were creating content with no out-of-pocket expenses, they frankly were not keen to drive hard commercial bargains with government TV stations.
Many public TV stations in the country have this peculiar trait where they want the rights to the Intellectual Property (IP) of any content that they buy. And since the content creator did not use his own funding to make his show, they are generally agreeable to these types of arrangement, notes Kamil, who nonetheless decrees this as very unhealthy.
The reason is simple. Without ownership of his IP, the content owner has no avenue for any upside revenue anymore.
Not wanting to keep repeating the mistakes of the past, Kamil suggests a fundamental rethink of funding models and in fact shares that MDeC has proposed such a rethink.
He hopes it will be in place for the next half of the 10th Malaysia Plan. “We need to rethink how the grant money is spent and what results it has produced.”
One suggestion is to give part of the money to banks and venture capitalist (VC) for them to start funding productions that have gone though the filtration process. Funds have to be focused on development of the IP.
Today, everyone gets money based on proposals. When it comes to proposals that do not give much confidence to the evaluation committee, in the hope of helping, they give the grants out anyway.
“Some of the ideas are not fleshed out very well. For example, someone wants to make a movie but yet they do not have a distributor nor even spoken to one. But we give them the grants anyway as we want to help,” says Kamil.
This will probably not go down well with entrepreneurs who are seeking public funding but can’t get any.
It is a problem Kamil is aware of as he too asks, “The problem is, are we helping the right group of people?”
He actually feels that within the creative industry, this right group of people are those from outside the system who have taken their music and films beyond Malaysian borders – the 'Yunas' (pic) and even [controversial rapper] 'Namawees' of Malaysia. “They are the ones who need the funds as they have been visionary enough and know something about the converging [content] environment.”
The way forward for grants is to tie them to the grant recipient getting an overseas distributor for its content. This is to wean them off the local market.
“Having this criterion will resolve a big problem we have, where most Malaysians are making content they are not even sure there is a market for. They are only depending on the local stations to buy their product. But that is not the answer if we want this industry to be a growth sector and achieve its potential,” Kamil stresses.
The upcoming review of the 10th Malaysia Plan will give Kamil his answer to whether Malaysia is serious about building the creative industry or content to keep the bar low.
Yuna picture courtesy of Irwandy Mazwir
A veteran’s take on the state of M'sia creative industry