Two takeaways and one criticism of Mr Baey’s parliamentary address hailing the BTS business model

Photo credit: Baey Yam Keng FB

Member of Parliament, Baey Yam Keng, made an address in parliament recently that drew headlines because he referenced K-pop boyband, BTS’s profit-churning virtual concert. He cited the concert example as a call to folks in the arts and entertainment sector – many who are self-employed and part of the gig economy – to find innovative solutions in making profits.

Some background: BTS broke records with their recent June concert. That concert was the “largest paid virtual concert, earning close to $20 million in 1 show,” according to a Bandwagon article.

Here’s my analysis of Mr Baey’s speech:

  1. A response to failed SIRS applicants. As the former Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, I think his speech was really a response to the many self-employed people in the local arts sector, who came to him to appeal for the SIRS grant. SIRS, for the unfamiliar, is the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme. It is a generous scheme for self-employed people whose business was directly impacted by Covid-19. While it is great that the Singapore government recognise people in the gig economy, it also made qualifying for the grant very stringent. Many tried and were rejected. I know one legitimate case who certainly qualified on the outset, but dropped out because of the number of hoops to jump through to get money. That case aside, I know that many others would have fought hard to get the grant, perhaps, even appealing directly to Mr Baey repeatedly, when they didn’t meet the requirements. It would seem that Mr Baey is telling this group that the government can only do so much, they need to find business solutions and/or turn to their families for more support.
  2. Highlight local arts endeavours. I think BTS is a tough act to emulate. It is certainly an interesting case study to highlight and an attention-grabbing one, but the company behind BTS, Big Hit Entertainment, has deep pockets. I’m not sure that it is a good idea to point to BTS, and say “hey, try to be like them”. The Koreans have a whole eco-system that makes things work, from the fandom culture to industry players. They have a constellation of variety platforms to perform in and plug themselves.  I would much rather Mr Baey highlight what Singaporean entertainers have done amid Covid-19. We have Rishi Budhrani’s Facebook live show, the Rishi Report; we have The Front Row by Daniel Boey and company; there was also all the freelancers who pulled together a live concern Singalong SG. The latter two were government-funded projects, but I think it they are worthy of a mention. It would be good if Mr Baey hailed what some of our local entertainers have done.
  3. Entrepreneurs needed. Lastly, I want to end on a positive note and applaud Mr Baey for highlighting the local entertainment industry. Mediacorp seems to have lost 3 generations of Singaporean audiences already (Gen X – Y – Z), at least in the area of traditional entertainment productions. It has turned to YouTube to cultivate stars with platform, Bloom.SG MCN. This is a time of flux for the entertainment business. Some digital players like Night Owl Cinematics and SGAG, and many local influencers have taken advantage and grown. Certainly, many local industry folks would have already seen the trends and adopted livestreaming. The challenge is monetising livestreaming and building exportable cultural products. It would take a group of innovative entrepreneurs to take Singapore entertainment to the heights of the Korean counterparts.

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