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Diversity is good business
FIVE years ago, "words like 'diversity' and 'inclusivity' never came out of the mouths of TV executives," says Richard Thomas, the creative director of Singapore animation company One Animation. "Now they're in every sentence of every broadcaster we're trying to sell our shows to. Everyone's looking for shows that have ethnically diverse characters and representation."
Fortunately, One Animation has always had a diverse outlook. There are some 33 nationalities among its 100-strong staff in Singapore, Jakarta and London. Whenever it creates a new storyline, staff members might preview it and raise red flags. They might say things such as, "That scene might offend Malaysian viewers" or "That action is considered bad luck in China." The creative team would then go back to the drawing board to come up with new ideas.
That kind of cultural sensitivity has helped its flagship children's show Oddbods go from strength to strength: In 2015, the show had attracted 200,000 subscribers and 300 million views on YouTube. By 2020, it had 24 million subscribers and 20 billion views on YouTube - a 120-fold and 66-fold increase respectively.
Oddbods is so successful globally, One Animation just opened two Oddbods theme parks in China where its merchandise of toys, T-shirts and schoolbags are briskly snapped up. Its revenue for 2019 is in the "double-digit millions", says CEO Sashim Parmanand, and will increase in 2020.
To be sure, One Animation is not the only Singapore company within the creative industry to harness the power of diversity. Indie record label Umami Records has released songs by Israeli singer-songwriter VANNA, Los Angeles-based rapper Blahza, as well as Hong Kong R&B artist Gareth. T.
The label considers its foreign collaborators just as important as the Singapore musicians they work with, such as Linying, the Steve McQueens, brb. and Dominic Chin. Umami has helped VANNA and the Steve McQueens get onto playlists in Japan, and brb. and Chin find listeners in Thailand.
The label director Jason Ling says: "The industry is so globalised. We release a song or an EP online, it goes all around the world. Any artist can see what we do and get in touch with us instantly. In fact, that's how VANNA and Blahza got to know about us and why they wanted to work with us."
Meanwhile in publishing, independent book company Epigram Books has released a broad spectrum of books from South-east Asian authors in the past 12 months. They include a graphic novel by the late great Filipino comic book artist Gerry Alanguilan and novels by Bruneian, Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian authors.
Epigram founder Edmund Wee says: "If we can translate and publish more South-east Asian stories in English, they can help inform us of each other. If we believe that Asean as a political group is important to Singapore, then Singaporeans ought to understand our neighbours better - and what better way than through the stories of their lives and their countries?"
For these three companies, embracing diversity and inclusion just make business sense.
- One Animation: Rapid growth in five years
- Epigram Books: Championing regional talents
- Umami Records: Rocking across the globe