This year marks the 50th anniversary of television in Singapore. Indeed, it was 1963 when television was first introduced to Singapore, 6pm on Feb 15, 1963 to be exact. It has been quite a road travelled when you look back and see all of the changes that have transpired.
The current landscape for television in Singapore has been well summarized by Mr. Boon Chan of the Straight Times, stating:
According to Nielsen’s Media Index Report last year, free-to-air TV continues to have broad reach with most popular terrestrial channel Channel 8 reaching 62.3 per cent of the population, followed by Channel 5 with 54.2 per cent. In the pay-TV market, StarHub has about 532,000 subscribers, while SingTel has 404,000. The competition for attention is not just between pay and free-to-air TV. Mr Gui Kai Chong, an instructor at the National University of Singapore’s department of communications and new media, says: “TV now has to compete with new sources of entertainment and new forms of leisure, and that is a big challenge.”. He ticks off more families having cable TV subscriptions and more young people turning to the Internet and mobile devices and adds that “TV has a much harder time trying to attract and retain people’s attention”.
Singapore Television Milestones
1963 A pilot television service commenced on Jan 21.
Feb 15 marked the inaugural launch of Television Singapura at the Victoria Memorial Hall. Then Minister of Culture S. Rajaratnam gave an opening message at 6pm. The first programme was a 15-minute documentary called TV Looks At Singapore. It was followed by Cartoon Time featuring the magpies Heckle and Jeckle, News in English, Hancock’s Half-Hour with comedian Tony Hancock, and Rampaian Malaysia (Malaysian Mixture), a variety show that later became a staple on television. Transmission ended at around 7.40pm.
On April 3, President Yusof Ishak’s address was viewed by people in their homes for the very first time, marking the inception of regular television transmissions with Television Singapura. Regular broadcasts began, with four hours of English-language programmes on Channel 5.
1965 Singapore’s separation from Malaysia was marked by a teary and emotional announcement on Aug 9 by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
1974 Public response was reportedly lukewarm to colour transmissions at first. It was only during the World Cup football season that more people started buying television sets in colour. Approximately 1,000 colour television sets costing more than $2 million were sold three days before the live finals on July 7 between Holland and Germany.
1982 The 50-minute long The Seletar Robbery was the first locally produced Chinese language TV drama.
1984 Singapore Broadcasting Corporation’s (SBC’s) first large-scale outdoor variety show was Singapore’s 25th National Day Parade.
Seminal series The Awakening, which made enduring stars out of Huang Wenyong and Xiang Yun , aired.
1988 Zoe Tay emerged triumphant in the first edition of the talent-scouting Star Search – and a star was born. Previously, there were Talentime singing competitions held, starting in the 1960s.
1990 Stereo audio was launched on all TV channels.
1992 On April 2, SBC launched the nation’s first subscription television channel, NewsVision, through its new subsidiary Singapore CableVision (SCV). The 24-hour news service showed mainly news from United States’ Cable News Network (CNN).
1994 First local English-language drama Masters Of The Sea aired and “I’ll crrrush you like a cockroach” went into the annals of TV’s unforgettable lines, albeit for the wrong reasons.
The first Star Awards were held and Li Nanxing and Chen Liping were named Best Actor and Best Actress.
1995 First English-language sitcom Under One Roof aired. It was exported to Australia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Canada and won the Best Comedy Programme or Series Award at the Asian Television Awards in 1996 and 1997.
Channel 5 and Channel 8 began broadcasting around the clock.
1997 Amali Thumali (Hustle And Bustle), Singapore’s first Tamil sitcom, made its debut on Prime 12.
Popular local serials, including Return Of The Condor Heroes starring Fann Wong and Christopher Lee, made their maiden appearances on Taiwanese cable TV via Television Corporation of Singapore International.
The Prime 12 Awards were the first to recognise talent in Malay and Indian television.
2000 Suria replaced Prime 12 as a dedicated channel for the Malay community, while Central replaced Premiere 12 with three distinctive programming belts catering to specific audiences: Kids Central, Vasantham Central and Arts Central.
2001 TVMobile was launched and made available on SBS Transit buses, at Suntec City’s Fountain Food Terrace and on Bintan Resort Ferries. It was scrapped on New Year’s Day 2010.
Singapore Press Holdings’ (SPH) MediaWorks was Singapore’s second broadcaster from May 2001 to January 2005.
2004 MediaCorp and SPH merged their mass-market television and free newspaper operations.
As a result of the merger, MediaCorp TV Holdings Pte Ltd, a new jointly owned TV company, was created – with MediaCorp owning an 80 per cent stake and SPH holding the rest. MediaCorp took on the running of the new organisation, which would now comprise MediaCorp Studios and all the channels operated by both companies (Channel 5, Channel 8, Channel U, Suria, Arts Central, Kids Central and Vasantham Central).
2005 Asia’s first 3G mobile drama P.S. I Love You was launched.
2006 Subtitles were introduced for news bulletins on Channel 5, Channel 8 and Suria for the benefit of hearing- impaired viewers.
2007 HD5, the first high-definition TV channel, was launched.
SingTel’s mio TV was available from July 21.
2008 Vasantham Central was expanded to a full-fledged free-to-air channel, Vasantham. Another new channel, Okto, featuring Arts and Kids Central content, soon followed.
2009 The Ultimatum was the first Channel 8 drama to be fully filmed in high-definition. And viewers zoomed right in on the facial wrinkles on Zoe Tay.
Thanks to Mr. Boon Chan, media corespondant of Singapore Press holdings, for a well written nostalgic walk down the memory lane of television in Singapore.