New Niche Channels Attract Distribs to Asia

By Lucy Cohen

For a market born from the ashes of MIP Asia, word is the four-year-old is doing just fine. The upcoming Asia TV Forum (ATF) will take place November 29 – December 1 at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel. 

Some Asian territories (namely Korea, Thailand and China) have historically been difficult for foreign distributors to infiltrate. But now, thanks to new digital channels, there are more places for content producers to place content, and, so, many of these once self-sustaining territories are expected to open up. On the other hand, tighter regulatory restrictions in China, and the increased popularity of locally produced programming are providing new roadblocks for distributors.

Sabrina Sanchez-Ayala
CABLEready’s vp, Sales and
Marketing, Sabrina Sanchez-Ayala

Looking on the brighter side, Ganesh Rajaram, Sales director, Asia for Fremantle International Distribution (FID) said, “Broadcasters in Asia are focusing more on programs that appeal across the widest spectrum of audiences — they are programs that give them the highest ratings amongst the biggest audience group. There is a good appetite for mass entertainment programming. Generally speaking, reality programming does very well for us,” he said.

Sabrina Sanchez-Ayala, vp, Sales and Marketing at CABLEready, said that Asia has also been affected by the program homogenization occurring around the world. “Thanks to the global branding of pan-regional channels like Discovery and National Geographic, there’s a desire for lifestyle programming,” she said. “The local channels are trying to give those channels a run for their money with similar types of programming, which is great for us.”

In terms of which territories have been best, Sanchez-Ayala said: “In the last couple of years, Korea has made itself much more accessible and buyers attend more and more of the big markets thanks to all the new thematic cable channels.”

While she recognized the fact that local programming is really popular in Asian territories, she pointed to an alternative area of business that allows her series to complement local programming. “A lot of times, we’ll sell editing rights to one of our original programs,” she said, explaining that local channels will isolate certain footage from a CABLEready series and blend it into their own program. She referred to one specific case in which Japanese terrestrial TV network Nippon bought Medical Detectives footage to appear on its own World Astonishing News series.

David Gunson, svp of Programming for National Geographic Channels Asia, provided the buyers’ side of the story, and said, “With more and more international choices and programs now available, the viewers’ tastes have become more international.” He also mentioned the upcoming Olympic Games that will take place in Beijing in 2008 as a reason that broadcasters will need more content. “I’m looking for unique stories that cover the changing face of Beijing and its people,” he said.

Judging from the numbers expected at this year’s ATF, things are looking up throughout the region. “Last year saw 200 distributors arrive in Singapore,” said Reed Exhibitions’ Elizabeth Crebassa. ¨We are confident that we’ll beat that figure in 2006.” In addition to the growing number of sellers, Crebassa predicted an increase in the 450 acquisition companies that attended the 2005 event.

The first day of market conferences will focus on funding, beginning with a keynote session on independent financing, private equity funding and co-producing in today’s changing media landscape. That same day, producers will battle it out in front of a panel of experts in Asian television programming during the Asia Television Forum SuperPitch.

Other keynote addresses throughout the market will focus on new technologies – namely mobile TV, HDTV, IPTV and broadband TV. The latter is particularly pressing as, in the last decade, incumbent telecom operators in the region have seen revenue growth from traditional business and have seen broadband explode. That panel will focus on possible revenue models and the values of interactivity.

A focus on new technologies is not altogether surprising for a region that is open to experimentation.
Robert Chua’s The Interactive Channel, the world’s first “cross-media interactive TV channel” is focusing primarily on new technologies as a way to save traditional and pay-TV. The channel launched in Hong Kong and Chua hopes to launch it elsewhere once he gets the financial backing needed (which he hopes to do at the Asia TV Forum).

Chua’s channel is built on the simple premise that, rather than continue to lose viewers to the Internet, “we must turn television into an interactive ‘cross-media-platform,’ by weaving the Internet and mobile technologies into television shows.”

Chua used Google’s acquisition of YouTube for U.S.$1.65 billion as an example of how things are changing: “Amazingly, [YouTube] is less than two years old, and it has not yet even made a profit. Compare that with Hong Kong’s most successful free-to-air TV station, TVB, which has been operating for 38 years, is the largest commercial producer of Chinese programs in the world and has made billions of dollars. It is currently valued at a little over $2.5 billion.”

Chua said he will attend the Asia TV Forum as a spectator more than as a buyer. “I want to see the formats and what’s interesting out there, though I don’t really expect to buy anything. However, if there’s something really unique and interactive, we’d like to see it.”

But for many execs, the timing of the Asia TV Forum is just right to do business. Sean Cleary, managing director and vice president, Asia/Pacific at CBS Paramount, one of the first of the American majors to support the reemergence of the Forum, said, ¨It is a great time for such an event as it gives us a last chance to make sales before closing our budget,” adding, “many buyers are in a similar budgetary stage, and are looking for final acquisitions. I am also very happy with the large cross-section of buyers who attend the event. ¨
FID’s Ganesh Rajaram added that, “Singapore is a great city to unwind in and do a bit of last minute shopping — after the market of course!”

According to Raphael Corrêa, Sales director of Globo TV International, “After a series of studies and new contacts made by Globo TV International in the region, and taking into account the special interests and viewing habits of the Asian audience, we [have] assembled a carefully chosen catalog of products especially suitable for the local audience.” Those include: Capital Sin, Pepper Chocolate, Terra Nostra, America, Seven Women, Shades of Sin, Taste of Passion and Student's Heart.”

The Forum is one of three events supported by Singapore’s government. It is scheduled at the end of The Asia Media Festival (which runs November 13- December 1), and is open to the public. The government, in the form of the Media Development Authority, also supports Broadcast Asia, a June market for technology. LC

Bob Jenkins contributed to this story.