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Asian programmers sold on convention

Jan 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

One only has to look at the No. 10 TV show in Hong Kong to understand that the programming needs in many Asian countries are a tad different than they are in most Western nations. According to Nielsen data for October, the 10th-ranked show was “A New Chapter in Waste Reduction.” In fact, top 10 Nielsen data for some eight Asian countries show scant few Western programs, with one exception being “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in Indonesia.
The picture in Asia might seem particularly daunting for the Western distributors at the National Association of Television Program Executives show, if you factor in a trickle of news reports showing that even some media darlings there are economically challenged-companies that include the China-centric News Corp.-backed Phoenix Star Television and Hong Kong’s mighty broadcaster Television Broadcasts Ltd. (TVB). Even one of the most upscale markets in the region, Japan, has seen channel shutdowns and consolidations over the past year.
And yet a spot check of buyers and sellers in the region indicates they will certainly be present and accounted for at NATPE, which hosted about 500 visitors from the area last year. And interestingly, program shoppers in at least two markets there don’t expect any added leverage when it comes to program pricing, despite the financial difficulties in the region. That’s the opinion of Koichi Watanabe, who is executive VP of the Liberty Media International-backed Jupiter Programming Co. channel group in Japan and president of CSN1, a Japanese movie service that sources 70 percent of its programming from Hollywood studios. “In general, more content is needed in Japanese broadband,” Mr. Watanabe said, “so I don’t think there will be a downturn.”
“For the greater China market, we’ve seen prices going up,” added Bruno Wu, co-chairman of Hong Kong-based Sina.com, which counts among its holdings two channels, Sun TV1 and Sun TV2. About 40 percent to 50 percent of Sun TV1’s schedule comes from Western media companies, primarily A&E Networks. “At NATPE, my team goes to buy all kinds of product, but we mainly focus on documentaries,” Mr. Wu said.
But from the Pacific Rim seller’s perspective, pricing pressure is definitely expected to come into play during talks with network executives around the world. “Year to year, our revenue is going up, but not because of increased license fees. We’re expanding into new territories,” said Kaye Warren, who is head of content sales for the Australian broadcaster ABC.
The Aussie network isn’t sending any buyers to NATPE, but ABC’s sales crew has taken a small stand for four years. “It’s perceived as a U.S. syndication market, but from a sales point of view, it’s very valuable,” said Ms. Warren. U.S.-centric as NATPE may be perceived, Ms. Warren said that a particular focus for the ABC sales team this year will be Latin American buyers.
As for the States: “What we’ve noticed over the last couple of years is there is increased opportunities for Australian programming, because there are a lot of startup channels,” Ms. Warren said, noting that ABC shows have found a home on Oxygen, TechTV and services within the Starz Encore Group.
Some of the headliners in ABC’s library that will be on display at NATPE are the drama series “Love Is a Four-Letter Word” and the six-part, six-hour-series “Changi,” which takes place during World War II in a famous Singapore prisoner-of-war camp of the same name.
The English-language nature of a network like ABC certainly works to its advantage in Western program sales. But at least one company in India-a country that could certainly be a stronger contender for the “most dynamic Asian market” title-has come up with a creative solution for selling into the United States and other overseas markets. That company is UTV, a firm that counts among its holdings a small Indian channel called Vijay TV and includes such equity partners as Warburg Pincus and News Corp.
UTV, which is based in Mumbai, India, has set up shop in Ottawa, Canada, and works with a number of Western companies to produce programming, including a series called “Working Animals,” which appeared on Discovery Canada, and the animated series “For Better or for Worse,” which is playing in French and English on the Canadian network Teletoon. Indeed, it is animation that has proved one of UTV’s strong suits internationally. “We do all the animation in India. We do preproduction in the West and then send off to India for the production,” said Firdaus Kharas, who is chairman of UTV International.
Mr. Kharas said that in addition to making sales and serving as a panelist during NATPE’s session on the Indian marketplace, he is attending the show to “try to get the Canadian government to sign a co-production treaty with India. It would open up financing and allow [the Canadian government] to consider any Indian product as local content.”