Asian Net AZN Signs NBA Deal

Aug 29, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Comcast-owned AZN, an English-language cable network targeting Asian American viewers, has made a programming deal with the National Basketball Association to develop series and specials.

The deal does not include televising complete games, but it puts the little-known network into the rarified league of channels-including ESPN, ABC and TNT-with NBA programming contracts and represents a new NBA mandate to reach out to the Asian American audience.

“This is our first deal domestically targeting the Asian community,” said Gregg Winik, executive VP and executive producer of NBA Entertainment. “We’re seeing more and more that the NBA is part of a global village.”

The deal includes a 22-episode original reality series, “Hoop Guys,” in which three basketball fans go on a quest to see as many NBA games as possible. The NBA will supply game footage and interview access and will co-produce the series with AZN.

The NBA and AZN will co-produce up to 10 specials focusing on current NBA events from the Asian American perspective, and will import a 16-part documentary series, “Yao Ming in the NBA.” The documentary was co-produced by the NBA and Shanghai Media Group in China and chronicles Mr. Yao’s second season as center for the Houston Rockets.

“Basketball is really popular with the Asian American audience since Yao Ming came on the scene as somebody they can relate to,” said AZN VP of Programming Peilin Chou. “We’re serving as a home base for Asian America, and basketball is very much the heart and soul of the American experience.”

The documentary is scheduled to debut in October, the reality series is planned to debut in January and the specials are designed to air during the next two NBA seasons.

AZN launched as the International Channel in 1990. Last March the channel rebranded as AZN, with a focus on English-speaking Asian American audiences. (“AZN” is text-messaging shorthand for “Asian American.”) The network claims distribution in 12 million homes, concentrated in areas with a significant Asian population, and network executives said they hope the NBA deal-the network’s first contract with a sports franchise-will help the channel acquire more carriage.

“We’re not about Asia and things exotic and foreign but about Asian Americans who are part of everyday mainstream American culture, and having the NBA and basketball helps legitimize that presence,” Ms. Chou said.

The deal is also a potential boon for the NBA. Several sports organizations are seeking a programming foothold in China and, thus far, the NBA has led the pack. In the past two years NBA ratings in China have grown 200 percent and basketball has overtaken soccer as the country’s most-watched sport among teenagers. NBA games are even more popular than Chinese league basketball games.

Though AZN airs stateside and in English, the programming deal represents another link to the Asian marketplace.

“We currently have 15 television deals in China. This is another extension to reach the Asian-and not just the Asian American-community,” Mr. Winik said.