Cable operators have been in a dilemma when it comes to programming for Asian-Americans. They know there’s solid market demand from an affluent, tech-savvy population. And they’re aware the competition, particularly DBS, has arrived at the same conclusion and is supplying product. But cable operators haven’t found enough room to carry more Asian-themed networks because a large chunk of digital space is used or reserved for high-definition channels and other bandwidth-heavy services. Things may change by year’s end when the era of Asian plenty begins with deployments of switched digital video (SDV) transmission and ethnic video-on-demand packages. Using switched transmission, groups of channels can be directed at specific subscriber groups, including ethnic audiences. Switched digital also will keep bandwidth available for other services, including VOD. "A lot of us in cable believe switched is the Holy Grail of the ethnic space," says David Jensen, Comcast’s VP of content acquisition. "With it, the advantage DBS has over cable, which is the all-digital capacity to handle anything it wants, will go away. That will change everything." Cablevision Systems and Time Warner Cable, the MSO that has been the loudest public advocate for cable’s adoption of switched digital video, appear to be the first readying additional capacity for Asian nets. Time Warner has started upgrading systems for SDV capability and intends to unveil its game plan soon. Cablevision has an SDV conversion under way in its New York City metropolitan area franchise. Reports suggest as many as 60 ethnic channels could be deployed initially this way by Cablevision. The MSO confirms it "plans to implement our switched video capabilities to offer international programming channels and packages to additional communities throughout our service area this year." VOD WILL AUGMENT ASIAN PROGRAMMING VOD will also play a role in this Asian explosion. At least one programmer is talking with Cablevision about supplying shows for an Asian VOD service. KyLin TV, which counts Cablevision founder Charles Dolan and Computer Associates founder Charles Wang as investors, wants to supply 20 to 40 hours per month on Cablevision’s VOD service. KyLin TV uses Internet protocol TV transmission and proprietary set-top boxes developed by NeuLion to distribute 26 Asian channels nationwide. "We’re going back and forth over what and how much to put on," says KyLin TV CEO Nancy Li, "but a deal will come together." Cablevision refused to comment on KyLin TV or other Asian VOD plans. Asian VOD at Comcast seems set for the fall, likely late in September or October. Jensen promises full details in the next week or two covering content produced in the U.S. as well as overseas. "This is an exciting product we’re thrilled about bringing to the marketplace," he says. Time Warner will devote more VOD space to Asian movies in New York and additional locations this fall, with other programming genres to follow, provided rights issues are settled. "All the ethnic programmers we speak to see on demand as a new distribution opportunity," says Bob Watson, programming and new business development VP with Time Warner’s New York City system. "A VOD initiative can be challenging, because these programmers don’t always have VOD rights to their product. We’ll get as much product on as we can, and probably subtitle what we need to for appeal to the general audience." The beneficiaries of additional digital space via SDV could include U.S.-created ventures such as Comcast’s AZN, independent ImaginAsian TV and the MTV World trio of networks (Chi, Desi and K), as well as programmers importing content from Asia, including China Central TV, Zee TV and TV Japan. HOLDING ON UNTIL SDV AND VOD Until switched video and ethnic VOD come through, the current binds on system capacity have Asian channels scraping along, competing with other nets for whatever new cable distribution they can get. Despite Comcast’s clout, the subscriber count for AZN has climbed rather slowly, reaching some 15 million subscribers, just 1 million more than eight months ago. Of course, AZN’s reorg last fall, in which about half its 80-person staff was laid off or transferred to other Comcast units, slowed the push for new affiliates (see "Why Is Asia Minor?" Jan. 9, 2006, issue of CW). But Bill Georges, AZN’s SVP of affiliate and ad sales, is predicting at least 16 million subscribers by late fall "and a big clearance year next year" as uncertainty about the channel’s future subsides. ImaginAsian’s distribution is hovering around 4.4 million subscribers, and it took MTV World more than one year to sign its first cable affiliate, Charter. MTV World and Charter would not disclose how many systems the deal covers. Previously MTV World’s sole carrier was DirecTV. The DBS provider does not release subscriber counts for individual services. MTV World also has new overbuild deals with Verizon’s FiOS TV (more than 60 communities in California, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Texas and Virginia) and AT&T’s U-verse in San Antonio. Plans call for a U-verse launch in Houston and as many as 19 other cities by the end of 2006. CLOUDY PICTURE FOR OTHER PLATFORMS Even the carriage by DBS and the telcos is a mixed bag for Asian nets. When Asian channels land carriage with DirecTV or EchoStar, they are not available to all their customers. Subscribers must pay a separate fee to watch Asian channels, whether as individual nets priced a la carte, or as channel combinations grouped by language (Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, etc.). Half of the international channels on Verizon’s FiOS TV overbuilds are Asian, but only AZN runs on "Premier," the digital basic tier available to all subscribers. AZN also has a spot on the U-verse digital tier in San Antonio, with the MTV World launch expected imminently. "What both the satellite and cable communities need to realize is that there are a lot of Asian customers not buying pay channels," ImaginAsian CEO Michael Hong says. "The argument we make is that being basic or digital is a more effective way to reach Asians." Ethnic Broadcasters of America, a nonprofit association organized three months ago, wants to increase multicultural nets’ distribution and ad sales. Executives from Zee TV, TV Asia and American Desi are board members of the group that also wants to raise awareness of the networks. Other organizations, like the Association of Independent TV Programmers and Video Access Alliance, have similar missions. "DBS has the upper hand now with Asian channels, because they have the most variety and have been in the game a lot longer," says Vimal Verma, CEO of American Desi. "But it’s only a question of time before cable and the telcos respond in a better way." THE BEST OF TIMES, AND THE WORST With respect to cable carriage of Asian-themed networks there’s good news and not such good news. The good news: Asian-themed networks occupy more digital capacity than ever at U.S. cable systems. Still, there are too few Asian channels, and many are carried on a la carte premium. In fact, Comcast-owned AZN is the sole linear service getting digital clearance in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco—the top three U.S. Asian population centers as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau—as well as Seattle and Washington, D.C., also on the bureau’s major Asian market list. In all five markets, AZN appears on Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications systems. ImaginAsian TV is carried as a digital service on Time Warner, Comcast and Charter systems in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, it is found on low-power broadcast station KBCB in Seattle, and has yet to line up a Washington, D.C., affiliate. Among the services submitting information to CableWorld the only other Asian-themed channel available via cable in all five markets is VOD service Bollywood On Demand. Cox, Comcast and Time Warner systems offer Bollywood On Demand’s movies, music videos and cultural content. Separately, nonprofit New Tang Dynasty Television seeks full-time digital carriage with Time Warner in New York and Los Angeles. A BRIGHTER PICTURE FROM TIME WARNER Yet there’s reason for optimism. In New York, Time Warner has moved to the digital tier many of the Asian services that for years were a la carte offerings on its system. Customers paid $10-$20 per channel per month previously. Today, six channels are bunched along with ImaginAsian and AZN. But Zee TV, ITV Gold and other nets still run as a la carte pay networks. Still, Time Warner lists carrying additional digital Asian services for its New York system, and the possibility of 24/7 carriage of New Tang, as fall priorities. "We’ve spoken to MTV World and a lot of other programmers, including some new players, and you can anticipate some channels will be added," says Time Warner’s Watson. Comcast’s Los Angeles and San Francisco systems continue to increase their array of Asian premium services. GMA Pinoy TV, a Philippines-based offering, was launched last fall in both markets for $12.99 per month. Los Angeles customers taking GMA with The Filipino Channel get both for $19.99 per month. Asian channels are either offered a la carte or in premium packages at Cablevision Systems’ New York-area operation. TV Japan and The Chinese Channel are priced at $24.95 and $14.95 per month, respectively, while TV Asia, ITV Gold, Zee TV and World Picks Hindi on Demand material are part of a South Asian package available for $29.95. DBS DOMINATES Despite many Asian net launches by cable operators during the past few years, DBS kingpins DirecTV and EchoStar remain home to the largest assortment of Asian services. But customers, with rare exceptions, must buy the services in bundles. CABLE SHOULD PUSH THE DBS BUY-THROUGH When Time Warner and other cable operators introduced digital Latino tiers with a similar buy-through provision four years ago—no tier without digital basic—sales were disappointing. Once the provision was eliminated, customers responded. A good strategy for cable systems would be to emphasize DBS’ reliance on the buy-through while making more Asian nets available on digital. Asian subscriber sales would rise using that plan, Comcast’s Jensen argues. "You could hardly imagine a more unfriendly proposition than having to buy other packages before you buy ethnic product, which is all you really want," he says. ASIAN PROGRAMMING SERVICES ROUNDUP There’s a variety of networks targeting Asian-Americans available for operator carriage. All the channels highlighting U.S.-produced content (AZN, ImaginAsian TV, MTV World, etc.) were created over the last four years. AMERICAN DESI
Launched: January 2005
Ownership: Privately held
Format: Digital
Management: Vimal Verma, chairman and CEO; Divya Ohri, SVP, programming
Subscribers: N/A
Key Original Programs: Prime Time, Turbo Movies, Bhangra Blowout
Carriage: DBS (EchoStar)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: N/A
Pricing: $4.99/mo. AZN
Launch: May 2005
Ownership: Comcast
Format: Basic/digital
Management: Rod Shanks, general manager; Bill Georges, SVP, advertising and affiliate sales; Scott Wheeler, SVP, network development; Victor Perez, VP, technical operations
Subscribers: 14 million
Key Original Programs: NBA Timeout, Cinema AZN, Popcorn Zen, The Bridge
Carriage: Cable (various)/telco (AT&T U-verse/Verizon FiOS)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/San Francisco/D.C./Seattle
Pricing: N/A BOLLYWOOD ON DEMAND
Launch: August 2004
Ownership: 212Media/Schramm Sports & Entertainment
Format: VOD/SVOD
Management: Vinodt Bhat, partner, 212 Media; Joe Schramm, partner, Schramm Sports & Entertainment; Anjali Jindal, marketing/creative services
Subscribers: N/A
Key Original Programs: Bollywood music videos
Carriage: Cable (Comcast/Time Warner Cable/Cox)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF/Seattle/Washington, D.C.
Pricing: $2.95-3.95 per day (VOD)/$6.95-14.95 (SVOD) CCTV-4*
Launched: September 1997
Ownership: China Central Television
Format: A la carte premium
Management/Subscribers/Key Original Programs: N/A
Carriage: Cable (various)/DBS (EchoStar)/telco (Verizon FiOS)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF
Pricing: $10/mo. THE FILIPINO CHANNEL*
Launched: 1994 (Philippines), Oct. 1998 (U.S.)
Ownership: ABS-CBN Broadcasting
Format: A la carte premium
Management: Raffy Lopez, COO, managing director; Menchi Orlina, VP, chief marketing officer
Subscribers: 200,000
Key Original Programs: Balitang America, Pinagmulan, Citizen Pinoy, WOWOWEE
Carriage: Cable (Comcast/Time Warner/Charter/Cox)/DBS (DirecTV)/telco (Verizon FiOS)/overbuilders (RCN)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF/Seattle/D.C.
Pricing: $11.95-$14.99/mo. (cable); $22.99 (DBS) IMAGINASIAN TV
Launched: August 2004
Ownership: Private
Format: Digital/VOD/SVOD
Management: Michael Hong, CEO; Edward Lee, COO; David Chu, SVP, programming and production; Michael Huh, VP, marketing and strategic development; Thomas Pyun, VP, advertising sales; Rene Encarnacion, VP, finance
Subscribers: 4.4 million
Key Original Programs: The Lounge, Finding My America, Comedy Zen, Uncle Morty’s Dub Shack
Carriage: Cable (Comcast/Time Warner/Charter/Champion Broadband/Patriot Media)/broadcast stations (W36AS, Edison, N.J.; KTVY, Las Vegas; KBCB, Seattle)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF/Seattle
Pricing: Free MBC
Launched: Sept. 2002
Ownership: Munhwa Broadcasting Corp.
Format: A la carte premium
Management: Shinso Park, president
Subscribers: N/A
Key Original Programs: Jumong, One Fine Day, PD Diary
Carriage: Cable (various)/DBS (DirecTV)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/D.C.
Pricing: $12.99/mo. MTV CHI
Launched: December 2005
Ownership: MTV Networks
Format: Digital/VOD/SVOD
Management: Nusrat Durrani, SVP/GM; Lem Lopez, executive producer
Key Original Programs: Top 10 Chi Countdown, Live From, Untapped Chi, J-K Music Non Stop, MTV Chi News
Carriage: Cable (Charter)/DBS (DirecTV)/telco (AT&T U-verse, launch date TBA/Verizon FiOS)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: Los Angeles
Pricing: $4.99 a la carte (Charter/FIOS); $15.99 as part of DirecTV’s MandarinDirect II package MTV DESI
Launched: July 2005
Ownership: MTV Networks
Format: Digital/VOD/SVOD
Management: Nusrat Durrani, SVP/GM; Lem Lopez, executive producer
Key Original Programs: Top 10 Desi Countdown, Live From, Bhangin’ Bhangra, The Mirror, MTV Desi News
Carriage: DBS (DirecTV)/telco (AT&T U-verse, launch date TBA/Verizon FiOS)
Pricing: $4.99 a la carte/$29.99 as part of DirecTV’s HindiDirect package MTV K
Launched: June 2006
Ownership: MTV Networks
Format: Digital/VOD/SVOD
Management: Nusrat Durrani, SVP/GM; Lem Lopez, executive producer
Key Original Programs: Top 10 K Countdown, On LoKation, K: Essentials, Hip-Hop Seoul, MTV News on K
Carriage: DBS (DirecTV)/telco (AT&T U-verse, launch date TBA/Verizon FiOS TV)
Pricing: $4.99 a la carte/$26.99 as part of DirecTV’s KoreanDirect package NEW TANG DYNASTY TV
Launched: Feb. 2002
Ownership: Nonprofit
Format: Basic/digital
Management: Zhong Lee, president/CEO; Samuel Zhou, programming VP; Keran Feng, marketing-sales VP
Subscribers: 5.3 million
Key Original Programs: NTDTV News, Zooming In, Weekly Economic Review, E-Star, Sports Field, Happy to Be Healthy, IQ Open, Rainbow Bridge, Focus Talk, Global Spectacular
Carriage: Broadcast stations (WFBT, Chicago; KMTP, Northern California; Mhz Networks, Washington, D.C.)/Cable (Time Warner Cable, NY/LA; Charter, LA)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF/D.C.
Pricing: Free SAIGON BROADCASTING TELEVISION NETWORK*
Launched: July 2001
Ownership: Saigon Broadcasting/International Networks (Comcast)
Format: A la carte premium
Management: Truc Ho, CEO
Subscribers:  N/A
Key Original Programs: Music With Orchid Lam Quynh, SBTN Nightly News
Carriage: Cable (various operators)/DBS (DirecTV)/telco (Verizon FiOS)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: LA/SF
Pricing: $14.99/mo. TELEVISION KOREA 24*
Launched: March 2005
Ownership: Eric Yoon/International Networks (Comcast)/others
Format: Digital/VOD/SVOD
Management: Eric Yoon, founder/CEO; Heather Yoon, director of broadcasting; Annie Lee, operations director; Taeo Cho, director of broadcasting operations; Jeff Limb, director of programming; Nancy Ahn, advertising director; Inwook Kim, news director; Sang Han, director of business development
Subscribers: 465,000
Key Original Programs: TvK Prime Time; Hardline; Face 24
Carriage: Cable (Comcast/Charter/Wave Broadband/Champion Broadband)/telco overbuilders (Eagle Broadband/Optical Entertainment Network/Qwest/T2TV)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: LA
Pricing: N.A. TV ASIA*
Launched: May 1998
Ownership: TV Asia
Format: A la carte premium
Management: H.R. Shah, chairman
Subscribers:  N/A
Key Original Programs: TV Asia News, Community Roundup, Abhi to Man Jawaan Hoon
Carriage: Cable (various)/DBS (EchoStar)/telco (Verizon FiOS)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF
Pricing: $14.99/mo. TV JAPAN*
Launched: February 2000
Ownership: Japan Network Group/NHK
Format: A la carte premium
Management: Susumu Tanimura, president and CEO; Masao Watari, EVP, programming
Subscribers:  N/A
Carriage: Cable (various)/DBS (EchoStar)/telco (Verizon FiOS)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF/Seattle
Pricing: $25/mo. ZEE TV
Launched: July 1998
Ownership: Zee TV USA
Format: A la carte premium
Management: Dheeraj Kapuria, international operations CEO; S. Venkatasubramanian, Americas leader
Subscribers:  N/A
Key Original Programs: Saat Phere…Saloni Ka Safar, Kasamh Se, Jabb Luv Hua, Shabaash India
Carriage: Cable (various)/DBS (EchoStar)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: N.A.
Pricing: $14.99 (a la carte cable), $24.99 (with other cable services); $19.99-54.99 (EchoStar)
Additional Info: Zee TV also distributes three other pay services on EchoStar at $14.99 each: Zee Cinema (launched 1999), Zee Gujarati and Alpha ETC Punjabi (launched 8/2005) ZHONG TIAN*
Launched: August 1999
Ownership: CTI-ZTC
Format: A la carte premium
Management: Andy Chuang, general manager
Subscribers:  N/A
Carriage: Cable (various)/DBS (DirecTV)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF
Pricing: $11.99/mo. *Self-distributed and distributed through International Networks (Comcast)
N/A—Information not available

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