The Chinese calendar says Feb. 18 begins the Year of the Pig — the new year 4704. But for Chinese-Americans and other Asian-American cable subs, this year might also be remembered as the one when several MSOs transitioned Asian-themed VOD from a system experiment to a system necessity.

In a landscape that just 18 months ago was relatively barren, the change in Asian VOD has been overwhelming, with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Cox and Bright House Networks moving quickly to embrace the service for the Asian demographic.

The evidence seems to be everywhere. Comcast is offering customers a subscription video-on-demand package, allowing unlimited use of a specific VOD service for a monthly charge. Heartened by initial results from Bollywood Hits On Demand, the in-house venture offering 50 hours of India-produced movies and music videos monthly, Comcast is developing ethnic SVOD services for summer or fall premiere, with several likely targeting Asian consumers, the company says.

But Comcast isn’t content to keep Bollywood Hits on Demand, and the 30,000 weekly views it gets from Comcast subs, to itself. Shortly Comcast will make Bollywood Hits on Demand available to other MSOs, says Scott Wheeler, Comcast International Networks’ SVP of network development. In addition Comcast has plans for a VOD/SVOD offshoot of its Asian network AZN, Wheeler says.

Time Warner Cable is being tight-lipped about its Asian-themed VOD plans, but confirms it’s exploring several options to increase Asian/Asian-American-produced VOD output. Of the 100-plus hours of international films most Time Warner systems carry per month, almost 75% come from Bollywood, Korean, Chinese and Japanese sources. Linear net ImaginAsian TV, carried on Time Warner systems in New York City and Los Angeles, supplies some movies to the package.

ImaginAsian also offers 10 hours monthly of free VOD material, usually a mix of U.S.-produced series and Asian films, on Charter and Patriot Media systems. And one or more SVOD services are under study at ImaginAsian, programming and production SVP David Chu says, including spots on business news, sports and topics geared to children.

A Bollywood Bundle for MSOs?

In New York and other markets, Time Warner also plays up to five films per month from BODVOD, whose name could be mistaken for an adult programmer but is actually an independent Bollywood VOD provider. The titles are available for $2.95-$4.95 per view. Cox systems in San Diego and Orange Country, Calif., show BODVOD-supplied titles in much the same manner Time Warner does.

BODVOD has SVOD service rollouts planned for later this year, and is talking with MSOs about what general manager Vinodh Bhat calls a "Bollywood bundle." For one price, SVOD buyers would automatically get a high-speed portal covering South Asian news and entertainment, and a digital phone feature providing discounted calling to India. "This can become the avenue for these consumers to take more services, and prepare them for a quad play when wireless comes along," Bhat says.

And as we said above, examples that Asian VOD is catching on seem to be everywhere. The latest evidence arrived as we went to press: BODVOD inked a deal with Rogers, Canada’s largest cable operator, to provide movies and music videos for Rogers’ Bollywood Oye! VOD product, part of the operator’s Personal TV offering.

Back in this country, KyLinTV, the Asian-language network distributor owned by Cablevision founder/chairman Charles Dolan and others, figures big in his MSO’s Asian plans. When we first reported on KyLinTV last summer (CableWorld, 8/14/06), CEO Nancy Li said Cablevision was planning to present 20 to 40 hours of KyLin-supplied VOD each month. That deal’s been done and plans call for a rollout March 31 or sooner, KyLin confirmed recently, although Cablevision would not. In addition, other MSOs will be approached shortly about similar arrangements to carry KyLin programming.

Even small and midsize cable operators of the National Cable Television Cooperative could be moving into the space. NCTC VP Dan Mulvenon is anticipating that some pitches will come later this week when NCTC members assemble in Las Vegas for their annual winter educational conference.

Cable’s Good Ethnic Story

Certainly this magazine has run its share of stories wondering why cable operators have lagged behind the competition in providing programming options for ethnic groups generally and Asian-Americans particularly. We’ve noted that cable played catch-up to DirecTV and EchoStar when the DBS players launched an assortment of Asian and other ethnic premium channels or tiers at the start of the decade. But when it comes to Asian-themed VOD, this is a feel-good story for cable — MSOs are way out in front.

To be fair, DirecTV and EchoStar lack VOD capability. Still cable is to be applauded, even more so considering Verizon’s FiOS TV and AT&T’s U-verse, both offering more than 2,000 on-demand programs a month, haven’t announced major Asian VOD initiatives as this magazine goes to press.

Looking at the numbers, it’s difficult to understand why cable would not provide a robust VOD product to what the U.S. Census (June 2006) estimated were 16 million Asian-Americans residing here. The purchasing power of Asian-Americans was $427 billion as of September 2006, according to the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth. It will increase by another $200 billion in five years. Add to that the group’s reputation as early adopters of high-speed Internet access and triple-play bundles, and the case for VOD becomes stronger.

And it’s a group that subscribes to digital cable. About 30% of Asians living in major U.S. urban areas get digital cable, compared to 17% buying DBS, says a recent survey from Horowitz Associates. That finding may be linked to the improved on-demand product, says Adriana Waterston, VP of marketing and business development at Horowitz. "Operators are seeing the possibilities VOD can offer, such as testing different and new programmers," Waterston says. "They are building audiences."

"It’s always been a mystery to me why cable operators didn’t look at this market more carefully before," says Julia Huang, CEO of interTrend Communications, a marketing agency creating Asian-American campaigns for AT&T, Toyota, and J.C. Penney among others. "The media platform for this audience has been so limited…I hope VOD becomes both a way for Asian-American-produced films to get wider distribution, and an avenue for more original Asian-American shows."

"We may be talking a party line," says Jan Almarode, group director of VOD and interactive TV with Bright House Networks’ Florida systems, "but there’s a lot of value to [the Asian-American] customer…Adding value to their experience with cable is very important, and this feature helps."

That’s why when Bright House systems in Tampa Bay and Orlando launched a stand-alone "International On Demand" movie assortment four months ago, Asian films were big in the mix. At $3.99 per title, customers in both areas pick from 11 Hindi-language films, six Japanese movies and at least two films in Korean and Chinese each month. All told, more than one-third of the "International" titles Bright House offers each month are Asian-language, and up to 50% of the content is changed month-to-month.

Bright House’s view count of this on-demand feature rose 3% last month, compared to November results, Almarode says. It will take a few more months to calculate the influence of VOD on triple-play sales. "If there is an impact, we have to pay attention and offer more," he says.

For Comcast multicultural marketing chief Mauro Panzera, the triple-play influence is obvious. Asian-themed VOD "showcases the argument for buying the triple play," he says. "You not only brand the triple play, you make it a connection point for diversity, all on one bill for one price."

Cooperative Asian Programmers

All this operator activity is being greeted warmly by Asian programmers. BODVOD, for example, assists operators in marketing, designing promotions for ethnic newspapers. "We realize these systems have higher priorities than VOD, so we’re jumping in to reach people on a grassroots scale," GM Bhat says.

Near term, they see VOD and SVOD as a way to clear markets where linear channel space is limited or nil, and will remain so until switched digital video, all-digital/IP plant upgrades and other bandwidth expansion means are deployed.

Long term, VOD/SVOD is an important brand extension. Channel constraint "won’t go away soon," says Wheeler of Comcast’s International Networks unit. "And operators still have these audiences, such as South Asians, that they must reach out for. Movies and music videos are among the most popular general VOD attractions…so it makes great sense to make those genres available."

One of the few disappointments is MTV World, which picked up Time Warner as the first MSO affiliate for its trio of U.S.-produced Asian channels, but says there are no plans for a VOD splash in 2007. That could change, of course, and might make this Year of the Pig squeal louder.

Asian Programming Services Roundup

The variety of networks targeting Asian-Americans available for operator carriage — VOD/SVOD as well as linear — continues to grow. 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, for South Asian viewers
Ownership: Privately held
Format: Digital
Management: Vimal Verma, chairman and CEO; Divya Ohn, 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
Launched: May 2005, for Asian-American viewers
Ownership: Comcast
Format: Basic/digital
Management: Rod Shanks, general manager; Bill Georges, SVP, advertising and affiliate sales; Scott Wheeler, SVP, network development
Subscribers: 15 million
Key Original Programs: NBA Timeout, Cinema AZN, Ivy Dreams, Popcorn Zen, The Bridge, Music Bang, Style: Asia
Carriage: Cable (various); telco (AT&T U-verse/Verizon FiOS)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/San Francisco/Seattle/DC
Pricing: Various

BOLLYWOOD ON DEMAND (BODVOD)
Launched: August 2004, for South Asian viewers
Ownership: BOD VOD Networks, joint venture of 212 Media and Schramm Sports & Entertainment
Format: VOD/SVOD
Management: Vinodh Bhat, general manager/partner, 212 Media; Joe Schramm, partner, Schramm Sports & Entertainment
Subscribers: N/A
Key Original Programs: Bollywood movies and music videos
Carriage: Cable (Comcast/Cox/Time Warner Cable)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF/Seattle/DC
Pricing: $2.95-$4.95 per title (VOD); $10/mo. (SVOD)

BOLLYWOOD HITS ON DEMAND
Launched: September 2006, for South Asian viewers
Ownership: Comcast
Format: SVOD
Management: Scott Wheeler, SVP, network development
Subscribers: N/A
Key Original Programs: Bollywood movies and music videos
Carriage: Comcast
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF/Seattle
Pricing: $14.99/mo.; $9.99/mo. if taken with TV Asia or other premium channels targeting South Asians

CCTV-4*
Launched: September 1997, for Chinese viewers
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: October 1998
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 (Charter/Comcast/Cox/Time Warner Cable); DBS (DirecTV); telco (Verizon FiOS); overbuilders (RCN)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF/Seattle/DC
Pricing: $11.95-$14.99/mo. (cable); $22.99/mo. (DBS)

IMAGINASIAN TV
Launched: August 2004, for Asian-Americans
Ownership: Privately held
Format: Digital/VOD/SVOD
Management: Michael Hong, CEO; J.Edward Lee, COO; David Chu, SVP, programming and production; Michael Huh, VP, marketing and strategic development; Thomas Pyun, VP, advertising sales
Subscribers: 4.5 million
Key Original Programs: The Lounge, Finding My America, Comedy Zen, Uncle Morty’s Dub Shack
Carriage: Cable (Champion Broadband/Charter/Comcast/Patriot Media/Time Warner Cable); broadcast stations (W36AS, Edison, N.J./KTVY, Las Vegas/KBCB, Seattle)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF/Seattle
Pricing: Free

KYLINTV CABLE
To Be Launched: First Quarter 2007, for Asian-Americans
Ownership: Charles Wang (Computer Associates founder), Charles Dolan (Cablevision Systems), other investors
Format: VOD/SVOD
Management: Nancy Li, CEO; Jacob Sung, sales and marketing director
Key Original Programs: TBA
Pricing: N/A

MBC
Launched: September 2002, for South Asian viewers
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/DC
Pricing: $12.99/mo.

MTV CHI
Launched: December 2005, for Chinese viewers
Ownership: MTV Networks (Viacom)
Format: Digital/VOD/SVOD
Management: Nusrat Durrani, SVP/GM; Lem Lopez, executive producer
Subscribers: N/A
Key Original Programs: Top 10 Chi Countdown, Live From, Untapped Chi, J-K Music NonStop, MTV Chi News
Carriage: Cable (Charter/Time Warner Cable); DBS (DirecTV); telco (AT&T U-verse/Verizon FiOS)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: LA
Pricing: $4.99/mo. a la carte (Charter/FiOS); $15.99/mo. as part of DirecTV’s MandarinDirect II package; varies elsewhere

MTV DESI
Launched: July 2005, for South Asian viewers
Ownership: MTV Networks (Viacom)
Format: Digital/VOD/SVOD
Management: Nusrat Durrani, SVP/GM; Lem Lopez, executive producer
Subscribers: N/A
Key Original Programs: Top 10 Desi Countdown, Live From, Bhangin’ Bhangra, The Mirror, MTV Desi News
Carriage: Cable (Time Warner Cable); DBS (DirecTV); telco (AT&T U-verse/Verizon FiOS)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: N/A
Pricing: $4.99/mo. a la carte; $29.99/mo. as part of DirecTV’s HindiDirect package; varies elsewhere

MTV K
Launched: June 2006, for Korean viewers
Ownership: MTV Networks (Viacom)
Format: Digital/VOD/SVOD
Management: Nusrat Durrani, SVP/GM; Lem Lopez, executive producer
Subscribers: N/A
Key Original Programs: Top 10 K Kountdown, On LoKation, K: Essentials, Hip-Hop Seoul, MTV News on K
Carriage: Cable (Time Warner Cable); DBS (DirecTV); telco (AT&T U-verse/Verizon FiOS)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: N/A
Pricing: $4.99/mo. a la carte; $26.99/mo. as part of DirecTV’s KoreanDirect package

MYX
To Be Launched: Early 2007, for Asian-Americans
Ownership: ABS-CBN Broadcasting
Format: Digital
Management: Raffy Lopez, managing director
Key Original Programs: TBA
Pricing: N/A

NEW TANG DYNASTY TV
Launched: February 2002, for Chinese viewers
Ownership: Privately held
Format: Basic/digital
Management: Zhong Lee, president/CEO; Samuel Zhou, programming VP; Keran Feng, VP, sales and marketing
Subscribers: 5.3 million
Key Original Programs: NTDTV News, Zooming In, Weekly Economic Review, Asia Talk, E-Star, Sports Field, Happy to Be Healthy, IQ Open, Rainbow Bridge, Focus Talk, Global Spectacular
Carriage: Cable (Charter/Time Warner Cable); broadcast stations (WFBT, Chicago; KMTP, Northern California; MHz Networks, Washington, D.C.)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: NY/LA/SF/DC
Pricing: Free

SAIGON BROADCASTING TV 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); 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, CEO; Heather Yoon, director of broadcasting operations; Annie Lee, operations director; Jeff Limb, programming director; Nancy Ahn, advertising director; Inwook Kim, news director; Sang Han, business development director
Subscribers: 500,000
Key Original Programs: TvK Prime Time, Hardline, Face 24
Carriage: Cable (Champion Broadband/Charter/Comcast/Time Warner Cable/Wave Broadband); overbuilders (Eagle Broadband/Optical Entertainment Network/Qwest/T2TV)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: LA
Pricing: N/A

TV ASIA*
Launched: May 1998, for South Asian viewers
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/Key Original Programs: 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, for South Asian viewers
Ownership: Zee TV USA
Format: A la carte premium
Management: Dheeraj Kapuna, international operations CEO; S. Venkatasubramanian, American leader
Subscribers: N/A
Key Original Programs: Saat Phere…Saloni Ka Safar, Kasmh Se, Jabb Luv-Hua, Shahbaash India
Carriage: Cable (various); DBS (EchoStar)
Penetration of Key U.S. Asian Markets: N/A
Pricing: $14.99/mo. (a la carte cable); $24.99/mo. (with other cable services); $19.99/mo. (EchoStar)
Additional Information: Zee TV also distributes three other pay services over EchoStar — Zee Cinema (launched 1999), Zee Gujarati and Alpha ETC Punjabi (launched August 2005) — at $14.99/mo.

ZHONG TIAN*
Launched: August 1999, for Asian-Americans
Ownership: CTI-ZTC
Format: A la carte premium
Management: Andy Chuang, general manager
Subscribers/Key Original Programs: 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. TBA-To be announced.

 

Cable’s Houses of Flying VOD

Here’s a roundup of cable operators’ Asian/Asian-American video-on-demand packages:

MSO TYPE OFFERING PRICE
*$9.99/mo. if taken with a South Asian premium channel, such as Zee TV and TV Asia.
Source: CableWorld research, based on information from MSOs and programming services.
Comcast SVOD Bollywood Hits On Demand: 50 hrs. of movies and music videos per month $12.99/mo.* (nationally)
Comcast local VOD New America Now: monthly ethnic news roundup, in part on Asian-American topics Free (No. California)
Time Warner VOD International Movies On Demand: 75 hrs. of Asian films per month $2.95-4.95 per title (nationally)
Time Warner VOD BODVOD-supplied movies: up to 5 South Asian films per month $2.95-4.95 per title (New York City)
Charter VOD ImaginAsian TV:10 hours per month Free (Los Angeles)
Cox VOD BODVOD-supplied movies Varies by market (Fairfax County, Va.; Orange County, CA; other markets)
Bright House Networks VOD International On Demand: up to 25 Asian films per month $3.99 per title (Florida systems)
Patriot Media VOD ImaginAsian TV: 10 hours per month Free (Princeton, N.J.)

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