Asian television

Contestants celebrate during the finale of “Singapore Idol.”

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Think southeast asia is just one big market? Think again -- certainly when it comes to such major game-changers as digitalization and local production. But no matter how different each country may be, the area is poised for real growth.

Singapore is racing ahead in the digital domain -- it has HD, some 3D production, 100%-plus mobile penetration and plans well under way for a super-high-speed national network. Malaysia is also moving fast, with a new HD platform, the biggest pay TV subscriber base in Southeast Asia at 3 million subs, a government-backed agenda to push broadband and a new telco-driven IPTV platform that launched March 29.

If Thailand and the Philippines lag, and Indonesia is even further behind, there seems to be genuine momentum happening in this part of the world, even if that spills into the demand for more local content, which could impact global TV companies' strategies.

"Everyone is looking for good television that's affordable, provides good value and raises ratings," says Angel Orengo, Sony Pictures Television's senior vp for Asia Pacific.

The following is a look how five key Asian markets are dealing with the rapid changes within their own regions and the international TV sector.

CHINA


China's 395 million television households reach 95% of the population of 1.3 billion. There were 163 million cable households, including 63 million digital households, by the end of 2009, according to government data. Typically staid programming on traditional state-run TV won't draw the newly savvy viewers that advertisers hope to reach, says Steve Chicorel, an international distribution guru who relocated from Hollywood to Taipei, in Taiwan, to be closer to China.

"China used to be a zero on everybody's sales records, but now that it's going digital, it's a wasteland and everybody needs programming," says Chicorel, who's now helping Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan find international partners for a historical war serial titled "Yuefei." Due to strict TV censorship, Chicorel says it's family programming that's needed, not the flesh or flash of U.S. cable. Chinese TV companies that reach the mainstream may also be able to tap its cash.

"Extravaganza"
 

Beijing-based Huayi Brothers Media did so to great effect in October on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. On March 25, Huayi reported a 23% jump in its 2009 annual net profit, to nearly 84 million yuan ($12.3 million), thanks to thriving TV drama sales.

Now, other major TV producers are preparing to list, according to recent reports in Guangzhou's Southern Metropolis Daily. These include Hairun Movie & TV Co., producer of 600 hours of TV dramas last year; Beijing Galloping Horse Film & TV Production Co., which now has a film subsidiary; and 10-year-old In Look Media, which claims already to have raised more than 100 million yuan.

Some international TV companies, like Disney/ABC International Television, are betting that partnerships will lead to profit. Together with the Shanghai Media Group, Disney is producing a 12-episode weekly version of the reality format "The Amazing Race" titled "China Rush." Set to air in August, the first "Amazing Race" to be localized for China will be telecast in English with Chinese subtitles on SMG's International Channel Shanghai network and conclude as the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai draws to a close.



INDONESIA


Indonesia is a lively free-TV market, with a population of 240 million people and upward of 10 national channels that have managed to keep pay TV penetration down in the low-single digits for more than a decade.

Such international content brands as Disney, FremantleMedia and Nickelodeon/Viacom report healthy businesses in this market of 49 million TV households, selling everything from 90-minute Disney Clubhouse branded blocks and local adaptations of talent and dating formats to Globo TV's $50 million television drama, "India -- A Love Story."

Variety shows, such as Trans TV's long-running comedy-variety "Extravaganza," are a primetime ratings staple.

The January premiere of a celebrity twist on FremantleMedia Asia's dating show "Take Me Out" attracted 3.5 million viewers and a viewing share of 27.1%, exceeding the broadcaster's slot average by 90%.

A growth area is new local pay TV channels. These are, for the most part, being created to drive take up of direct-broadcast platform Indovision, which is owned by Indonesia's largest media group, PT Media Nusantara Citra (MNC).

The most recent of these is Vision Comedy, Indonesia's first 24-hour comedy channel, which launched in February as part of parent company MNC SkyVision's goal to grow local relevance. Most of the schedule features local funnymen and series. Acquisitions include "Growing Pains" and "Suddenly Susan."

"Boo and Me"
 

MNC also has regional ambitions, and in March bought a 75% stake in Singapore-based distribution company InnoForm for $7 million, with the option of acquiring the remaining 25%. The plan is to expand InnoForm's movie and DVD distribution into TV programs and formats along with digital and mobile content, according to MNC group president and CEO, Hary Tanoesoedibjo.

MALAYSIA

A significant shift in Malaysia's media market has come in the past year with the involvement of Malaysia's government-backed media agencies -- Film Development Corporation of Malaysia, Multimedia Development Corp. and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

Seemingly taking their cue from the Media Development Authority in neighboring Singapore, the Malaysian agencies are pushing everything from film funds and co-production initiatives to incentives for foreign companies to set up local operations.

One of the biggest co-productions so far is the multimillion-dollar animated series "Saladin," a venture with the Qatar-based Al Jazeera Children's Channel, which is "only the beginning" of the country's development drive, according to Kamil Othman, MDeC's vp creative multimedia.

A wide range of media companies -- from kids' channel KidsCo to telenovela co-producer/distributor Latin Media Corp. -- has upped involvement in Malaysia. Among the most recent projects is a first Latin-Malaysian co-production, "Bola Cinta," a $1.5 million teen drama made by Malaysian production house Nafalia, LMC and Worldwide Rights. The 60-episode drama spearheads the "Malaysian effort to bring its content to the world," according to LMC president Jose Escalante.

KidsCo has produced the short series "Boo & Me" with Malaysian animation house Inspedia as part of an environmental awareness initiative. The shorts are aired on KidsCo globally.

Malaysia is Southeast Asia's biggest pay TV market, with about 3 million residential subscribers to direct-broadcast satellite platform Astro. Astro has increasingly ambitious regional broadcast and TV/movie production plans.



Malaysia also has a thriving free TV broadcast environment, with four channels run by privately owned broadcaster Media Prima.

Last year, Malaysia produced 26 local features, up from 20 films in 2006, and the number of screens has doubled during the past three years to almost 500 with a gross of about $120 million, according to Finas. Malaysia produces about 400 TV series a year.

"Bola Cinta"
 

THE PHILIPPINES


The question of the day is whether (or how) the revamped free TV channel TV5 -- the country's third network -- will survive without the creative input of its one-time partner, Malaysia's Media Prima.

Media Prima exited the market this year, barely 18 months into its regional expansion strategy, citing domestic shareholder pressure. Media Prima operates Malaysia's most successful free TV channels.

Their programming strategy appears to be working. In its parting note, Media Prima said TV5 was doing well against free TV giants ABS-CBN and GMA, increasing its share from 1.9% in July 2008 to 11.1% in September 2009.

Homegrown talent show, "Talentadong Pinoy," became the No. 1 show on Saturday nights, "a feat no one thought could happen that quickly," TV5 COO and executive vp Bobby Barreiro says. Barreiro is confident ratings gains can be maintained. He's planning bigger entertainment shows, movie production and new news/public affairs programs.

GMA plans to fight off any challenge with its mega-successful fantasy soap operas like "Darna." Local sitcoms are also on their way back this year, says Wilma Galvante, senior vp entertainment TV.

Rival ABS-CBN remains big on reality formats, airing "Pilipinas Got Talent" in early 2010 and planning a teen edition of "Big Brother" in the summer.

Program distributors report healthy acquisitions deals, driven partly by increasing pay TV competition and the long-running affinity with American programming.

The Philippines has become one of his biggest markets in Asia, says Ganesh Rajaram, FremantleMedia Enterprises' senior vp international distribution and home entertainment, Asia, "and this is going to get even bigger this year."

The Philippines represents the largest international visitor base to E! Online outside Canada, adds Comcast International Media Group's Asia Pacific managing director Christine Fellowes, "and we're hoping to build on the popularity of our content to this online audience."

SINGAPORE

Singapore's issues of the moment are sports rights, spiraling content costs, the ferocious fight between the country's two pay TV operators and what the fallout will be across the entire industry.

Lui Tuck Yew, acting minister for information, communication and the arts, says the industry had been "negatively impacted" by the proliferation of exclusive content deals, and that content costs were way higher than international benchmarks.

In a bid to curb what it sees as the market's failure to correct the situation, the Media Development Authority is now forcing pay TV operators to carry one another's exclusive content.

Indonesia's E!
 

The MDA says the new regulatory regime was designed to "facilitate greater consumer access to pay TV content, and shift the focus of competition in the market from an exclusivity-centric strategy to other aspects, such as service differentiation and competitive packaging and pricing."

The code applies to all exclusive content deals signed after March 12 and is expected to be up and running on the two national pay TV operators -- StarHub (540,000 subs) and SingTel mio IPTV (150,000 subs) -- by September.

Singapore's English-language Channel 5 remains an active buyer of U.S. content, carrying shows like "Drop Dead Diva," "The Amazing Race" and "Ugly Betty."

Despite being one of the region's smallest markets at about 1 million households, Singapore remains the scene of some of the most innovative on-demand/digital experimentation in the region.

In addition to Web-based catch-up services and mobile content delivery, these include SingTel Mio's "season pass" platform, which offers the latest U.S. series within 24 hours of their U.S. telecast. Shows on offer include "Glee," "Brothers & Sisters," "Grey's Anatomy," "24" and "Private Practice."

"Traditional industry players in such a well-developed media market such as Singapore realize that offering consumers this convenience deepens their relationship with their favorite content, enhances (loyalty) to the service provider and serves to complement the traditional distribution business," says Rob Gilby, managing director of Disney-ABC International Television Asia Pacific.

Jonathan Landreth contributed to this report.
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