Asia TV market takes baby steps

Growth spurt for infant-to-toddler programming on pay platforms

Television for babies is booming in Asia, where pay TV platforms across the region use the programming to plug gaps in their channel offerings while fighting off competition from ever-expanding entertainment options.

Three new baby television entrants in particular are ensuring that pay TV operators have nothing to crib about. Each promises commercial-free, expert-backed quality television that does everything from boost babies' self-esteem to soothe any concern parents in Asia might have about the impact of television on their newborns.

The three services are BabyTV, which targets newborns to 3-year-olds and their parents; BBC's CBeebies, which dedicates at least one-third of its schedule in Asia to babies; and BabyFirstTV, aimed at children ages 6 months-3 years.

Although none of the channels would disclose buy rates or financial details of their agreements in Asia, BabyTV appears to be in the lead in the number of distribution deals closed in the region.

Industry analysts say CBeebies is at the head of the pack in terms of carriage revenue negotiated with local operators, though BBC Global Channels Asia-Pacific senior vp Christine Leo-McKerrow declined to discuss financials.

CBeebies is available in Singapore (SingTel's 6-month-old IPTV platform Mio TV), Hong Kong (the broadband platform Now TV) and on platforms in India as a 12-hour channel. Two launches for this year already have been confirmed, Leo-McKerrow said.

Acquired in October by Fox International, BabyTV on Jan. 25 announced a distribution deal on the digital tier of dominant cable platform StarHub in Singapore. The channel also has carriage on Now TV in Hong Kong and satellite platform Indovision in Indonesia as well as via VOD at Korea's up-and-coming broadband services, MegaTV and HanaTV.

It also has secured branded programming blocks on Yoyo TV in Taiwan, on state-run free-TV service VTV3 in Vietnam and on FoxHD and the National Geographic Channel in Japan.

Fox International Asia president Ward Platt said the network would be launching 24-hour services in the high-value markets of Korea and Japan "shortly."

BabyFirstTV's most recent launch was a two-hour English-language block in Hong Kong on free-TV broadcaster Asia Television's World channel. A linear channel is available on telco Chunghwa's broadband platform in Taiwan, and on-demand deals are in place with telcos KT and Hanaro in Korea.

One of BabyFirstTV's priorities this year is identifying local partners, including content advisers and retail outlets, said Glenn Kopelson, the channel's U.S.-based executive vp.

Local baby channels also are on the rise. In Singapore, homegrown Lulli TV launched in July as part of SingTel's bid to enter the video entertainment market with Mio TV.

"We noticed that there was a gap in the Singapore market for programming for babies, and we were the first in Singapore to launch a channel for this age group," SingTel spokeswoman Tricia Lee said. Subscriber numbers for the a la carte channel have not been disclosed.

Going beyond television is an important part of the strategy in Asia. Owning rights to all the content allows Fox to "extend the product in any direction we want to," Platt said shortly after BabyTV announced the Singapore carriage deal — its 100th carriage pact worldwide. New areas include mobile, merchandising and licensing as well as books, which already are being sold in Japan.

"This is the first time we have had such complete flexibility," he said.

BabyTV produces 30 series a year, and about 95% of the channel's content is produced in-house. "There used to be no reason to produce because there were no channels," Platt said. "Now, more and more companies are thinking about the age group and making content geared to the audience."

BabyTV managing director Liran Talit said the response in Asia has been the same as everywhere else the channel has launched, whether it's the U.K., Hong Kong or Israel.

"The biggest community in the world is parents, and they all want the best for their kids," he said.