Asian cable boom: women on top

Programmers target female viewers with new channels

SINGAPORE -- Asia's female audiences are looking increasingly glamorous to programmers with an eye on sexing up their channel packages -- and bottom lines.

At least five new channels skewed toward women launched in the second half of 2007 and more are scheduled to roll out in the first half of this year.

The new services cover everything from such country-specific channels as the Philippines' Velvet and Singapore's new Mom-on-Demand digital outlet, to women's-only pay TV channels and regional lifestyle platforms that also may appeal to men.

Reasons for the new launches vary, channel owners say. Some fill niche gaps in an exploding digital environment. Others are smaller startups looking to gain a foothold with this emerging audience.

Asia has nearly 1.7 billion women, according to the United Nationals Population and Vital Statistics Report, and programmers offering this group greater viewing choices include Comcast International Media Group's the Style Network, which launches in the middle of this year, and the Lotus Channel, which debuts in the second quarter.

"Traditionally in Asia, women's interests were narrowly defined by TV channels -- soaps and drama, and then there would be daytime chat shows and cooking programs. What we are seeing now with the new female channels is a lot of the other interests that women have," CIMG's Asia-Pacific managing director Christine Fellowes said.

"Platforms in Asia have realized that women are increasingly the decisionmakers in households. There's no argument that men need their channels, like movies and sports, but it's women who are making the decisions on which packages to buy," Fellowes said.

The Style Network targets younger women and focuses on topics like relationships, weddings, beauty, fashion and how to achieve a contemporary look. "It's inspirational rather than aspirational," Fellowes said.

Korean American television personality May Lee, says that Asia's modern women need a new voice. Which is why she's launching the Lotus Channel with veteran Asia television executive, Gregg Creevey.

The Lotus Channel launches into a gap for a chic, sexy, useful television destination that doesn't pretend to be anything other than 100% focused on women, the duo say.

Broadcasters like Sony Pictures Entertainment, FOX and BBC Worldwide Global Channels also are rushing to join the likes of Hallmark Channel and Discovery Networks Asia's female-skewed Discovery Home and Health.

In July, BBC Lifestyle, part of the multichannel bouquet launched by BBC Worldwide's Global Channels, rolled out in Singapore. The channel also has carriage in Hong Kong.

SPE's English-language Sony Entertainment Television also launched in July in Singapore, and is distributed with AXN, Animax and AXN Beyond.

SET is positioned as sexy and sophisticated , targeting women in their 20s and 30s. The schedule highlights such female-friendly dramas as ABC freshman "Cashmere Mafia" alongside reality and lifestyle programming.

"There's a growing demand from urban career women, combined with new platform growth and a gap for a channel skewed to this genre," said Chih Yeong Woo, SPE Networks Asia's executive director distribution and SET channel head.

FOX Life, meanwhile, is moving beyond Japan, where it launched two years ago and currently has about 1.5 million households.

FOX Life Korea launches in the next two months in partnership with multi-system operator T-Broad, and targets 7 million- 8 million households by mid-year. T-Broad also carries the FOX general entertainment channel, which is in 10 million households.

The channel will carry 20%-30% reality content and 50%-70% drama, with a longer term goal of adding 10% locally produced longform programming, according to Fox International Channels Asia president Ward Platt.

The lifestyle brands entering this space insist that, while they may be female skewed, their channels don't exclude men.

"Fox Life has a personality that a female audience is drawn to, but ideally it's not exclusionary," Platt said.