TV vets' startup targets Chinese market

Martin Pompadur, Larry Namer found prod'n, distrib'n firm

Two TV industry veterans, former News Corp. exec Martin Pompadur and E! co-founder Larry Namer, are taking on the tough Chinese market with content customized for 3,000-odd local and regional stations serving1.3 billion viewers.

Along with Chinese business consultant Jean Zhang, Pompadur and Namer are set to unveil a production, acquisition and distribution venture called Metan -- a play on "beautiful sky" in Mandarin -- to disseminate entertainment content throughout China. The idea is to produce cost-effective pop-culture newsmagazines and become the syndicator of choice for Hollywood suppliers seeking a local distributor.

The privately held start-up, based in Encino and secondarily in Beijing, soon will have 60 employees, mostly Chinese, who will be responsible for the shows' content. A Shanghai office is envisioned by year's end. The start-up is getting off the ground with several million dollars from the founders' pocketbooks. (Its China-based offshoots will draw local investors.)

Metan's first project is the 15-minute daily celebrity newsmag "Hollywood Today," which Namer said will be more like "Entertainment Tonight" than "TMZ" because Chinese audiences are not into "the dirt about celebs," but rather are intrigued by "fundamental questions" about Tinseltown. (Namer has considerable experience in China, having trained local TV executives on behalf of Shanghai Media Group.)

The show will feature two anchors reporting from Metan's Beijing studio and Mandarin-speaking field reporters in the U.S. Footage will be cobbled together from the Hollywood majors.

Other newsmags in the works include "Music News," "World Film News" and "World Sports Report," all to be made available by early 2010. Pompadur said deals with local stations in China will be classic barter arrangements, whereby Metan keeps and sells several minutes of advertisements to multinational clients.

"We'll be offering Chinese stations the opportunity to expand their revenue by making this connection to Western brands," said Namer, who, years ago, got the U.S. soap "Santa Barbara" launched in Russia.

What makes Metan's proposition viable, Namer added, is not only the trio's expertise but also their contacts in the region, including top-level relationships with China Central Television and China's State Administration of Radio, Film & Television. (A Metan news release includes glowing quotes from several top Chinese officials.)

Namer will be the company's managing partner responsible for day-to-day activities; Pompadur will be the managing partner focused on business development and strategic relationships. Zhang is in charge of China operations and will report to Namer.

The company, whose full name is the Metan Development Group, will be, he added, a conduit for Western brand managers to target Chinese consumers, geographically and demographically. Beyond the nonfiction fare Metan will put together, there will be a lot of U.S. programming, especially ad-friendly daytime soaps, that has not seen the light of day in that territory.

In a second phase, Metan plans to launch a live-event division and present Western music, dance and stage acts to the Chinese audience.

Pompadur and Namer have extensive experience in the U.S. and abroad.

Pompadur began his career at ABC in 1960, holding posts including general manager of the TV network. He joined News Corp. as executive vp Eastern and Central Europe and became a member of the firm's executive management committee in 1998. Two years later, he was appointed chairman of News Corp. Europe.

In the fall, Pompadur stepped down as a full-time News Corp. employee to become an adviser, allowing him to pursue myriad interests around the world.

Having begun his career during the early 1970s at Manhattan Cable and then Valley Cable in Los Angeles, Namer co-founded E! and later started several companies in the U.S. and overseas. Among those were Comspan, which introduced American shows to the former Soviet Union, and Steeplechase Media, which served as a consultant to Microsoft for interactive applications.

Zhang founded Ameri–Link, a consulting firm specializing in promoting cooperation among government officials and corporate executives in the U.S. and China. Previously, she worked for several Silicon Valley companies as a financial analyst.