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TNT, Toon webs bow in Asia

Turner Broadcasting is extending the reach of its TNT and Cartoon Networks to the Asia Pacific region, launching them as a 24-hour service on the “hot” Apstar 2 bird at year’s end.

“This launch effectively completes the globalization of these two brand names ,” Robert Ross, VP Turner Intl. Development, told a press conference Wednesday at the National Assn. of Television Program Executives.

The networks, which already are in the U.S., and recently launched in Latin America and Europe, will be headquartered for the Asian feed in Hong Kong. It will air in a multilingual format, including Mandarin and Thai as well as English. The Cartoon Network will show 14 hours of animation followed by TNT showing 10 hours of Hollywood films. The networks will be supported by advertising revenues and distribution fees and delivered initially by the already operative Apstar 1 bird.

Break even for the Asian service should come “within a three-to-five-year window,” said Ross.

The announcement by Turner suggests that competition to Rupert Murdoch’s Star TV cluster of five channels — which are beamed from Tokyo to Saudi Arabia and reach an estimated 42 million households — is starting to heat up in Asia.

Ross said the monopolistic situation that Star TV has enjoyed in Asia up until now is “anomalous. That market will now be characterized by competition.”

Turner’s two programming services form part of an informal grouping of rival programmers — variously known as the Gang of Seven — which are distributed mainly via the Palapa and Superbird satellites. The programmers include HBO Asia , ESPN, Discovery, Australia’s ABC, Hong Kong’s TVB and CNN, as well as the TNT/Cartoon duo.

The seven programmers collectively negotiated with Apstar 1 and 2 in order to conclude deals for transponders. Ross said other collaborative efforts, including ad sales, marketing and promotion, may be undertaken by these programmers.

Ross would not be drawn on precisely when the company plans to encrypt the TNT movie service — something that Star plans to do with its movie channels within the next six months. Ross said that Turner, which controls virtually all the programming on its services, will “march to its own drum” in determining timing for encryption and dealmaking with various governmental agencies and cablers in the Far East.

In a separate development Turner Broadcasting has completed an agreement with Southern Star Group Ltd. by which distribution rights to Hanna Barbera product in the Asia Pacific and South Africa previously granted to Southern Star revert to TBS.

“We are delighted that we will have access to such high-quality animation as TNT and Cartoon Network start-ups in Asia,” said Ross Portugeis, exec VP/Turner Entertainment Networks Intl.

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