HONG KONG – Asian broadcasters are increasingly looking to their neighbors to fill their vast programming needs rather than allow Western fare to dominate the region.

“We’re looking at all kinds of Asian programming because they’re more suitable for Hong Kong audiences, for Hong Kong tastes,” Juliana Wong, senior programming officer for the acquisitions division at Wharf Cable Ltd., said at the third annual Mip Asia in Hong Kong. “Of course, we’re still doing some deals with British and American companies, but our interests are in Asia.”

Wharf Cable isn’t the only Asian company looking East. HVD Entertainment of Malaysia announced a deal Thursday to provide more than 200 hours of programming, mainly Malaysian dramas, to Taiwan’s Golden Slogan Entertainment, which operates the 24-hour Wah Hah TV station. It’s the first such deal for Malaysia in Taiwan.

MTV Filipino style

MTV may be the ultimate American cultural export. But when Singapore terrestrial channel Prime 12 sought the music channel’s programming Thursday, it was MTV product made in the Philippines and Thailand. Prime 12 signed a deal for a total of 26 episodes of MTV’s “Made in the Philippines” and “Made in Thailand.”

Even in Korea, which bans most Japanese cultural imports, 70% of animation comes from Japan, according to Keicy Kang of Seoul-based Keicy & Associates MultiCommunication, which is scouting for new animation.

“This market is dedicated to intra-Asian trade, particularly among Southeast Asian countries,” said Makito Sugiyama of Japan’s Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS), which provides some of that animation programming to Korea.

To be sure, U.S. and Europeans were still sizable players among the 364 exhibitors this year, accounting for more than 40% in attendance.

Cable on the rise

Yet Asia is clearly coming into its own. Cable and satellite operators are multiplying in the region, with so many channels now on offer that providers can’t supply enough programming.

And unlike a decade or two ago, more Asian countries are boosting their own production capability or buying Asian programs that reflect the new Asia.

“I’m concerned about the huge influx of foreign product into Asia,” said Malaysian Firdaus Kharas of UTV Intl., a multinational production house. “Soap operas are a prime example. ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ and ‘Dallas’ dominated Asia.”

His concern isn’t entirely disinterested. His company is offering Asia’s first English-language one-hour soap opera, “City of the Rich,” which Kharas calls an Asian version of “Dallas.” “It shows Asia as it currently exists. It’s a rags-to-riches story. It parallels the rise of Asia.”

Driving home the point

So intent was Malaysia to drive home its pan-Asian message that the country’s minister of information was on hand. Dato Mohamed Rahmet said the Malaysian deal with Taiwan’s Golden Slogan “shows there’s growing demand for our own programming.”

That’s in large part due to domestic demand for locally made products given the government’s goal of achieving an 80% share for local product in Malaysia by 2000. Currently, foreign product accounts for between 50% and 60%, according to the minister.

“This does not mean foreign programs can’t come in. They can as long as they’re dubbed … and don’t contain violence, horror, sex and counter-culture,” the minister said. But he added that “since the supply is not sufficient for now, we’re still allowing outside programming that exceeds what we hope for in the future.”

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