HBO birthday boost

Net toasts 10 years shaping pay TV in Asia

SINGAPORE — HBO Asia’s 10th anniversary is more than just a milestone for the network — it’s a benchmark for the local industry.

The premium channel launched into a region largely ignorant of terrestrial license fees, let alone pay TV.

“We really didn’t know what the challenges ahead would be, so apart from a business plan, it was a case of knocking on doors around the region and finding out what the operators wanted,” says James Marturano, executive VP of HBO Asia and managing director of the HBO South Asia operation.

Price challenge

Operators in India could not afford the channel’s asking price — forcing the creation of ad-supported HBO South Asia. This goes against the grain for the American paybox, known for its original programming such as “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City,” which auds watch commercial-free.

Brazil is the only other market to have the dual revenue stream. “Becoming advertising-supported is very much against what HBO stands for,” says Marturano, “but with subs at $3.50 per month, it was the only way to go.”

However, execs hope that will change as the market matures.

“I believe that by our 20th anniversary, HBO Asia’s services will be available throughout Asia as a commercial-free offering on a premium tier,” says president Dan Murrell. “Although the Asian premium pay television market has not developed as hoped, we have not abandoned our vision.

“In fact, we believe that Asian markets are now on the verge of embracing interactive digital cable. We intend to be a first mover, working with cable operators to enhance the value proposition offered its customers.”

The network continues to battle piracy and pro-premium tiering. But Sandie Lee, Singapore Cable Vision’s senior veep of programming, vouches for not only the movie genre’s popularity, second only to sports, but HBO’s importance as a driver of the medium as a whole.

And Murrell is keen to maintain the mantle of industry pioneer. “On the eve of our 10-year anniversary, I can confidently state that HBO Asia is well positioned to lead the Asian pay television industry into the next phase of growth.”

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