First 24-hour anime channel to launch outside Japan

HONG KONG — Sony Corp.’s international television arm is expanding, despite the 20,000 job cuts announced by the Japanese giant.

In January, Sony Pictures Television Intl.’s Asian office will bring the first 24-hour anime channel to viewers outside Japan, in hopes of repeating the success of its five-year-old Animax Japan.

The popularity of the genre has grown in recent years, thanks to successes like “Pokemon.” Broadcast from SPTI’s Asian base in Singapore, Animax Asia will be split into feeds for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

“There’s the language factor, but also we want to customize to viewers’ lifestyles,” says Todd Miller, senior VP of SPTI’s international networks, Asia, and managing director of Sony’s action and adventure channel AXN Asia.

“We can program for after school, for kids, and in Hong Kong there’s a strong tradition of late-night viewing among adults.”

The anime channel means that AXN Asia — which carries a mix of reality and adventure sports, movies, series and anime — will eventually reduce its anime content from its current two hours a day.

When SPTI launched AXN in the region six years ago, the channel was largely known for airing movies starring top actors when they were still relatively unknown. It has since evolved into a must-have by carrying up-to-date U.S. movies and TV series.

It matters little to Miller that terrestrial channels in some Asian markets carry the latest season of a show slightly ahead of AXN.

“In Hong Kong, if you miss one episode on terrestrial, you can turn to cable,” he says. “We thrive on reruns because it allows us to better fit in with today’s lifestyle. We don’t have first-run rights for shows like ‘Alias’ but that means we don’t have to do the heavy lifting for promotions. Instead, we promote shows like ‘The Shield,’ which are largely unfamiliar.”

When it comes to movies, AXN receives first pick among Sony’s Columbia crop. It also helps that Columbia has an Asian production arm that has co-produced titles including “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Double Vision.”

AXN will also have the pay TV premiere of “Warriors of Heaven and Earth,” the He Ping-helmed film that is China’s foreign film Oscar submission.

AXN Asia reaches 30 million homes 24/7 and is broken into feeds for Southeast Asia, India and Taiwan. Like other channels, it has an eye on greater access to the China market.

For now however, Miller says the channel must be content with the programming blocks on the mainland, which reaches 40 million homes.

There is also talk of breaking out a separate feed for East Asia, catering to areas that aren’t in the same time zone as most of the market.

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