Exec puts her brand on NBC Universal

Khanna hopes Sparrowhawk takes int'l flight

SINGAPORE — Roma Khanna hit the ground running this summer when she joined NBC Universal from Canada’s Chum TV, where she was co-head.

Her aim? A branded approach to international TV as NBC-U integrates $350 million acquisition Sparrowhawk Media.

“It’s all about brand value,” she says.

Brands are what she says make channels stand out from the fast-multiplying crowd of nets around the world. That, in turn, helps viewers and advertisers navigate in a fragmenting sector.

She hopes staffers at the two companies will rally around the approach. “I can work with the team, build a new global network, one that is built to scale, built aggressively and is one that understands brands,” she says.

She describes U’s Sci Fi Channel as “not a TV station, but a brand that people are connecting with, like ‘Battlestar Galactica’ or ‘Heroes.’ ”

Warming to her theme, Khanna says the branding approach also will work for mobisodes — made-for-mobile content on wireless platforms.

Khanna describes her new role as wearing two hats. First is prexy of global networks, which comprises NBC’s pay TV nets outside the U.S., such as the Sci-Fi Channel and 13th Street, and now includes Sparrowhawk’s (non-U.S.) Hallmark Channels, Movies 24 and Diva TV.

Her other role is as head of digital initiatives, which she says is something new to international.

First task is expanding NBC U into a global operation.

Khanna recalls that NBC prexy Jeff Zucker set a target of 50 international channels in operation within three years. Thanks to Sparrowhawk and new launches, the group will be very close to its target by the end of 2007. The Sci Fi Channel is due to bow in Japan in spring.

“We’re asking, ‘Where do we not have channels?’ ” Khanna says. “Priorities are Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, Russia and Germany. Asia will be a particularly aggressive focus.”

Khanna rejects criticism that NBC U’s nets lack brand strength and visibility compared with, say, the Disney Channel, Time Warner’s HBO or Sony’s AXN.

“Sci Fi and 13th Street are consistently in the top 10 in Latin America and Europe,” she says. “The Sci Fi and Universal channels really have the kind of content that works for Asia.”

She admits the Universal Channel is Hollywood-centric, but doesn’t see that as a weakness. “The value it offers is movies and drama from Hollywood, and there is a real appetite for that.”

She also points to the Sci Fi Channels as good examples of nets that combine network and local content.

Khanna argues that localization is a strength of the NBC U outfit, and points to the large numbers of people on the ground in Germany, Spain and Italy. “(Content) doesn’t have to be in English either,” she says.

New hires will further amp localization.

Company has brought in former Disney exec Raymund Miranda to head the channels group from Singapore and make use of Sparrowhawk’s foothold in the Asia Pacific region. Angela Bromstad was shifted to London to become prexy of international TV production, doing a localization job in TV akin to what NBC U Intl. prexy Peter Smith is doing for movies.

Khanna emphasizes a “holistic approach” in the nascent digital space.

“Catch-up TV is really working on video-on-demand,” she says while also revealing that “a full-play, ad-supported model for VOD is becoming a big priority for us now.”

Khanna had to cancel a trip to the recent Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Assn. of Asia convention in Hong Kong to complete the legal formalities for Sparrowhawk. But she is likely to return soon.

“We are looking to Asia first for what is happening in mobile. (People tend to think of) limitations today that have to do with smallscreen size and battery life. But in Korea, (millions of) people are consuming content on mobile. In India, many people’s first experience of the Internet will be over a phone, not the computer.”

“We need to expand both as a broadcaster and as a content company.”

A brand new company, in other words.

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