In Asia, It’s Battle Of The Broadbands

When MTV split acrimoniously from the Star TV network last May, the U.S. musicvideo giant was left without a home in Asia.

Within weeks, Star set up its own version of MTV, confusingly calling it Channel V. Since then, Channel V has reinvented its strategy, and heavily localized programming (more than 85%), with dramatic results around the region – including a 120% audience increase in Taiwan since the days of MTV.

But Channel V no longer has Asia to itself.

In the next six weeks, the re-established MTV Asia will launch two channels from its new base in Singapore.

And a new, seemingly bizarre music channel – Karaoke TV (KTV) – will start broadcasting 24 hours a day karaoke greats from PanamSat 2, with a specifically Asian audience in mind. In response, Channel V has announced plans for five separate music television channels when AsiaSat-2 launches at the end of this year.

“We have been off the air longer than we would have liked,” admitted Bill Roedy, president of MTV Intl.

MTV had taken out a transponder on the China-owned Apstar-2 satellite. But it exploded on launch last month. “Yes, it was a disappointment,” said Roedy. “But the importance of Apstar-2 is a little bit overstated. We’ve had a contingency plan from Day One. We’re on four other satellites with a pan-Asian reach, and we’re talking to even more. We may have been off the air, but we never left the region. Our plans have not been changed; we’re ready to go.”

MTV will launch two separate stations from Singapore, starting with the all-Chinese MTV Mandarin on April 15, and the English-language MTV Asia on May 3.

So far, MTV has concluded deals with state broadcaster Doordarshan in India, Video-land in Taiwan, and M-Net in Korea.

Roedy admits that Singapore and even Hong Kong are lower on the priority list than, say, Taiwan, Indonesia or India. It’s here that Channel V, which beams to 53 million homes in Asia as part of the Star TV network, has made its biggest in-roads – notching 6 million homes in Taiwan alone.

Channel V says its success is down to local programming – Roedy says it’s too early to talk about percentages.

“Both channels will be locally driven,” he says. “But if you look at what we’ve done with MTV Europe, you can see that we consistently run 85% local content there. We will succeed because we are music television. We taught Channel V how to run a music channel. Nobody does MTV like MTV. It’s the big network, the big picture.”

Don Atyeo, head of Channel V, disagrees.

“That’s nonsense. For this part of the world, we’re a much better network. They don’t bring anything to the party here anymore. You have to be more than a pretty brand name to survive in Asia. They’ll pay lip service to localization, of course, and it’s a buzzy word. But you have to do more than stick a VJ with an Indian face in front of a camera in New York to pass yourself off as an Asian network. I’d say they’ll go for 20%-30% local content, and that’s not enough.”

In January, a consortium of four international record companies – EMI, Sony, Warners and BMG – took a 50% stake in Channel V. “The fear was that we might be squeezed out of existence because MTV is a monopoly – especially in the U.S. where they get their leverage,” Atyeo adds. “With the record companies on board, we get the product at the same time. MTV can’t cut us out.”

Two services

Channel V also has two distinctly separate services at the moment: one largely Mandarin-language oriented, and the other aimed at India and the Middle East.

And Star currently sets its pan-Asian penetration figures at 53 million homes across 52 countries including 38.1 million in greater China and 12.2 million in India.

Extra space

Last week, Star even took out extra satellite space on the Palapa B2P satellite to create a new English-language channel, consisting of Channel V programming throughout the day aimed at Indonesia and the Philippines.

“We don’t pay lip service,” says Atyeo. “We’re moving a large part of our production base from Hong Kong to Taiwan, because that’s our absolute priority. If we get it right there, the rest will fall into line. We have 35 people in our Bombay office, not just a few guys with a camcorder. And it’s still not enough for us. We’re moving forward all the time.”

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