MGM Gold mixes it up

Asian movie channel to add new and non-MGM pix

HONG KONG — Less than a year after its launch, the MGM Gold movie network has changed direction and decided to expand its offerings beyond the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists film library.

The network will also begin offering more current films beginning this month.

“Species” will debut the “1st Run” offerings, to be followed by such other MGM films as “Speechless” and “Get Shorty,” which have not yet been seen on cable in Asia.

MGM and its joint-venture partner, Encore Media Group, launched the 24-hour network in Asia last November. At the time, it was promoted as a “movie classics” channel that would tap into the MGM/UA mother lode exclusively.

The changes were announced just weeks after the arrival in Hong Kong of the network’s first president and general manager, Steve Smith. Before venturing into Asia, Smith had spent 17 years with HBO, the last six in Central Europe with HBO Hungary.

Smith told Daily Variety that he plans to add 30%-40% non-MGM films to the mix. In addition, more action films will join the likes of Elvis Presley’s “Clambake” and John Wayne’s “Red River,” already in the 4,000-title library.

“We’ve got to freshen things up, bring in some new stuff,” he said, while declining to reveal where the actioners would be sourced.

Smith said the network is concerned about its skew toward 35-plus viewers when the marketing people are aiming at a 25-plus crowd. Smith, however, said he isn’t convinced that attracting an older audience is such a bad thing.

“This is an extremely competitive part of the world,” he said. “We have to get better, listen to our viewers. I learned from Hungary that when you come in with preconceived ideas, you are destined to fail.”

Smith began his career with HBO in 1980 in New York. In addition to his role as managing director of the movie channel in Hungary, he also was general manager of programming for Kabelkom, a combined MSO and programming company jointly owned by Time Warner and United Intl. Holdings (UIH). He also managed Central European Uplink, a digital uplink company.

Smith was hired by then-president of MGM/UA Telecommunications Group Gary Marenzi, who in June was named president of Paramount Television Intl. Smith said he did not feel that Marenzi’s departure would affect his position.

In addition to Smith, other appointments include Vicki Ho, chief financial officer; Lanny Albina Huang, vice president of programming; Mike Richter, vice president of marketing; Jean Candiotte, creative director; Susan Ho, vice president of ad sales; and Julia Pincus, director of business affairs.

In his first stint in Asia, Smith acknowledged that it will take him some time to learn the region.

The network is available 24 hours a day in Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines, and four hours a day in Hong Kong. There are just under 1.5 million subscribers.

Richter said the network, which usually appears on basic-level cable, is now in negotiations with operators in Thailand, India and China and hopes to be available in those countries by the end of the year. In China, however, it would be available only in hotels.

In addition to the films, MGM Gold also has access to 2,500 hours of television programming and is currently airing “thirtysomething” and “In the Heat of the Night.”

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