HBO Asia growing

Cabler not worried about economic blues

HONG KONG — HBO Asia is moving ahead with expansion plans even as its regional affiliates beg for mercy during this period of economic turmoil.

“There’s still huge potential in Asia,” said Dan Marturano, HBO Asia’s senior vice president, sales and marketing.

Marturano and managing director Dan Murrell were announcing they had approval from the Chinese government to distribute the Cinemax movie channel at hotels and foreign housing compounds. HBO is already available on the same limited basis in China.

HBO has 3.2 million paying customers in 20 Asian countries, while Cinemax has 2 million subscribers in eight countries.

Finding and keeping subscribers hasn’t been the company’s problem. Murrell said that in ailing Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, subscriptions “are still growing and have been for six months.” Murrell predicted that growth may slow “but we are not expecting to lose customers.”

Distributors, on the other hand, are not quite as buoyant. They are, as usual, being asked to pay for the product in U.S. dollars at a time of unprecedented depreciation of local currencies. “Our biggest challenge is keeping our affiliates solvent,” Murrell told Daily Variety.

HBO Asia is available as a premium service on Hong Kong’s Wharf Cable, and the network is hoping to get the operator to plug Cinemax into its lineup, perhaps as a basic channel. That move would help bolster Wharf in its competition with the new video on demand system that Hongkong Telecom is launching this month.

Of course, the real target for growth is the 1.3 billion people in China and the nearly 1 billion in India.

Marturano said the goal is to get onto China’s rapidly developing cable systems, which can best be accomplished by following the rules and working with government officials. “It will take a number of years,” Marturano acknowledged.

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