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In a sign that the Asian cable and satellite business is recovering from the two-year regional economic crisis, HBO Asia is spinning off its first new channel in three years.

Dubbed HBO2 and drawn from the satcaster’s extensive library, the service has just had a “soft” launch in Taiwan and the intention is to roll out that format in other Asian territories in the course of the next year.

“It’s Asia’s first-ever programmed multiplex channel,” James Marturano, senior VP, sales and marketing, told Daily Variety after HBO2 was unveiled Wednesday in Taipei, drawing the distinction between that and other multiplexed channels which simply schedule programs from a sister service at different times.

Different look

To differentiate itself from the “mother” channel, the sibling has a different on-air look and complementary programming designed to give consumers more choices, he added.

HBO Asia picked Taiwan as the first market because it’s a big, mature and heavily cabled territory with a penetration rate of more than 80%.

Another motive, Marturano notes, is a desire to help stimulate the growth of pay tiers in Taiwan, where basic cable predominates and subscriber rates are low and susceptible to price wars between operators.

Initially HBO2 will be available in cable systems that are capable of offering premium services (about 10% of the total, the exec estimates) and on Pacific Digital Media’s new direct-to-home satellite platform.

PDM, which acts as HBO’s exclusive distrib in Taiwan, launched the sat service Nov. 15.

More channels planned

Marturano aims to introduce similar channels in markets that have premium services, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Owned jointly by Time Warner Entertainment, Paramount, Sony and Universal, the Singapore-based company’s existing two channels enjoyed steady growth this year. HBO itself will end the year with about 3.5 million subscribers in 21 territories (up from 3.2 million last December), Marturano said.

Sister service Cinemax (which debuted in November 1996) will hit near 2.5 million subs in 13 markets by year’s end (compared with 2.1 million 12 months ago).

The exec aims to boost Cinemax’s distribution to a level that will be close to HBO’s coverage within a year.