With few rivals, Asia open to VOD

Singapore to serve as Intertainer beachhead

SYDNEY — If Greg Coote and his colleagues at Intertainer Asia are right, folks in that region will embrace digitally delivered video-on-demand faster than those services are catching on in the U.S.

Using Intertainer Inc.’s U.S. broadband network VOD technology, Intertainer Asia plans to launch in Singapore in late May, followed by rollouts in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

The U.S. will be one of the slowest markets to get hooked on VOD because of the proliferation of systems delivering movies and other entertainment, including direct-to-home satellite TV, cable and TiVo/Replay types of boxes, says Coote, L.A.-based chairman of Intertainer Asia and joint head of Coote/Hayes Prods.

By contrast, the infrastructure in most Asian markets is underdeveloped, notes Coote, who expects VOD, for lack of competition, to have a firm foothold in the region within three years, depending how quickly broadband networks are built in each territory.

Intertainer Asia is an alliance of Intertainer Inc., Singapore-based hotel and property developer YTC Corp., Coote/Hayes and Australia’s Macquarie Bank. Its system will offer 500 hours of programming: a mix of U.S. and Chinese movies, TV shows, docus, games and musicvideos, as well as shopping-on-demand.

Coote says he’s having “mature conversations” with Warner Bros., Columbia, Universal, DreamWorks and Disney to license their product, and he’s confident of closing deals within a few weeks with most of the majors except Fox, which he expects will launch its own VOD service.

One U.S. studio rep confirms negotiations are well advanced, and he believes they’ll be concluded in time for the intro of Intertainer’s service on Singapore telco SingTel’s Magix net. He says revenue will be split between the studio and Intertainer Asia — similar to the way rev sharing works for homevideo — and there will be graduated minimum payments, with differing levels for new and library films and telepics.

The exec, who asked not be identified, sees great potential for VOD in Asia, noting there’s only one on-demand service in the region, on Hong Kong Telecom’s network. HKT is restructuring after being taken over by Pacific Century CyberWorks and isn’t renewing deals with program suppliers at the moment, he adds. Intertainer Asia has signed a memorandum of understanding with HKT.

Aiming for 50% of the content to be Chinese lingo, Coote says license deals are being negotiated with major players in the region including Golden Harvest, Media Asia, Shaw Bros. and the Media Corp. of Singapore.

Vet TV distrib Tony Manton, who signed on as Intertainer’s Singapore-based senior VP a month ago, is working to source product from a raft of suppliers such as the BBC, Australia’s Village Roadshow and Southern Star, and Television New Zealand. “We have agreed terms with quite a few companies,” Manton says.

The Singapore service initially will be a trial to gauge what people are willing to pay for, before a full commercial service is rolled out later this year. Coote is convinced the ability to time-shift TV programs will be one of its killer apps.

He notes the buy rate for movies on Intertainer’s VOD service in Cincinnati, Ohio, is three to four times greater than for the same titles available on pay-per-view in that market, because VOD allows viewers to access movies any time they want.

Intertainer Asia has the rights to deploy Intertainer’s technology in 15 markets including China (but not Japan or India, where Sony is the licensee). Coote hints Australia’s dominant pay TV platform Foxtel will be its partner Down Under; in New Zealand, it’s talking to Telecom NZ.