Casbaa confab ends upbeat

Cable, sat operators try to appeal to diverse markets

HONG KONG — “What’s up next?” was the theme of this year’s Cable and Satellite Broadcasters Assn. of Asia Convention (Oct. 27-31), and the answers were often broad and far-reaching.

Cable and satellite TV operators are trying to find new ways to appeal to diverse markets across the region and within a single country; attract advertisers; battle piracy; and cash in on ever-growing markets.

Over three days of panels, more than 400 delegates packed into the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts and the Grand Hyatt to hear CEOs and representatives of cable and satellite TV companies, advertisers and analysts speak onstage, via satellite and on tape.

Cable and satellite TV households in the Asia Pacific region reached 188 million last year, accounting for 33% of the 570 million TV households. Asia’s estimated total pay TV revenue last year was $13 billion, projected top grow to $31 billion in 2010.

But big numbers for the China market quoted by CCTV’s VP Zhang Changming — as promising as they sounded — didn’t resonate as expected with many attendees both on and off the stage, even though China’s pay TV market is expected to reach $2 billion by 2005 and advertising for TV is expected to reach $3.5 billion.

“There are huge regulatory barriers that prevent access to that $5.5 billion,” panelist Charles Lei, general manager of channel operations for Walt Disney Television (Intl.) Asia Pacific said.

Zhang and Ma Ju, deputy director of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television’s technical department, welcomed foreign expertise and content to help China’s pay TV market grow, but they were greeted with a sense of weariness.

“Foreigners don’t need a buying-and-selling relationship,” opined panelist Marcia Ellis, a senior associate with law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison. “They’re interested in equity investment. Foreigners have to have some possibility of joining together with China before they will come in.”

Advertising was also a big topic of discussion, as representatives from media companies and advertisers debated how best to get advertising across multichannel platforms.

Ken Roman, former chairman and chief executive officer of Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide, spoke via satellite from New York and suggested delegates take on products that would never fly on terrestrial broadcasters. Another keynote speaker, Martin Sorrell, group chief executive of WPP Group, reiterated — as did many others throughout the sessions — that content was key.

Panels also covered the way technology is changing the industry, how the U.S. and European cable and satellite industries compare with Asia’s and the issues faced specifically by satellite operators.

On the whole, the tone of the convention remained upbeat. On the sidelines of the convention, Todd Miller, managing director of AXN, summed up the attitude of many: “The paid business in Asia is only 10 years young.”