Cabler works Asian angle

ImaginAsian hopes for August launch

Cable subscribers fed up with paying as much as $15 a month for a niche network featuring programs in Asian languages may get some relief later this year.

Michael Hong, a New York-based entrepreneur, has put together ImaginAsian, a proposed nationally distributed cable network that operators would pick up as part of a digital tier, which would cost subscribers no more than the cost of their digital boxes.

ImaginAsian’s goal is to launch in August, although it hasn’t yet signed up any cable operators. But the network has engineered deals for big volumes of product with such active Asian TV companies as China Movie Channel (CCTV 6), Japan’s TV Asahi, Vietnam Media Corp., South Korea’s Game TV (an online gambling operation), Asian News Intl. and India’s Balaji Telefilms.

Neil Srivatsa, senior VP of affiliate sales for ImaginAsian, said most of the programming, including movies, will run in the original language with English subtitles. But some of the primetime shows will feature an English-speaking host who’ll do wraparounds produced at the network’s facilities in Manhattan, “like TBS’ ‘Dinner and a Movie,’ ” as Srivatsa put it.

The network also plans to produce a couple of shows inhouse at the Manhattan studio: a talent show, which Srivatsa called a cross between “Gong Show” and “American Idol,” and a musicvideo show.

As another way to reach its target aud, Hong said the network has bought a movie house in Manhattan that will screen Asian and Asian-American movies. The theater also will stage live performances and concerts.

Srivatsa said ImaginAsian will be free to cable operators for the first couple of years, hoping the deal will get the network cleared in the six main U.S. cities that are home to the largest numbers of Asian-Americans: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington.

The network’s goal is to launch with about 5 million homes, Srivatsa said. His business plan calls for the network to edge into the black by the end of the second year, by which time ImaginAsian will have spent less than $10 million on programming, marketing and distribution.

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