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E! looks east for growth

Europe, Asia are next frontiers for spinoff channels

HONG KONG — Since going international three years ago, E! Networks has garnered 30 million subs overseas to add to its 85 million in the U.S.

About 40% of those international subs are from Europe — the U.K., Italy, France and Germany — with the remaining split between Latin America and Asia.

“We see huge growth in Asia,” says Kevin MacLellan, senior veep of E! Intl. Network.

Christine Fellowes, managing director in Asia, adds the region will fairly quickly make up more than 50% of the international subs.

At the start of its expansion, the network gravitated toward Europe because it had already been built up through program licensing sales. In Asia, however, program sales were limited. In addition, digital rollout in Asia was slower than Europe, Fellowes says.

To help boost its presence in the continent, E! Networks hired Fellowes in Asia two years ago. She is charged with getting E!’s programs out to all markets, making affiliate deals and getting carriage for Asia channels.

E! Intl. Network has one feed for Asia and another for Europe.

In Asia, sexy glamour sells, MacLellan says. Asians want to see Nicole Kidman glammed up as opposed to the Europeans who want the gritty aspects of stars’ lives.

The channel is offered on basic cable in Indonesia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

“Performances on those has been really phenomenal,” Fellowes says.

In Indonesia in particular, it’s one of the top five channels on basic service, which has 60 channels, and is the No. 1 channel for femmes 15 and older, she says.

The channel also is carried in Singapore and Papua New Guinea.

The key markets are Japan, South Korea, China and India, with Australia a close runner- up. The first four will be the future of E!’s business in Asia, MacLellan says.

“The opportunity in Asia is digital because most analog capacity is full,” Fellowes says.

The network has a four-phase rollout plan for the region: launch, growth, localization, then establishing local partners to maximize business, MacLellan says.

Now in its launch phase, he is looking to expand Fellowes’ office in Hong Kong. There are three people here and one in Singapore with a substantial support team based in Los Angeles.

So far, there has been substantial revenue for licensing deals, MacLellan says. An example is Indonesia where terrestrial networks are asking for blocks of programs. In October, E! Networks inked a deal to debut the Style Network Indonesia early in 2005 on Kablevision’s new digital platform.

“Indonesia from a licensing point of view has become a big market,” Fellowes says. “We’re moving into growth phase fast.”

At the recent Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Assn. of Asia confab here, E! made two distribution announcements.

In India, the network joined with the Times of India to create programming blocks for Zoom Television. The branded blocks will include “The E! True Hollywood Story” and “E! News Live.”

Programming that’s popular on the Asia feed includes “Wild On,” which has three hosts clad in bikinis who find the hottest party sports in the world, and “Dr. 90210,” a reality plastic surgery series.

The growth phase includes extending carriage. There aren’t too many markets to go, Fellowes says. The next opportunities are in Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines.

For localization, the network hopes to produce shows featuring homegrown celebrities. This also will help in some markets where local channels have foreign content caps, typically set at 50%.

For accessibility, shows will have a combination of dubbing and subtitles, with the stipulation that stars never get dubbed.

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