Singapore, Korea plug into new era

Disparity between markets makes identifying trends difficult

Convergence may have been a hot topic on many an agenda in Asia’s multichannel environment, but how it would manifest itself remained something of a mystery to most.

Widely tipped to take that leap of faith into multiplatform content was Singapore’s StarHub, long rumored to be producing an interactive show for its three platforms — cable TV, Internet and mobile phone. Company was propelled toward convergent reality thanks to 2002 merger of telco StarHub and Singapore Cable Vision, in a country that’s 99% cable-ready.

Although the rumored show never came to fruition, StarHub recently formed a dedicated content development team responsible for all cross- and multi-platform content deployment over cable TV, mobile and online led by Tham Loke Kheng as senior veep of marketing and content.

“Hubbing, the offering of content across multiple platforms, has always been our business strategy,” says Tham, who listed two examples. “First, we have ‘i.View’, a value-added service to our MaxOnline (broadband Internet) customers, which offers six international cable channels delivered on broadband. Second, StarHub is the official Singapore Mobile Service Partner of the Barclays English Premier League, enabling our 2G and 3G mobile users to access exclusive EPL related multimedia content on their handsets.”

Buena Vista Intl. Television Asia Pacific became the first U.S. studio to launch wireless content in Korea, one of Asia’s most technologically advanced and complex multichannel markets. Satellite digital media broadcasting (DMB) operator TU Media Corp. (a subsidiary of Korea’s largest mobile telecom operator, SK Telecom) will be able to stream more than 250 hours of programming, including BVITV’s “Desperate Housewives” and “Alias,” via its linear channel Blue.

“We are thrilled to be the first U.S. studio to be partnering with TU Media to deliver a raft of our most popular series to Korean viewers,” says Steve Macallister, BVITV-AP’s senior veep and managing director. “Korea, as one of the most tech-savvy countries in the world, is the perfect place to deliver our content via new innovative technologies,” he adds.

But the vast disparity between Asia’s developed and emerging markets makes it difficult to identify pan-regional trends in adoption of new technologies.

At Hong Kong-based Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific Inc., senior veep and general manager, Ian Carroll says, it is impossible to give a single overview of all multi-platforms in Asia, as the network operates a variety of services in different countries, each tailored to the business environment and opportunities of that market.

“For example, Australia is a natural fit in terms of rolling out iTV, because it has a highly developed digital platform infrastructure and a technologically savvy population, while some countries in Asia are months if not years behind this model,” Carroll says. “But our reach across all platforms in Asia, be it ‘Powerpuff Girls’ episodes via mobile phone or tailored news delivery via CNN Pipeline, is perfectly placed to attract new consumers to these new platforms.”

And in terms of interactivity, there is a still quite a gap between possibility and reality. “Interactive functions enabled by mobile are still at a relatively basic level,” says Carroll. “Opinion polling, voting and Q&As have become popular using SMS, but going forward, with a sophisticated video-enabled handset, audiences will be able to truly create and choose their own content. With developments in technology, real interactivity will increase in scale and participation and this will support the growth of our linear digital services.”

In Singapore, StarHub’s Tham concludes, We are certainly heading toward increased interactivity on our digital cable platform. Our customers using our digital boxes are (already) enjoying interactive applications such as Chat. While they are now sending their messages to our chatrooms via their mobile phones, we do not rule out the future introduction of an interactive digital set-top box that will allow them to send these messages via their remote controls.”

Last month, StarHub announced the launch of Smart TV. The DVR set-top box deployed for Smart TV is Singapore’s first two-way set-top box, and VOD services along with other applications such as TV SMS and Chat, are in the Smart TV pipeline, Tham says.