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Asia biz good despite drawbacks

Earnings may slip next year

HONG KONG — Bizzers received a yin and yang portrait of the Asian media landscape Monday at the annual Asia Media Summit in Hong Kong.

Media execs were told that prospects for growth are spectacular and innovation is widespread. But they were warned to be aware of the risks unique to the area, the fast pace of change and the need to take a longer-term approach than they might be used to in the West.

The next three years were portrayed as a period of investment for content and infrastructure. Earnings may even slip next year as negative growth in the Japanese TV sector weighs on overall business. However, emerging territories are likely to present the most consistent growth.

“Asia is growing, but it is not a slam dunk,” Turner’s Asia Pacific prexy and managing director Steve Marcopoto said. “The acceleration of talent costs is higher than imaginable.”

“Growth in India is going to be spectacular. It can be multiple times bigger than what it is now,” Star Group CEO Paul Aiello said.

Sy Lau, exec VP of leading Chinese Internet group Tencent, explained that this year’s natural disasters and sociopolitical events had propelled the conversion of Chinese Internet players into media and entertainment giants.

Having claimed that 95% of Chinese netizens subscribe to Tencent’s QQ messaging service, Lau said Tencent delivered tens of millions of instant messages within 10 seconds of Chinese athletes winning gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

It also negotiated exclusive media access to many of country’s winning sports stars.

In response to May’s Sichuan quake, it built an earthquake microsite within 15 minutes of the disaster, allowed users to create personalized blessing icons and created an online auction site allowing users to raise quake relief funds.

Disney’s Greater China managing director Stanley Cheung said that the Mouse House chose to treat China as a unique territory and put all its businesses under a single operation. “We are a 360-degree consumer company in China,” he said.

However, speaker after speaker pointed to lack of transparency in China concerning media measurement. “There needs to be a climate of trust,” Microsoft’s regional general manager Erik Johnson said. “We need to be able to trust the data.”

Speakers suggested that the post-Olympic media market may slow. “Online and mobile will be fine, but traditional media, TV especially, may have a six- to nine-month hangover,” one said.

The Indian TV scene, and the mass market, Hindi-language general entertainment channels came in for sustained scrutiny.

Punit Goenka of Zee Entertainment Enterprises said that the new channels are all still using old formulas.

He predicted a change in the media hierarchy from the current one, in which Bollywood leads Hindi TV and music, to one in which local languages lead the new media order.

Sameer Nair, CEO of NDTV Imagine, said that urbanization would be the dominant force shaping Indian media.

“By 2020, two-thirds of the urban population will be under 40, and they will have a trillion dollars a year of disposable income,” he said.

Indrani Mukerjea, CEO of INX Media, who has launched three channels in nine months and is planning a further 18, including at least one more general entertainment channel, savaged established thinking about Indian TV.

She argued that it was possible to build audiences steadily and incrementally while taking a low-risk, low-cost approach. She forecasted that Indian TV would normalize into a situation where every timeslot is fought over by many channels.

Alex Harvey, who runs a $22 billion Asia media portfolio for Australia’s Macquarie Capital Advisers, said that the last year’s changed world economic outlook had a mixed effect on Asian media prices.

“Listed company valuations have dropped substantially, but for unlisted companies expectations have not changed much,” he said. “There’s still a lot of money at the auction. Asia has lots of development and growth to come.”

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