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Cable Show 2011: Bala Eyes Zee Entertainment, Veria TV Expansion

Suresh Bala Iyer has big plans for South Asian and wellness programming in the U.S.

Based in New York, Bala, who has been serving as CEO of Asia TV USA Ltd. over the past couple of months, is charged with boosting the profile and presence of Zee Entertainment Enterprises' American networks and U.S. wellness/fitness service Veria TV.

Bala had spent the past five years as CEO of Zoom Entertainment Network, the entertainment and lifestyle channel in Mumbai, which he re-launched and repositioned as the "Bollywood Channel," a move that reaped a quadrupling of revenues. He also developed and led Zoom's new media initiatives

In the U.S., Zee Entertainment already caters to the South Asian audience via such channels as Zee TV (entertainment), Zee Cinema (Bollywood films), Ten Cricket (sports), and Alpha ETC Punjabi (regional language).

But Bala foresees greater opportunities with the group, whose Stateside population has doubled every decade since 1980. Today, their ranks stand at some 4 million, with 16 markets -- headed by the New York tri-state area, West Coast, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Houston --that are home to 83%-84% of that populace.

Bala and Zee are working on a number of content gambits, including a news/business linear network and video-on-demand content touching music, Bollywood and a number of regional language services.

"A few years back, [South Asian consumers] were happy to get any content. Now, they are like everybody else, they want more. We're looking to take advantage of those opportunities. This is still an under-penetrated category," said Bala, who is scheduled to make a presentation during the B&C/Multichannel News "Multicultural TV Breakfast Panel" on June 14 at Cable Show 2011

He maintains that cable operators, which have been restrained by bandwidth and other priorities, have been open to the company's new strategies.

"They recognize this is a growing and extremely valuable customer base, not only for video, but for bundled services. "Cable has been very receptive, knowing these households represent revenue opportunities of $160 to $180 per month," said Bala.

To that end, he said some deals are already in place and testing has begun, with official rollouts expected come fall. Bala declined to identify the parties or the content.

As to Veria TV, the wellness lifestyle channel which counts Verizon FiOS, Frontier Communications and Dish Network as affiliates (the DBS provider just launched the HD version of the network), Bala believes there is plenty of upside in what some estimate is a $170 billion industry -- in its various forms.

"This is a very fragmented arena, with plenty of silos out there catering to organic foods, gyms and spas," he said. "There is obviously room for more than one player, but winning in the short term means establishing the brand. And building that brand is something we're committing to for the long haul."

Looking ahead to fall, Bala says Veria TV will benefit from a re-branding effort and plans to make content available to different platforms.

Currently, the network presents 28 distinct series in food and fitness, lifestyle and travel, and reality and documentary genres.