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Comcast Pulling Plug on AZN Television

Comcast is shutting down AZN Television, its distribution- and advertising-challenged cable network programmed for Asian Americans. The network will cease broadcasting April 9. Its staff of some 15 was notified Friday that they will lose their jobs at the network.

The channel, led by general manager Rod Shanks, never gained distribution beyond Comcast’s footprint of about 13.9 million homes and also had trouble securing advertising. That was despite efforts to build it into a viable niche network by Comcast, which acquired it from Liberty Media in 2004 and subsequently tweaked programming to be more advertiser-friendly.

The cable operator brought in a management-consulting firm several months ago to assess whether the network could be saved, ultimately deciding to pull the plug.

“AZN Television’s last day of broadcasting will be April 9, 2008,” Comcast said in a statement. “This difficult decision was made after considerable review of the network’s financial situation. Comcast, the network’s parent company, will continue to broadcast additional Asian programming through the International Networks and other independent providers and remains committed to supporting the Asian-American community through programming, civic and cultural events.”

The relative youth and affluence of the Asian-American audience was an attraction for Comcast and its competitors, which included startup cable channel ImaginAsian TV and local independent stations, like KSCI Los Angeles, aimed at that city’s 2.5 million Asians.

The median income of Asian-American households is $55,521, compared with $45,904 for non-Hispanic white households and $33,447 for Hispanic households, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau data. And with a median age of 31, the Asian-American population is four years younger than the overall U.S. median age.

Despite those inviting figures, Comcast and its competitors face a couple of significant hurdles for ad sales. The total Asian-American population in the United States, according to the Census Bureau, is 13.5 million -- not an enormous ethnic bloc in a country with 40 million Hispanics. The population is also subdivided into a variety of ethnicities. KSCI, for example, programs in five languages, and many advertisers are reluctant to cut different spots for each one.

Comcast also owns larger cable networks E! Entertainment Television, Style, The Golf Channel, Versus and G4, and several regional sports networks, as well as part of PBS Kids Sprout and TV One.