DirecTV Adds Chinese Channel to its Lineup

Direct-broadcast satellite provider DirecTV Inc. last week added the first of what may be a number of non-Hispanic foreign-language networks, the Phoenix North America Chinese Channel.

The Mandarin-language network will initially provide news and entertainment from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Starting next February, the channel will also add U.S.-based content for Chinese Americans.

"We've been evaluating various ethnic segments" in addition to the Hispanic market DirecTV serves through its bilingual programming packages, DirecTV Para Todos and international services vice president Yolanda Macias said. "This ethnic segment was the most attractive for various reasons."

For one thing, Macias said, "the size of the market is formidable." DirecTV plans to target 700,000 U.S. households with the new offering.

The Chinese-American market was also attractive because of its high income levels and robust growth in recent years.

Although Chinese Americans represent an attractive demographic, the market has been "very underserved," Macias said. For most viewers, bringing in Chinese programming requires high up-front costs for large satellite dishes.

Direct-broadcast satellite competitor EchoStar Communications Corp. does not offer a Chinese network, although the company does offer a number of other networks targeted to Asian Americans, including Korean- and Japanese-language fare.

Some cable operators offer Chinese programming, Macias noted, "but it's not consistent."

The new channel will be sold à la carte for $19.99 a month.

Subscribers would require larger "DirecTV Plus" dishes to access the signal from the 119 degrees west longitude orbital location.

It is possible that DirecTV will add other Chinese programming in the future, Macias said, but no plans have been set.

The Chinese Channel's owner, Phoenix Satellite Television Holdings Ltd., will market the service to Chinese viewers in the U.S., primarily in such Asian-American strongholds as California and New York. Because Chinese-Americans are concentrated in a few parts of the U.S., Macias said, Phoenix and DirecTV can be very effective in reaching the target audience.

Initial marketing will include print, outdoor and radio image advertising meant to let the market know that Phoenix Television, a well-respected brand in China, has arrived in the U.S. A second wave of advertising, with more of a call-to-action focus, will follow.

The companies are also expected to use grassroots tactics centered on the Chinese New Year to promote the new channel.

DirecTV has not signed an exclusive for the Chinese Channel, although it is the first multichannel video provider to offer the service.

For last week's soft launch, the new channel was sold only through DirecTV call centers and a few retailers in Los Angeles and New York who have actively pursued the Chinese-American market. DirecTV plans a more aggressive rollout throughout its retail base in January.

In evaluating plans to add other non-Hispanic foreign-language programming, DirecTV will examine the potential size of the market, its purchasing power, the competition and its anticipated growth.