International Channel to Become AZN

AZN Television it is.

That’s the name that will be christened upon the International Channel next week when it is programmed for Asian Americans rather than its current format aimed at various ethnicities.

The rebranding -- shorthand for the instant- or text-messaging moniker for Asian Americas -- will occur March 28. International Channel is currently in some 10 million homes.

Steve Smith, managing director of International Channel Networks, a company wholly owned by Comcast Corp., said the conversion will be aided by some 850 hours in recent programming acquisitions, encompassing theatricals from Korea, Japan, China, Thailand and India, plus anime.

Through in-language programming, English-language subtitled content and English-language-produced originals, AZN is targeting the nation’s 13.5 million Asian Americans -- an affluent, well-educated group whose ranks are expected to reach 15 million by 2008, according to Smith.

International Channel -- which has been airing a nightly three-hour “Asia Street” block -- has been scaling back its offerings of other in-language programming in recent months. Indeed, Smith said only fare aimed at French, Russian, Italian and Arabic viewers remains on the network’s air at this point.

To accommodate viewers of such in-language programming, he added, International Channel Networks has been working with operators in trying to get them to offer pay channels like TV5 (French), RAI (Italian) and RTN (Russian).

Smith said the recently acquired programming will carry the weight of AZN’s lineup over the short term, although second seasons of original series like Asia Street Comedy, XBytes, Stir and Korean Music Countdown, currently part of the Asia Street block, will be banded together on Wednesday nights.

A development slate is also in the works. Decision-making about pushing programming from this pipeline, as well as other entrants, to series production will fall largely to Peilin Chou, AZN’s new senior vice president of programming and production.

Chou -- who will oversee the network’s originals, acquisitions, scheduling and on-air promotions -- joins from Spike TV.

She officially begins her new gig April 1, although she accompanied Smith Monday morning on a visit to a reporter.

Chou said she is looking toward programming that will cut across “commonalities” that all Asian Americans experience as part of their residence in this nation. She declared no immediate preference for dramatic or comedic formats to convey those messages.