Nets Find Value In Asian-Language TV

Despite AZN’s demise and iaTV’s (formerly ImaginAsian TV) moves to broaden its audience, operators and programmers remain confident there is a real demand for networks targeting Asian-Americans, especially those offering foreign-language content.

English-language networks aimed at the children and grandchildren of immigrants are “nice-to-have channels,” but it’s the “in-language channels that have the most value,” said Rob Thun, senior vice president of programming for AT&T’s U-Verse TV, an AZN affiliate.

While Comcast-owned AZN, which targeted Asians born or raised in the U.S., reported 13.9 million subscribers, most of the current crop of Asian-language channels count viewership in the tens and hundreds of thousands. But viewer loyalty is high.

John A. de Armas, vice president of DirecTV’s WorldDirect international programming, said that attrition among subscribers to the satellite-TV provider’s packages of Asian-language networks is “very low to almost non-existent. I mean extremely low churn.”

Michael Sherman, general manager of the San Francisco Asian-language broadcaster KTSF, focuses his programming “on those who do not have English as a primary language and therefore are more dependent on the station in terms of news and information.” Sherman is content to rely on immigration for new viewers and accepts the fact that he’ll lose the children and grandchildren of those immigrants to English-language channels.

But Philippines media giant ABS-CBN values both audience segments.

Fourteen years ago it launched The Filipino Channel, in Tagalog and aimed at immigrants. The channel, which now has 275,000 subscribers via satellite, cable and fiber, relies on subscriptions for the bulk of its revenue, though it also airs advertising — much of it from Filipino-owned businesses. The channel also serves as a platform from which to promote other products offered by ABS-CBN Global, such as voice-over-Internet protocol services.

Still, the channel’s success with Filipino immigrants is tempered by concern about losing second and third-generation Filipino-Americans.

“We noticed that the kids weren’t watching The Filipino Channel,” said ABS-CBN Global director of business development Enrique Olives. “They couldn’t relate to the dramas, they couldn’t relate to the variety shows, game shows, the type of humor.

“And then we noticed the second-, third-generation Filipinos were hanging out with other Asians and these people were looking for an identity.”

Two years ago the firm launched MYX, an English-language channel featuring music videos and lifestyle programming targeting Asian-Americans. At launch, the channel was available only on DirecTV. Last month, it got picked up by Cox’s local system in Orange County where it is distributed on basic digital. The network receives no carriage fees and carries no advertising at this point. Still, Olives said “we are bullish about the fact that there is a lot of money that’s going to be poured into the Asian-American segment.”

In 1989, Jeff Yang, vice president and consumer strategist at research firm Iconoculture, considered Asian-Americans a “discrete market” when he started a magazine targeting that demographic. But now, he said. “I think that is not so true anymore.” The challenge, according to Yang, is finding the right platform to reach that audience. “The likelihood that traditional media, whether you are talking magazines or linear format television, is the best way of reaching this particular group is becoming more slender by the day,” he said.

Still, Yang has no similar reservations about Asian-language networks, saying, “as long as there is immigration there is always going to be a need for that. At least for the next 50 to 75 years, most of the growth in the Asian-American population is going to be coming from immigration.”