Turnover Starts to Sweep Asian Programmers

Singapore-The pace of executive shuffles at Asian networks has become frantic over the past month, with CNBC Asia, AXN Action Television, ESPN Star Sports and Discovery Networks Asia all losing senior brass.

The hardest-hit appears to be Discovery Networks Asia, based here. Vice president of programming Manny Ayala is leaving for Hong Kong to join an unnamed Internet company. And vice president of affiliate sales and relations Mark Lay is taking a year off to travel with his wife, Karen, Hallmark Entertainment Network's director of affiliate sales and marketing in the region.

What's more, vice president of Asian advertising sales Eric Lynge is expected to join the Hong Kong offices of Internet-advertising broker DoubleClick Inc., with director of advertising sales Robert Brimacombe filling his shoes. And director of marketing and communications Anya McDonald is set to join Singapore-based regional auction site SurfingBananas.com.

"For six years, Discovery has been unique in staff retention. Even during the [Asian financial] crisis, we didn't lay anybody off. In fact, we still recruited," Discovery Networks Asia senior vice president and general manager Kevin-john McIntyre said.

He added that the staff exodus "is really multicausal and only partly dot-com-fueled," although "dot-coms are offering the start-up adrenaline rush that many may feel they missed out on due to the economic downturn in Asia."

The Internet has also proven to be a lure for some top officials at CNBC Asia. President Paul France has been appointed CEO of Singapore-based start-up Fantastic-One, billed as Asia's first complete broadband-multimedia-solutions provider for mass-market content. It aims to develop and aggregate content for the new broadband environment.

"I'd been at [the network] for seven years, and I thought it would be good for both me and the organization to have a change," said France, who led Asia Business News prior to its 1998 merger with CNBC Asia. Despite having already assumed the role of CEO at FantasticOne, France will be "taking care" of CNBC Asia until June 30.

Meanwhile, CNBC Asia's staff has also been poached by its corporate cousin. Vice president and director of distribution Billy Kelly is joining NBC Internet Inc. in San Francisco as its head of business development, international.

Kelly was mum about his reasons for leaving CNBC, cOncentrating on what lies ahead. "The new role will involve the establishing of joint ventures in key markets, much as I have done at CNBC Asia," he said.

No replacement has been named for either executive at this stage.

Another official moving out of the region is AXN CEO James Buklarewicz. He will become managing director of United Pan-Europe Communications N.V.'s (UPC) UPCtv programming unit.

Buklarewicz's replacement is Todd Miller, who comes from AXN sister company Columbia Tri-Star International Television in Hong Kong, where he is vice president of sales for Asia. Buklarewicz is expected to leave in June, with Miller joining slightly before to enable a transition period.

At press time, UPCtv spokes-people were unaware of how Buklarewicz will fit in relative to the company's current managing director, Simon Oakes.

Meanwhile, it is widely speculated within the Asian pay TV industry that ESPN Star Sports managing director Sandy Brown will not renew his contract this summer. However, his destination and successor are still unknown.

Officials called the speculation "all rumors," but neither confirmed nor denied it.