Broadcasters are banking on an explosion in satellite and cable channels
in Asia, but strict regimes could slow the process.
New satellite TV channels have been springing up in Asia in recent
years. The number of satellite/cable channels rose by a hefty 1,500
across the continent in the two years to the end of last year, according
to Leo Burnett Media (excluding India, which now has more than 20
International channels such as Star TV, Asia Business News (ABN), NBC,
CNN International, TNT/Cartoon Network, ESPN, MTV and the Discovery
Channel are all there in force. What has lured broadcasters to the Asia
Pacific region is the impressive size of the TV audience. According to
Kagan World Media, Asia had 367.5 million TV households in 1994 - a
figure which is forecast to grow to 484 million by 2003 - three times
the number in western Europe. The footprint of AsiaSat-2, one of the
latest satellites to join the crowded skies above the Far East in
November last year, covers two thirds of the world’s population.
‘What we’re seeing is a penetration of satellite and cable channels
which took from the 70s to the 90s in the US taking five years here,’
Alan Fairnington, the Asia Pacific president of J. Walter Thompson,
The rapid proliferation of satellite TV channels has been the catalyst
of some dramatic changes to the media scene. Over the past two years,
the number of terrestrial channels has grown by 430 and terrestrial
broadcasters have been forced to get their act together. ‘The explosion
of cable channels has caused a sea-change in the attitudes and opinions
of state broadcasters. These monopolistic dinosaurs are becoming a good
deal more commercially minded,’ Gary Brown, the regional media director
at Leo Burnett, says.
Although airtime sales practices in countries like South Korea and China
are still rather archaic compared with the West, state broadcasters are
becoming more accustomed to the free market and the rules of supply and
demand. The Taiwanese state broadcasters are more open to negotiating ad
deals now that they are competing with around 70 cable channels, and
India’s state broadcaster, Doordarshan, has made its ad rates more
competitive than before.
Doordarshan has also invested in programming, launched new channels -
DD2 for the big cities and an upmarket, cultural DD3 - and is beginning
to claw back audiences lost to satellite channels, notably Zee TV and
the Star stations.
A more momentous change has been the way authoritarian governments, such
as in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, have had to revise their
approach to satellite television. When Star TV first started
broadcasting in 1991, Singapore and Malaysia banned satellite dishes.
Now both countries are setting up their own cable networks and allowing
satellite TV to operate, subject to controls and censorship. Both
governments realised that with the arrival of digital compression and
small satellite dishes, a ban could be ignored anyway. With cable, they
can control what their populations see by blocking retransmissions.
Governments in the region are keeping tight controls on the media in
other ways. For instance, private terrestrial broadcasters operate in
only a couple of countries - Hong Kong and the Philippines - all the
rest are government-controlled.
While satellite TV channels have given government officials and
programming executives at the state broadcasters a few grey hairs, their
impact on advertising spend has been marginal, to say the least. Spend
on pan-Asian satellite TV is estimated at dollars 120 million last year
- equivalent to less than 1 per cent of TV budgets. Satellite television
has done well in advertising categories like luxury goods, banking and
finance and corporate, but has not managed to pick up fmcg budgets.
Kate Stephenson, the client services director for the Asia Pacific at
the newly-established Carat Hong Kong, identifies two main reasons for
satellite TV’s failure to pull in ad budgets. ‘A lot of multinationals
are not equally distributed across all the Asian markets and they’re not
strong in every market. Often the strength of satellite TV doesn’t match
the strength of advertisers. Also, not every client has regional
headquarters and a regional media budget, so they take the satellite TV
budget out of local budgets and justify it on a cost basis, which is
difficult because the numbers are small.’
Penetration figures are tiny in percentage terms, but impressive in
absolute terms or by Western standards. Star TV is the largest satellite
network in terms of penetration, available in more than 54 million TV
households, according to Leo Burnett Media. China is one of its
strongest markets with around 30 million homes - a fraction of its
population of 1.2 billion. In all other Asian countries, Star TV reaches
fewer than one million homes.
With satellite TV taking such a small share of a highly fragmented TV
audience, it is not surprising that the terrestrial broadcasters still
dominate viewing figures and ad budgets.
Their failure to attract advertising, and the embryonic state of the pay
television market, means that the satellite TV stations are making hefty
losses. Star TV is estimated to be losing up to dollars 65 million a
year and will continue to leak money until regional adspend and the pay
TV market takes off.
It is just as well that the satellite TV channels have backers with big
pockets - with the likes of General Electric behind NBC, Dow Jones
supporting ABN and Rupert Murdoch behind Star TV.
‘They’re all born of very substantial parents who went into these
ventures with their eyes open. Will they all survive? The jury’s still
out,’ Brown says.
Agencies do expect spend on satellite TV to rise dramatically, albeit
from a small base. Growth rates of 20-25 per cent a year are forecast as
cable networks grow and broadcasters increasingly tailor programming for
Digital compression will allow broadcasters to air the same programmes
in different languages and advertisers will be able to target sub-
While an English language service may be appropriate for channels like
ABN, CNBC and CNN, which are aimed at at the frequent traveller and
business people, an entertainment service like Star TV has to be
multilingual. This network is now broadcast in a number of languages,
including Japanese and Filipino. Even ABN launched a channel for India
at the end of last year and is considering starting a dedicated Japanese
Satellite broadcasters have also been increasing their penetration and
potential audience though retransmission deals with terrestrial
broadcasters - ABN has programmes on Hong Kong’s private channel, TVB,
and India’s DD3.
China, because of its size, is the big attraction for international
broadcasters. Fellow Australians, Kerry Packer and Murdoch, have fired
the opening salvos in what could be a fierce battle for dominance in
this lucrative market. Packer has a valuable head-start after a few faux
pas by Murdoch.
In 1993, when Murdoch took control of Star TV, his remark that satellite
television would spell the end of totalitarian regimes everywhere did
not go down well with the Chinese Government and Murdoch has been
desperately trying to get back in favour with the authorities ever
since. He axed the BBC Service, which, as part of the Star package, was
deemed all too capable of offending the Chinese, but to little avail.
More recently, the Government has reportedly been angered by his
attempts to railroad them into a deal between Star TV and state-owned
China Central Television (CCTV). Star still does not have an official
licence to broadcast to China.
In a humiliating snub to Murdoch, CCTV signed a programme exchange deal
with Packer in February this year. Packer’s Nine Network Australia will
supply programmes to CCTV, while CCTV will provide Chinese language
programmes for his niche pay-TV channels in Australia. The deal could
provide Packer with a useful foothold in the terrestrial TV market when
it finally opens up.
Guy Forestier Walker, the regional media director of MediaCom, predicts
that despite the inroads into the Asian broadcast market made by US
media owners, the Australians are the ones to watch. ‘Murdoch and Packer
will be the first ones to buy up TV stations once they are allowed in
countries like China and Indonesia.They’ve got the technology and the
money,’ he says.
There are also a few Asian media tycoons to look out for. Robert Chua,
who launched his 24-hour Mandarin language China Entertainment
Television (CETV) last year, has pulled in three new investors, Family
Entertainment, MUI Group and Lippo Group, to boost the service, aimed at
Chinese speakers throughout South-east Asia.
Over the next two years, the Thai media magnate Sondhi Limthongkul,
plans to launch two direct-to-home satellites, L-Star 1 and L-Star 2,
with the capacity to provide 500 pay-TV digital channels.
Hong Kong’s Television Broadcasts has a three-channel service, TVB Super
Channel, TVBS Golden and TVBS Newsnet, aimed at Taiwan, Singapore,
Thailand and the Philippines. It has also been making its first forays
into mainland China.
The explosion of new channels has spurred the development of media
research, which, in many countries, is very sophisticated. People-meters
are installed in several countries, including Hong Kong, Singapore,
Malaysia, Taiwan and Korea, and there are TV ratings and optimisation
systems. TV research in Asia is dominated by SRG Nielsen, except in
countries like Japan and China, which lag behind in terms of media
However, even where there are people-metres, measuring satellite TV
audiences is still difficult as penetration can be very low. As a
result, the development of satellite TV has been held back.
‘SRG Nielsen does not give a fair crack of the whip to smaller
stations. The sample sizes are too small, so cable operators can’t get
an accurate fix on who’s watching what and agencies don’t have the data
to buy cable programmes,’ Fairnington says.
Fairnington cites India as an example of where the pace of change is
frenetic. India has a highly developed cable TV network and is going
through a TV revolution. ‘Media expertise in India is the best in Asia.
It’s well monitored and you can buy TV airtime by programme, time of day
and so on. But it’s a chaotic marketplace - a wild, anything goes, free-
A big advantage of the media revolution coming late to Asia is that the
technology is advanced - digital compression, fibre-optic cable and
encryption are all being put to good use.
The Singapore Government is particularly keen to exploit the latest
technology, but one agency executive reads sinister undertones into
their eagerness. ‘When you think of Singapore you can’t help thinking of
Big Brother. They’ll have people-meters monitoring what every home is
watching and the Government will be able to communicate with every home
through cable,’ he warns.
This Orwellian nightmare may still be some way off - only 15 per cent of
Singapore is cabled - but it does highlight the one big obstacle facing
broadcasters in Asia: the opposition of totalitarian regimes. The BBC
has only just resumed broadcasts to Asia after a two-year break. While
governments have finally accepted that they can’t completely prevent
their populations from watching programmes beamed in from outside, they
are doing their damnedest to keep a tight rein on what does and doesn’t
Unlike Europe, where young people share broadly the same tastes,
lifestyles and aspirations, Asia is a disparate mix of cultures which
has put paid to the notion that the youth could easily be united by one
music channel - MTV Networks now has three channels in Asia.
MTV’s first Asian venture was the English language MTV Asia, which was
launched as part of the Star TV package in 1991. MTV Japan followed in
December 1992. It features a mix of regional bands and international
artists and news segments, interviews and rockumentaries in Japanese and
MTV Mandarin, which was launched in April 1995, completes the music
channel line-up. Broadcast from Singapore, MTV Mandarin is tailored to
the musical tastes, lifestyles and sensibilities of 12- to 34-year-old
Chinese speakers in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Carried on
the Apstar 1 and PanAm Sat 2 satellites, MTV Mandarin is available in
more than 20 countries throughout Asia.
One of its key markets is the heavily cabled Taiwan, where it is
distributed to a claimed 2.5 million households.
MTV Asia is still trying re-establish itself after coming off the Star
TV package in May 1994. A joint venture with Polygram, MTV Asia is aimed
at audiences in South- east Asia and India. It is carried on the Palapa
C1 and PanAm Sat 4 satellites, which gives it access to a potential 18
million homes in 39 countries. Some of the programming is in Hindi.
In an effort to get more people to sample its musical fare, MTV has
completed a number of terrestrial rebroadcast deals with state
broadcasters. Leo Burnett puts MTV’s penetration in Asia at 2.2 million
Satellite Television Asian Region (Star TV) broke the mould of Asian
broadcasting when it launched in 1991, but it has essentially failed in
its original incarnation. The dream of an entertainment service
capturing the hearts and minds of the region’s English-speaking elite
was found to be deeply flawed.
Although English is a common language throughout Asia, it is only spoken
by a limited number of people and is mainly the language of business.
Viewers prefer entertainment to be in their own language.
The network has changed significantly since Rupert Murdoch took control
in 1993. Star TV’s beam has now been split between north and south. The
southern beam includes five free-to-air channels - Star Plus, Star
Sports, Channel V, Zee TV and EL TV - and two encrypted channels, Star
Movies and Zee Movies. The northern beam includes three free Star
channels, the Chinese Channel and the pay channel, Star Movies.
Star TV broadcasts primarily in Hindi, English and Mandarin, so it is
not surprising that it performs strongest in China, Taiwan and India.
However, it launched a 24-hour Japanese language channel in April this
year and plans six more dedicated channels over the next two years.
Murdoch’s most ambitious venture is the launch of a pay TV service,
called Phoenix, targeted at China.
With the highest penetration of any satellite network by far and as the
first satellite broadcaster in the market, Star TV’s chances of success
are considered good - but in the long term. In the short term, it still
has to build up its reach in more markets.
CNN International and TNT/Cartoon Network
Turner Broadcasting Systems was one of the first foreign broadcasters to
enter the Asian market after the launch of Star TV in 1991. CNN
International has been on air in Asia since 1992, which gave it a
comfortable headstart over rival news channels, NBC Asia and the more
business-oriented Asia Business News.
The 24-hour news channel claimed to reach 16 million households as of
the end of last year, which gives it the second highest penetration of
satellite TV channels behind Star TV. It is ideally suited to the
corporate, banking and financial advertisers which are geared up to use
satellite TV in the region.
TNT/Cartoon Network faces a rougher ride in Asia. The 24-hour cartoon
and film channel is available on the Palapa C1, PAS2 and PAS4, Apstar
and Intelsat satellites, whose footprints take in more than 40 countries
from Central Europe to Australia. However, Leo Burnett Media estimates
its reach at under two million homes.
Kate Stephenson, the client services director at Carat Hong Kong,
believes the channel will have its work cut out attracting ad budgets.
‘There is not much pan-regional toy advertising and children’s
advertising as a whole is not a highly developed category in Asia,’ she