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By | February 28, 2001

      With more than 20 Asian satellite TV channels currently broadcasting to UK audiences – with a surge in launches and activity coming over the last 12 months in particular – the market is close to reaching saturation point. Coupled with the launch of Star TV, the UK’s Asian channels seem to be fast approaching testing times, with nature’s principle of survival of the fittest keen to prove itself as strong as ever in the broadcasting world. Steven Hamlen reports.

      The content from Asian channels in the UK ranges from material aimed at Japan and China to the Indian sub-continent. Indeed, it is the latter where the majority of the channels are eager to serve the large population of viewers in the UK – either from the region or with many relatives from the area.

      It is no coincidence that the main player in the UK, Zee TV, caters for the wide range of communities from the Indian sub-continent. It boasts numerous channels and a market leader slot that will be hard to topple. But there are competitors out there.

      Sanjay Pathak, head of marketing for Zee TV in the UK, gave a ‘guestimate’ on Zee TV’s current UK subscriber as reaching 175,000 homes, adding that it was seen by around 600,000 people in total. In terms of competition for eyeballs, he said that his company was still clearly leading the market.

      “It is a very interesting business because we were the only channel in the market a few years back, so now we have to be even more on our toes, which is good. I think the time has come where the customer will get the best for their money.”

      With Star TV now reaching UK audiences, he said he saw it as being a good thing, “They [Star TV] are not worrying us at all, but it is good for Asians living in the UK. They are not a threat to us, no way, because we have a seven year head start.”

      Pathak pointed out that Star TV was only targeting Indians in the UK whereas Zee TV aims to cater for all countries on the Indian subcontinent such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. “We are the only channel to show Asian news throughout Asia,” he claimed.

      With the UK satellite market now reaching what appears to be a saturation point, Pathak thinks the idea that some channels may not survive is noteworthy. When asked, he said, “I would agree with that. Some of these channels do not have good programming and no subscriptions – how are they going to make money? We must be the only Asian satellite channels that is making money in the UK.”

      He pointed out that survival depends on the individual channel and that each one has a game plan that they know best, but that he agreed in principle that some channels would suffer.

      Pathak also said that being the number one UK satellite channel with Asian content, Zee TV attracted the most advertising revenue, which adds further financial pressures on the smaller channels struggling to survive.

      Zee TV is 100 per cent owned by chairman Subhash Chandra but is a public limited company listed on the Indian stock exchange. Pathak said that as the network is becoming increasingly global – with it now broadcasting in Africa, Asia, Europe, the US and even the Caribbean, as well as planning launches this year in Latin America, Canada and Russia – Zee TV should think about listing elsewhere.

      Zee TV launched a new promotional package recently that gave subscribers three premium channels a month for the price of one. The company told Interspace that the offer was launched on February 10 and will give subscribers Zee TV, Zee Music and Zee Cinema a month for the price of one month’s subscription of GBP12.99.

      A new player entered the UK satellite arena recently in the form of Star TV, the 100 per cent News Corp-owned channel with a focus on the Indian community in the UK.

      Although Zee TV’s Pathak boldly declared Star TV is no worry, any News Corp channel must be taken seriously. Its flagship channels are Star News, a 24-hour news and current affairs programme, and the general entertainment channel Star Plus.

      In terms of subscriptions, a Star TV spokesperson in Hong Kong told Interspace, “For the first two months of broadcast, Star Plus and Star News on BSkyB are free-to-air. Since the channels are still fresh in the market and it’s free-to-air, the subscriber figures or viewership figures are not available yet.”

      Meanwhile, Jannie Poon, vice president of corporate affairs, said she believes the time is right for the launch, “The Indian community in the UK is under served,” she said, despite the considerable number of channels already on air.

      “I think with digitalisation and improved technology we are having more and more niche markets in the spectrum,” noted Poon, adding that with digital television it is possible “to tailor make channels for different sectors of the community.”

      In terms of reaching niches within a community, Poon pointed out that Star TV has 30 channels in Asia catering for Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Thai and other communities. However, she declined to say when or if Star TV harbours plans to release such channels in the UK. “It depends a lot on how the market feels and we are not sure at this point.”

      Poon said it is very important to keep a track on the channel and technology suppliers, especially what new technologies are to be released and how to best gauge their potential for success.

      This trend apart, customer demographics were vital, according to Poon. “We have to view the customers’ needs and how they change. The UK is a really mature market for pay-TV and one we want to expand on,” she said

      “Movies and sport are key drivers for pay-TV and key drivers are a must and allow us to serve the under served,” she added. However, when asked if Star TV was considering launching pay-TV channels for either sports or film, Poon replied, “I cannot elaborate on that at present.” So watch this space.

      With regards to the question of saturation in the UK Asian Satellite channel sector, Poon said, “We believe in competition and that it is always good. However, with competition you always get winners and losers and it is all dictated by consumers. At the end of the day it goes back to programming.”

      She added that whether or not the market is saturated “it is still all about programming”, noting that if a channel has a good standard of content, it stands a good chance of survival.

      While other channels showed different levels of concern about the launch of Star TV, the channel itself remained neutral on the threat of market leader Zee TV. Instead, Poon tactfully opted to talk about the wider choice given to viewers. “Now they [customers] have a wider choice of channels and so they will compare and contrast our programming with other channels.”

      Sony Entertainment Television Asia is also acutely aware of both the large number of channels and the most recent competition from News Corp-backed Star TV. Nilam Panchal, affiliate manager for UK and Europe, told Interspace, “The next six months will be interesting with Star TV around. I see it as good, healthy competition and the real winner will be the viewers.”

      Commenting on the explosion of new channels in recent years, she said, “We have gone from having one or two Asian channels to having a lot more in recent times. It really has mushroomed over the last few years.

      “There are a lot of channels now and perhaps all of them will not survive. It will settle down over the next few years because even though all these channels have appeared it is not cheap to lease transponder space.”

      Panchal pointed out that Sony was the first digital Asian channel to launch on the DTH platform, adding that the channel currently has around 80,000 subscribers. “At the end of the day pricing and programming are the things that are going to drive a channel. We always want to improve by getting even better programming.”

      In terms of programming the channel is branded as general entertainment, which includes films, sport, drama, soaps, music, game shows, as well as some news and lifestyle.

      In terms of films, Panchal said that the channel only shows “grade A Bollywood movies” because given the volume of films (more than 600 a year) it wants to offer the best as well as classics.

      Panchal said Sony is keen to develop interactive and pay-per-view services, but as of yet has no target date to introduce these to the market.

      Staying afloat

      With the plethora of Asian channels flooding the market the sector looks set to witness a tough battle between the competing companies. While the larger channels such as Zee TV and Star TV look to be on firm footing and can battle it out for the top spot in terms of viewers, subs and advertising sales, the much smaller niche channels will have to rely on their specialist content directed at specific Asian communities to keep them afloat.

      However, without good programming and decent revenue from advertising and subscriptions, these communities may not be able to sustain channels and thus testing times lie ahead for many of these stations. It seems likely the Indian summer may draw to a close on some unfortunate players.

      List of Asian channels on UK satellite
      Main owner
      Zee TV Asia TV Ltd
      Zee Cinema Asia TV Ltd
      Zee Music Asia TV Ltd
      Star TV Satellite Television Asia Region Ltd
      Star Plus Satellite Television Asia Region Ltd
      Sony Entertainment Television (SET) Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc
      Pheonix CNE Phoenix Chinese News & Entertainment
      Asia Music Channel Vis Television International
      Asia 1TV Asia 1TV Ltd
      Asianet Asianet
      JSTV Japan Satellite TV (Europe) Ltd
      M4U Bollywood Eros Network Ltd
      B4U Bollywood Eros Network Ltd
      B4U Movies Bollywood Eros Network Ltd
      B4U Music Bollywood Eros Network Ltd
      Pakistani Channel The Pakistani Channel Ltd
      Deepam TV Tele Europe Ltd
      Gunjari Reminiscent Television (UK) Ltd
      Lashkara Reminiscent Television (UK) Ltd
      Namaste Television Namaste Television
      South Asian News Network Television Eighteen Mauritius Ltd
      Stara Vision Stara Vision Limited
      Tamil Voice Television Tamil Voice Television Ltd
      Muslim Television Ahmadiyya Muslim Television Ahmadiyya

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