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Renamed Channel Aims at 'AZN’ Appeal

3/27/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

Now you can call it AZN Television. That’s the new name International Channel will bear March 28, when it begins programming toward Asian-Americans, rather than its current format aimed at various ethnicities.

The rebranding is shorthand for the instant- or text-messaging moniker for Asian-Americans.

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

TARGET: 13.5 MILLION

Through in-language programming, English-language subtitled content and English-language-produced originals, AZN is targeting the nation’s 13.5 million Asian-Americans.

Growing at three times the rate of the overall population, Asian-Americans are affluent (with a median income $10,000 higher than Caucasians and $363 billion in annual buying power) and well-educated (44% hold bachelor’s degrees, vs. 26% for the entire U.S. population), and their ranks are expected to reach 15 million by 2008, according to Smith.

About 85% of Asian-Americans speak English, he said, with 58% conversing in that language as well as that of their homeland. According to U.S. Census data, 88% of this total are represented by six ethnic groups: Chinese 24%; Filipino 18%; Asian Indian 16%; Korean and Vietnamese 11% apiece; and Japanese 8%.

Currently in some 10 million homes, AZN expects to ramp up to 13 million by June as Comcast migrates the network from tiers to digital basic in markets with significant Asian-American populations. Smith said Comcast serves 16 of the top 20 Asian American DMAs.

International Channel — which has been airing a nightly three-hour “Asia Street” block of English-language originals — began 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 has remained on the network in recent weeks.

PITCHING PAY NETS

To accommodate viewers of such in-language programming, he added, International Channel Networks has been working to get operators 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 original series like Asia Street Comedy, X Bytes, Stir and Egg West Coast, a lifestyle magazine show targeting young Korean-Americans, now will be banded together on Wednesday nights.

Monday nights will be devoted to films; Tuesdays to anime; Thursday nights will feature in-language dramatic fare, sporting subtitles; while Fridays showcase a variety pack of music, documentaries, cooking programs and specials.

The network’s “AZN Masala” weekend block will mix a large batch of Bollywood movies, cricket highlights and other programming aimed at South Asian viewers.

AZN also wants to raise its profile through other sports as it plans to import live kickboxing matches, and work with professional sports leagues in the U.S. to develop programming.

Morning programming will be devoted to airing the previous night’s in-language news from networks in Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and the Philippines. Down the road, Smith hopes to subtitle this daypart’s information shows.

Meanwhile, an extensive development slate — all being produced in English — is also in the works. Among the programs headed to the channel is Quest China, a follow-up to the six hours of Quest USA that ran last fall. Likened to The Amazing Race, the 13 hours of the series will track teams of Asian-Americans, British Asians and Canadian Asians as they trek across the world’s most populous nation. The show is scheduled to premiere in September.

HIGH ON 'COOLEYVILLE’

Smith is also high on the prospects of animated series Cooleyville, which he describes as “Simpsonesque,” with three generations of Chinese-Americans residing in the same home and trying to bridge a variety of cultural issues. The show will most likely bow early in 2006.

The decision-making about pushing other projects 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 from New York — joins from Spike TV, where she was vice president of original programming.

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 scripted dramatic or comedic formats to convey those sensibilities.

September