Singapore to Showcase TV Growth at the Asian TV Forum

Lately, when a TV distributor is asked which territories are becoming more receptive to their international business, he or she will often mention Asia - be it Korea, Japan or even the territory known as Australasia. And the market that is set to benefit most from this upturn in business is the Asia TV Forum (ATF), to be held in Singapore from November 30-December 2. The market cuts down the cost and effort buyers put into traveling all around Asia, by creating a one-stop-shop for sellers to reach Asian broadcasters and producers.

"Asia Television Forum is a good market for us for a number of reasons," said Christine Fellowes, managing director, Asia, E! Networks. "It serves as a timely follow up to MIPCOM. Many of the South East Asian clients who do not make it to Cannes will come to Singapore for ATF, so we see many different clients at each market. Also," she added, "the setting for ATF is in hotel suites and the pace is more relaxed. We have a chance to be more detailed in our presentations and to discuss specific client issues and deals in more depth."

For most Americans, soccer is played everywhere, but rarely seen on television, in the rest of the world, the sport is played everywhere, especially on television.

Making sure that viewers in the Americas -- mostly Latins-- get their daily dose of soccer matches is GolTV, a Miami, Florida-based specialty channel launched in the U.S. in 2002 by two Uruguayans and one Brazilian businessman.

One of the partners, Nelson Gutierrez, is a former soccer player; Francesco Casal, the Brazilian component, is a prominent manager of soccer players; and Enzo Francescoli, the CEO, is a former soccer player famous both in Europe and Latin America. Francescoli, who was nicknamed El principe (the prince) has played for soccer teams around the world: River Plate (Argentina), Racing de Paris and Olimpique Marseille (France) and Cagliari and Torino (Italy). Casal and Gutierrez own Uruguay-based Tenfield, a company that holds the rights to the Uruguayan soccer league and represents a number of international television networks as well as hundreds of soccer players.

GolTV, a 24/7 soccer channel, is now broadcast in both the U.S. and Latin America via The DISH Network and DirecTV; and in late August it was launched in Canada as a category two (not a cable must-carry) digital service in partnership with Insight Sports, a division of the Kilmer Group.

All three channels are received through either satellite or cable, and currently are in over 8 million homes, mostly digital enabled.

According to Rodrigo Lombello, GolTV's chief financial officer, the channels will be in 12 million homes in the Americas by the end of this year. Lombello, a Brazilian, would not disclose any financial figures, stating only that, this year, the company's revenue will grow by 100 percent, and he expects it will become profitable by mid-2006.

GolTV's business model is based on two main revenue streams: per sub (affiliate sales) and advertising. The service is sold to satellite and cable subscribers in a sports package, usually at U.S.$12 per month.

Among its key advertisers, GolTV has Volkswagen, Visa, Coca- Cola and Adidas. Additional revenues are generated by sublicensing some of the soccer matches to broadcasters such as TLN in Canada, and Top Sports in Brazil.

In Lombello's view, VoD is not a viable money-making operation and most TV channels that offer the service do it for promotional purposes only. Lombello sees VoD as a viable option only for highlights, score reports and other "less time-sensitive" features.

For the new season, GolTV carries 11 top leagues from: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Spain, Perú and Uruguay; as well as: the UEFA (European Champions League), Copa del Rey (Spain) and Brazilian Cup games, among others, for a total of 1,500 matches per year.

Programming consists of live coverage, taped coverage and features, for a total of 11 categories, including "VW Gol," a look at all the goals scored around the world, and "The Soccer Files," half-hour discussions and analyses, with some of the programs provided by independent producers. GolTV's key programming days are Saturdays and Sundays and, within these primary day-parts, the block between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., is considered prime real estate, while primetime is the 2 p.m.-7 p.m. block, when the live games are broadcast. Because live games are very important line-up busters, the schedule can vary accordingly. Recently, GolTV broadcasts 12 live games in one weekend period.

Commercials are inserted during natural breaks in the game: pre-show, half time and during post-show analysis. This is in order not to interfere with the on-going action.

One of GolTV's most sought-after leagues, Italy's Serie A, was also one of the most complex when it came to rights negotiations.

Indeed, of the 20 Serie A teams, four are not part of the GolTV package: Cagliari, Lazio, Lecce and Treviso. The rights of these teams, when they play home games, are held by Milan-based Media Partners, which, in turn, has re-sold them to Fox Sports and Fox Soccer Channel in the U.S.

In the case of Italian soccer, GolTV acquires all rights for the Americas -- both territorial and language rights -- with the exception of Italian-language rights, which are reserved for Rai International, the overseas cable and satellite service of RAI, Italy's state broadcaster. Thus, Rai International's broadcast footprint overlaps that of GolTV.

RAI's program sales division, RaiTrade, and Germany's Sport5 jointly sell Serie A international rights. The sales terms call for GolTV to broadcast a minimum of three Serie A games per week, but that number can go as high as seven, depending on the number of home games played. The 16 teams for which GolTV has the rights represent 8 matches, but some of them can be home games of teams for which GolTV doesn't have rights.

For the first time this year, RAI lost the Serie A domestic rights to Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset. However, RaiTrade is still providing the international satellite feed through their long-held agreement with Sky Italia, Rupert Murdoch's satellite TV service in Italy, which has the pay-TV domestic rights (and before that with the former owner of Sky Italia, Tele Piú). This clean feed from all the stadia is transmitted via RAI's transport arm, RaiWay, to the European Broadcasting Union's Rome TV center, and via optical fiber, it is sent first to Geneva, Switzerland (EBU's headquarters) and then to Washington, DC where it is uplinked.

In addition to the domestic analog terrestrial TV rights, Mediaset owns the digital TV terrestrial rights to Series A games, which means that, at any particular time, there could be as many as 40 fixed TV cameras and a few mobile ones on each soccer field.

Games are broadcast by GolTV in both English and Spanish with the viewers selecting their language of choice. During major matches such as Milan-Juventus, GolTV sends its own commentators to Italy. Usually, though, commentary is added to the clean feed received at their Miami studios.

In Italy, GolTV maintains correspondent Pablo Monsalvo, who, from his Milan base, produces features and background stories on players and teams.Hong Kong-based Robert Chua, who is bringing his new technology, The Interactive Channel (TIC), to the Asia TV Forum, said that Singapore is quick becoming an important Asian TV hotspot. "Right now, Shanghai is most important, Singapore is getting there and Hong Kong is trying to make its place," he said. Chua is taking advantage of Asia, and the rest of the world's move toward IPTV, by licensing a new interactive technology which sees a channel simulcast on TV and the Internet, and allows viewers to participate in their favorite shows. Chua stressed that while his company, Robert Chua Productions, has provided content to broadcasters for years, now it is focused on licensing only its technology, and that it is the job of local content providers and broadcasters to provide content on the platform.

ATF, which has had a strategic partnership with MIP and MIPCOM since 2003, is co-organized by Reed Exhibitions, TV magazine Television Asia, and Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA) and the Singapore Exhibition & Convention Bureau. In 2003, a merger of the Singapore Broadcasting Authority, the Films and Publications Department and the Singapore Film Commission formed the MDA. The MDA's mission is to position Singapore as a center for media exchange.

Last year, ATF saw 164 distribution companies, from 41 countries. That number was a huge increase from the 103 companies that attended in 2003. Of the sellers, the majority came from Europe, with Asia, America and Australia trailing, in that order. The majority of buyers were primarily from South East Asia (including Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand), East Asia (including China, Japan, South Korea), South Asia (including India and Pakistan) and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) respectively. A small percentage hailed from France, Qatar, Russia, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S.

"ATF is important to E! Networks, particularly for the South East Asian markets. We believe in addition to having a catalog of quality programming that is popular with Asian television audiences, the reason buyers keep coming back to us, is because our client service is excellent. We pride ourselves on understanding our clients' schedules, on proactively developing ideas for our clients and on having a personal relationship with them that makes it fun to do business. ATF provides a further contact point that helps us achieve this," said E!'s Fellowes.

She continued, "In Asia we focus on programming that has the greatest appeal to audiences. From E!, blockbuster movies and A-list celebrities are known everywhere so we focus on celebrity profiles and clip based programming that fans love. The Style Network's makeover programs also have regional appeal as the urbanization of cities continues around the region and the middle class audience base develops. There are certain reality programs that will not work in Asia as cultural differences drive audience reaction. For example, there are usually big variations in what each country finds humorous, and in their ability to relate their own experiences to 'real' situations on camera. In many conservative markets in Asia, we also have to be aware of censorship issues governing what is appropriate entertainment product for local audiences."

When it comes to East Asia the focus, according to Robert Chua, "is on local programming - first city, then provincial, then national and then international." Which is something that works well with his TIC technology. He said, "because many countries place restrictions on foreign programming and Asian viewers would rather see Asian faces on their favorite programs, the area is changing toward localization." And because Asian audiences want their own version of shows, Chua predicted that formats would be hot at the Asia TV Forum. But Chua mentioned that the Asian market is also open to movies, quality dramas, and has been especially receptive to BBC programming.

When it comes to his own interactive technology, Chua has already licensed the technology to China, and just got back from Hanoi and Vietnam, where he saw great interest. "As long as a country has broadband technology available, then it can work." He explained that the Japanese and Korean territories are very advanced and are well suited for groundbreaking innovations.

Chua added that at Asia TV Forum he will be looking to license TIC to content providers or directly to cable operators. He is also open to considering partners and investments from holding companies.

When asked what the advantage to attending ATF really is for E!, Christine Fellowes said, "Formal markets are time and cost effective as we can see many clients in a short period of time and they serve as a great launch platform for new program franchises and new brands."