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HBO leads all comers in Asia overall, but in India Star Plus calls pay TV shots: report

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MUMBAI: While in India it is Star Plus that rules, looking at the Asian region as a whole, leading English movie channel HBO is the winner by a long ways.

These are among the key findings of the just released 2003 Asia Pay Television Operators Survey Industry research report, instituted by the Singapore-based trade publication, Television Asia, in association with Fusion Consulting. HBO is a clear overall winner again, with almost 50 per cent of the vote, up from 36 per cent in 2001.

Star Plus, with 14 per cent, features slightly less strongly than in 2001, down from 20 per cent last time round. Discovery, meanwhile, is back up to third place, having dropped out of the rankings in 2001.

Programming quality, sales and marketing support, on-air promotions, channel popularity, value for money, least wanted channels and industry development were the seven aspects of the pay TV business in Asia the report examined.

The wooden spoon title of the least wanted channel went to Hallmark. Obviously Hallmark's tagline - Where Great Stories come to Life - has singularly failed to make any impression across the region.

Research methodology

The report has been compiled using data generated from interviews with 41 pay-TV operators (including MSOs, cable operators and satellite operators) in 16 countries between March and May 2003. The operators interviewed represent the majority of subscribers in each country, with the exception of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Thailand.

An additional weighted data set is also presented in order to relate the findings to the significance of each country market in terms of its subscriber base. The weighting was calculated on a country by country basis,

The countries covered represent a combined subscriber base of 57.7 million. India's 41.8-million cable viewers gave it a 72.5 per cent weightage in the analyses that was thrown up. Countries surveyed in the report also included, Taiwan, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Brunei, Phillippines, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Guangzhou (China), Indonesia, Macau, and Cambodia.

Among the other findings of the report are:

* Star Movies, which took 20 per cent of the vote in 2001, does not draw any mention at all in the overall category this time round.

* Strong consensus on HBO as the overall best programmer in almost every country.

* India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are the exceptions, where Star Plus rates highest.

* Discovery has support in Hong Kong and ESS in other countries.

* Zee also receives a mention in India.

Some other highlights of the report include:

Star Plus dominates the Indian subcontinent whereas HBO and Discovery get their votes almost exclusively from Southeast and East Asia.

CNN is praised for speed of reporting and 24 hr coverage, but only in smaller markets.

While Discovery is the clear leader for documentaries in Taiwan and most other markets; NGC just beats it in India.

Star channels dominate in entertainment, seen as having something for everyone.

Disney is praised in some smaller markets, but with no presence in India, cannot challenge Cartoon Network.

ESS, with a score of 82 per cent, is really the only game in town in sports. It needs noting here of course that rival Ten Sports beams only in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as far as the countries represented in the survey are concerned.

MTV remains way ahead of Channel [V].

In the news and current affairs genre, two Indian channels, Aaj Tak and STAR News figure among the "best channel" list in Asia that is led by CNN and BBC. Among the other channel genres, ESS (sports), MTV (music), Cartoon Network (kids) and Discovery (documentary/travel) are the leaders in their individual spaces.

Sales and marketing support

* HBO again wins with 36 per cent of the vote, down from its 46 per cent score in 2001.

* Close is Star with 29 per cent, up slightly from 24 cent in 201.

* Discovery dominates in the documentary genre, with more than double NGC's score

When weighted data is considered however, Star takes the lead and channels made for India come to the fore. It also brings subcontinental channels Alpha Bangla, Sony and Zee into the Top 5. Within movies, HBO, Star and Zee almost the same.

NGC overtakes Discovery within documentaries thanks to its support in India. Star News, Aaj Tak and Zee (in that order) emerge as leaders in the news and business category.

Ten Sports improves its position within sports with 33 per cent to ESS 40 per cent and MAX 24 per cent.

MTV dominates even more strongly in music with 83 per cent, followed by etc with 13 per cent and Channel [V] with a miserly 4 per cent.

On-air promos

* Overall, 35 per cent of respondents nominate HBO as the best for on- air promotions, almost double its 2001 score of 20 per cent

*Star Plus and Star Movies take 20 per cent of the vote between them, with supporters in the Philippines, Taiwan and India

* MTV, top in 2001 with 22 per cent, is chosen only in Sri Lanka and by one operator in India

Channel popularity

HBO is most popular and gets best viewer feedback, while STAR Movies drops out.

On the weighted scale: Star Plus is the favourite and NGC gets good viewer feedback.

* Star Plus is said to have the highest viewership by operators with 50 per cent of all subscribers.

*Viewership for Star Plus outweighs positive feedback considerably, suggesting some lack of choice for viewers.

* HBO is pushed into second place: Indian operators say it does not receive good viewer feedback

* NGC's positive feedback comes mainly from the larger markets

* Sony takes the place of Cinema One, rated for both viewership and positive feedback

Value for money

Higher prices are justifiable if the content offers value, eg. newer movies, wide appeal.

HBO is seen as easy to sell, offering quality movies which drive the whole bouquet Several operators comment that HBO is expensive, however this is not seen as a drawback because it is worth the price.

Star also has its supporters STAR is valued for the balance of reasonable cost with reasonable content Channels with wide appeal or educational value, eg. Discovery and Star Plus, are thought to be worth the money paid for them by several operators.

Least- wanted channels Hallmark singled out as one to live without; most agree on Nickelodeon within Kids o Hallmark is the channel singled out by operators as one to drop overall, for the second year.

Industry development

Potential price issue for premium channels in smaller and less affluent markets

Premium channels are thought to have good potential in all markets

Operators in Indonesia and Taiwan rate PPV as highly as premium channels

Operators in India and Thailand however, do not see PPV as a major opportunity

There is some concern in smaller and more price sensitive markets about the economic feasibility of premium services

Concerns over PPV include its potential to limit revenue and the cost of PPV rights from the content owners (studios)

Several operators comment that PPV sports events would work, citing cricket (especially for Indian audiences - both in India and expatriate) and boxing.

A fifth of operators plan to launch their own channel in 2003.

Bundled packages mean operators struggle to offer subscribers good value

Several operators disapprove of bundling what they perceive as lower quality programming with more popular content

This, along with generally high prices, means that they find it hard to offer good value for money, especially in the less wealthy countries

There is also a perception that advertising should not be a feature of pay TV.

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