Television

Next stop Asia for NBC Universal?

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MUMBAI: The birth Wednesday of a new media-entertainment titan NBC Universal that rivals the likes of Time Warner and News Corp offers possibilities that Asia might well see competition to Star TV on different fronts, including new channels.

With brands such as television networks NBC, Telemundo, USA Network, Sci-Fi Channel, Bravo, Trio, CNBC, and MSNBC (jointly owned with Microsoft); Universal Pictures film studio; television production studios and interests in theme parks, there are many possibilities that open up.

Indiantelevision.com put the poser to president and CEO, CNBC Asia Pacific Alexander "Sandy" Brown of what Asia could expect from the creation of the media behemoth and he said that while "there is no direct implication today" but there would be no waiting around on the issue. Using the synergies that the new entity brings on board to "significantly drive up toplines" would be an 'A' priority activity, avers Brown.

Brown would offer no timelines on when and how the action plan would be set forth except to assert that there was a great deal of urgency behind the effort.

The key synergies will come from the 4,000 strong film library that is available to NBC Universal added to the 40,000 television show archive, Brown said. The third link in the revenue chain would be provided by the theme park business with one already up and running in Osaka, Japan and a second sceduled to start operations in 2007 in Shanghai, China.

Questioned as to whether there was now scope for channels like Bravo, Trio, or Sci-Fi Channel launch in Asia, Brown, while not ruling it out, said another possibility was that the TV content that was available could also be mixed and matched to create wholly new channels customised to suit Asian preferences.

Giving some sense of the scale of the revenue ramp up that was possible, Brown pointed to NBC's annual revenues from international business being in the "low 100s of millions of dollars" compared to Vivendi Universal's $ 2.5 billion. The merger "gives NBC a whole new opportunity," Brown said, adding that the fact that the network major was principally advertising driven while Universal was fees (subscription and ticket receipts) driven meant that the two complemented each other well.

Queried as to whether he would have an expanded role in the new dispensation, Brown said it was too early to tell as these decisions were still to be firmed up. "I will continue to focus my energies on CNBC Asia," he said, of his near term scope of activity.

Asked about any initiatives or deals that CNBC had entered into in the last year, Brown said, "We launched a co-production initiative with Shanghai Media Group in April 2003 which has been very succesful."

Another initiative that has happened on Brown's watch is the launch of the MGM channel in three new territories - Hong Kong, Indonesia and Macau. MGM is available in India on the Zee Turner distribution platform co-branded as Zee MGM. Brown said two more announcements regarding MGM distribution deals would be made in the near future.

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