interview with Comcast Entertainment Group, International president
the entertainment field there is nobody else who does
what E! does'
on 9 April 2007
the advent of digitisation in India, more international broadcasters
are looking to launch channels in the country. A case in point
is E! Networks. It runs E!, which focusses on Hollywood news,
stories and features. It will also launch its fashion and
lifestyle channel Style internationally later this year.
Networks is looking to launch at least one, if not both of
these channels before the end of the year in India. It is
in talks with distribution networks to negotiate deals. Indiantelevision.com's
Ashwin Pinto caught up with Comcast Entertainment Group,
International president Kevin MacLellan to find out more.
Could you give me a brief overview of E!'s international business
and the content it offers?
E! has two sources of revenue. One is its programme sales.
It has been selling foreign programming into foreign markets
as far back as 1992. This was after it launched in 1991. Then
in 2002 we started to sell the E! Network into foreign markets
in 2002. Over the last five years we have garnered 46 million
subscribers in over 100 countries.
How important is Asia in terms of content consumption and
revenue vis-à-vis Europe and the US? Which are your
top three markets in this region?
It is very important. The 46 million subscribers that
I mentioned did not exist till five years ago. Over a third
of E! Networks subscribers come from outside the US. Malaysia,
Indonesia and Singapore are the top three markets in Asia.
They account for 65 per cent of viewership in Asia.
have 12 feeds globally not including the US. In Asia there
are three feeds.
India is going through a period of digital transition with
Cas and DTH. How do you view this market in terms of potential
and has a timeline been set to launch E! and Style?
The Indian market has always been extremely interesting
to me. I was part of the team that helped launch Sony in the
1990's. India has been interesting on account of the success
of HBO. I was quite skeptical about how it would fare as I
felt that Bollywood would be the programming that everybody
wanted to see.
it has become apparent to me that due to the upper echelon
of Indian society in terms of the wealthier people with larger
disposable incomes they have a significant interest in Hollywood
films. From our perspective, India is a big market to reach
for in Asia. The problem was that E! launched internationally
pretty late in the game in 2002-2003. Analogue was pretty
full by then.
had to find other platforms that had available capacity. We
are so pleased to see DTH, IPTV taking off in India. We believe
that the audience that has the money to invest in these platforms
has a strong interest in Hollywood. We would like to launch
E! and Style by the end of this year.
The English entertainment and lifestyle segment in India is
getting more competitive. What is E!'s USP that you feel will
help it stand out from the other players?
In general, entertainment and lifestyle programming is
becoming more popular everywhere. In the entertainment field
there is nobody else who does what E! does. We are the experts
in Hollywood. We are not experts in Bollywood and to try and
pretend to be anything we are not is a big mistake. We have
learnt that by going into many markets, whether it is the
UK, Italy, Japan, Malaysia.
cover Hollywood better than anybody else and this is what
sets us apart. To find out everything on Hollywood and see
it done in a high quality rich looking channel is what viewers
expect from us.
Style's point of view there are many lifestyle channels out
there from the likes of Discovery and Scripps. Most of those
channels appeal to 25-49 year old females. The Style channel
has been successful in the US as it appeals to a younger female
crowd. You are talking about a 12-34 year old female. Women
at that age are just setting their buying trends. They are
choosing brands that they will use for the rest of their lives.
Style targets a young, technologically savvy woman. E!'s target
similarity between the two networks is that we are appealing
to what we call the ABC1 demographic. This refers to a high
income, highly educated, metropolitan audience.
Over the last three years how has E! gone about creating awareness
Our aim was to go into each market and secure sophistication.
There is no point in marketing unless you are strong in distribution.
So what we have done is countries like Thailand, Hong Kong,
Singapore, Indonesia is spending money with the local operators.
Due to the limited distribution in all Asian markets doing
general marketing like ads in newspapers makes very little
sense. It is important to market to viewers who can access
good way to do that is to do marketing campaigns with the
operators themselves. We do outdoor campaigns and it helps
that E! has famous faces appear on the channel. We can do
ads in print magazines with pictures of Brad Pitt, Angelina
Jolie, Jennifer Aniston. The A-list names grab people's attention
a lot more than say an ad for a documentary would.
India you have licensing deals with broadcasters like Zee
and Star. When you launch, will this side of the business
Yes! I believe that there is an important mix between
sales and channels. While we do sell content to channels it
is important for the viewers to know that the main place to
get E! content is on the channel itself and not on other networks.
Viewers must know that the best place to get news on Hollywood
to go back to the marketing issue, it helps to put a little
of your content on the bigger networks with a broader reach.
It helps familiarise the audience with the E! brand. I am
sure that there will be a reduction in the content we sell
once we launch.
now, we do volume deals with Indian broadcasters where we
sell 200-250 hours of programming. This will change. The number
of hours sold will come down.
Apart from India, China is a key market for most channels
but has proven difficult to crack. What is your gameplan there?
We have been lucky in China. We shoot the content ourselves.
We own the rights. Other studios have financing partners and
they all have some rights. We produce 1100 hours of programming.
We do not acquire programming nor do we commission very much.
We own our content across multiple platforms. We have the
flexibility to be more realistic in doing deals in China.
has prevented some studios and production firms from being
able to have a business in China is that they are inflexible
in terms of what they are willing to do with their rights.
We can sell 700 hours each year to multiple channels. On CCTV
for instance there is an hour of content. CCTV can also use
this content as they expand their broadband and mobile businesses.
disappointment in China is not our ability to sell there.
It is to have our brand be available. However the good thing
about China is that the rules for online are not as restrictive.
So we can sell our content on television and maintain a brand
What is the split between advertising and subscription
revenues? What targets have been set?
In Asia it is all affiliate revenues. There is no advertising.
In Australia and New Zealand we have a significant amount
of ad revenue - 35 per cent. In
Latin America most of our revenue comes from advertising as
is the case with the US.
biggest goal is to launch Style later this year globally and
to increase the subscription revenue of E!
you looking at working with retail firms as well with Style
as it is about fashion and accessories?
is good about Style is that it comes built in with a bunch
of cross-promotional exercises. In the US the network has
a lot of high-end brands. We have worked out global ad sponsorship
deals. For instance, we do a programme that focusses on the
Versace fashion shows.
To what extent has E! Networks' programming budget gone up
over the last couple of years?
It has gone up hugely by over 50 per cent in the past
five years. Most of this is due to the amount of money being
spent on high end reality shows. There was a time when reality
shows were inexpensive. They are now becoming almost as expensive
as scripted drama and comedy. Talent has become more expensive.
In general I would say that there is more creativity in the
was point when you had elimination reality shows and home
based reality shows (like Big Brother) where you lock
people in a house. Now you see reality shows that are based
on game shows that are on mockumentary formats. This would
be a hybrid scripted reality show. You will see more shows
like MTV's Laguna Beach, which is partially scripted
and partial reality.
believe that there is an important mix between sales
and channels. While we do sell content to channels it
is important for the viewers to know that the main place
to get E! content is on the channel itself and not on
What are the new shows that E! is developing?
There is a show called Paradise City, which is
similar to Laguna Beach. It follows the biggest performers
of Las Vegas. One character can be a playboy bunny. Another
one can be a rock star.
show Sunset Tan looks at Beverly Hills, Malibu beach
life. The wealthiest mansions and homes in the Summer become
rent for $30,000 a week from June till the end of August.
Rich families from across the world come in. Their kids hang
out in nightclubs, drive sexy cars.
are doing a show on the New York socialite scene. Our aim
is to expand beyond Hollywood. We will look at other wealthy
people who are becoming a part of what we call pop culture.
I believe that you are creating original content for Asia.
Could you shed light on this?
We will premier a show called Young Hot Asia. This
is a documentary about 15 of the hottest young Asian stars.
They are making a mark not just in Asia but also in Europe
and the US. There have always been the Jackie Chans. Chow
Yun Fats and Michelle Yeohs but in the last three years you
are starting to see Asian talent that nobody had heard of
before making a noise
will do specials on film festivals held in Asia. We will look
at how Asian content is influencing television content in
the US and in Europe. Ideally with India there should be 70:30
Hollywood and Bollywood content. We can also have the Indian
perspective on Hollywood. We can shoot in India and focus
on people who are fascinated with Hollywood.
problem is that since we are launching on digital tiers it
cannot support a great deal of local production.
You recently hired American Idol host Ryan Seacrest.
How has he helped boost the channel's profile?
He has become more than just our news anchor. He is also
our Red Carpet host like for the Oscar Awards. He is
pretty much the spokesman for the channel now. Our news ratings
have risen by 50 per cent.
median age for our news has dropped to 32 from 38 which is
very low. It is also rare. National broadcast news tends to
have a viewer age above 50. Ryan is bringing the younger American
Idol audience with him.
What are the challenges in doing celebrity news vi-a-vis regular
Access is a challenge. The audience has an unending desire
for gossip and for paparazzi type footage of celebrities.
They want to celebrities particularly when they are not on
the Red carpet all beautiful and made up. There is huge interest
in looking at celebrities when they are not prepared. With
E! our main source of content are celebrities and their publicists
have to ride the line to feed the audience what they want.
A lot of people cover celebrities in a mean spirited way.
We need to avoid that and provide the audience with what they
are looking for. When cover celebrity news you have to remember
that the publicists are very powerful. Unlike other kinds
of news where you are just reporting the facts here you have
publicists and PR agents who are constantly trying to skew
the way we cover things.
you get accused of pandering to the stars to get access?
(Laughs) We are not a news company like CNN whose aim is
to report in an unbiased manner. We pander to the stars on some
shows but there are others where we do not. We have a documentary
series E! True Hollywood Story that looks at stars who
have fallen due to factors like drug use, sexuality, extra marital
are doing one on Kirsten Dunst who am I sure is not going
to be happy about everything that is on the show. We did not
get information by talking to her but through sources. It
is covered in a very realistic, unflattering way. On the other
hand Celebrity Profile celebrates stars. So we do both
types of programming. We don't apologise for it.
are the other channels in E!'s portfolio?
We have a channel called Versus. It focusses on outdoor
sports like skiing, hockey, snowboarding. It is not about extreme
sports but sports that viewers are very familiar with. The other
channel is G4 and it focusses on videogames. Its target group
is boys 12-29. We will not launch Versus in Asia right away.
is because you buy sports regionally. So it is difficult to
have a pan regional network for it. I am more interested in
launching G4 in Asia and India. Internationally G4 will launch
late next year.
India the government has banned FTV for two months. A similar
fate had fallen on AXN at the start of the year. I would appreciate
your views on government regulation.
India is not quite as strict as Malaysia and Singapore. We
have a feed for those two countries and the content is not
as open as what we air in Australia and New Zealand. We could
air the Malaysia and Singapore feed in India.
feed is more on the conservative side. As India grows I would
eventually look at having a feed just for India. At the moment
though the digital platforms in India do not make it economically
viable to have a feed just for this country. Any international
broadcaster who is planning to enter India and have a separate
feed just for it has no plans to breakeven. When subscribers
grow for our channel in India then we would look to have a
separate feed and we would be looking for more leeway compared
to Malaysia and Singapore.
challenge for media firms in the digital age is re-purposing
of content for mobile and the Internet where consumption is
increasingly taking place anytime, anywhere. How is E! going
about this task?
We have done well in this regard as we own all our content.
Normally people who make films, dramas and comedies do not
own the rights to their properties. We do not face this difficulty.
Broadband and mobile can be done on a region-by-region case.
We have group called Short Programming and New Media Content
launched a year and a half back and already everyday we put
90 minutes of streamed content up for mobile. It is a cut
down version of the shows we make and the news that we provide.
Operators can also take 20-25 minutes of clips either on a
VoD basis or on a SVoD basis. Some operators only take the
streamed content while others only take the VoD content. Some
we have a broadband channel called The Vine. It is available
at E! Online. The site has 80 editorial people. The Vine is
streaming video. One popular section is called Planet Gossip.
It has video stream segments from gossip columnists all over
role are merchandising and DVDs playing in helping E! diversify
its revenue streams?
I am just launching a DVD business. E! has never released
DVDs overseas. We will be coming with an international DVD called
Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery Secrets. It features 10
of the top plastic surgeons in Beverly Hills talking about the
best way to do procedures. It looks at what procedures leave
scars and which ones do not.
has E! Online boosted its content offerings?
We cover entertainment news from an aspirational perspective.
Other sites only have a section for entertainment news. Some
sites cover entertainment from a paparazzi, lowest common denominator
were profitable through the dotbomb era and it is still profitable.
Our site has been profitable for the last seven years.
Online 2.0 will launch this Summer. This will have social
networking. So people can chat about their favourite stars.
They can go into our library, find photos of their favourite
stars and swap them with each other. One can upload one's
photo of a star if one has a digital camera. Taking photos
of stars is happening more frequently in Los Angeles.
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