New Programming, Tech Ventures Blossom


Summer may be a lazy time for some, but not for the forces of several U.S.-backed ventures.

A flurry of announcements regarding new overseas endeavors emerged last week from the likes of MTV Networks International, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., WorldGate Communications Inc. and United Pan-Europe Communications N.V. (UPC).

In a sense, both MTV and MGM launched channels that are comebacks for them in Asia. MGM closed down its pan-Asian MGM Gold channel more than two years ago during the region's financial crisis. Since then, its presence has been limited to content on two movie channels in Japan and Australia, neither of which carry the MGM brand.

The studio has now teamed up with powerful Indian media conglomerate Zee Telefilms Ltd. to create a channel called Zee-MGM, set to launch sometime this quarter.

The ad-supported channel will start with a subscriber base of 10 million, as it will be part of Zee's package of channels offered both to systems within Zee's own MSO, Siticable, as well as to affiliated systems that serve customers in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Maldives.

MGM senior vice president of communications Craig Parson begged to differ with the "comeback" term, which, he said, "suggests that we never intended to return, which isn't the case."

He declined to comment on further expansion in Asia, saying only, "The plan is to develop these things on a case-by-case basis." All told, MGM has equity in some 11 channels beyond U.S. shores.

MTV is back in the Japanese marketplace with a new channel partnership. Its teammate, @JapanMedia, is rebranding its existing music-video channel, Vibe, which will give the new MTV Japan service 2.8 million subscribers when it launches in January.

MTV previously had a licensing deal in Japan with Pioneer Electronics Corp., but bowed out of the joint venture some time ago.

"We wanted to have a deeper commitment and relationship with a channel in Japan," MTVN International president Bill Roedy said. "Japan is the second-largest music market in the world. And for us, it's particularly exciting's a key youth center of influence, and we get to selfishly spread that around the world" on MTV's other channels.

MTV also announced a new UHF channel in the Philippines last week. It's a joint venture with that country's Nation Broadcasting Corp., and it is due to launch early next year, further spreading MTV's existing Filipino-targeted feed picked up by cable operators there.

The Asian channel announcements came on the heels of new MTV localized-feed launches this summer in France and Poland.

Also making Asian incursions was WorldGate, which announced it sealed a deal to offer its interactive "Internet on Every TV" service via MSO Asianet Satellite Systems Ltd., which serves some 320,000 subscribers in India.

WorldGate's service will provide e-mail, chat rooms, interactive advertising and TV programming via Motorola Broadband Communications Sector's "SURFview" set-top boxes.

In Central Europe, UPC is laying the groundwork for three new direct-to-home platforms. It announced the launch of what it bills as "Hungary's first extensive local-language satellite-television service," and also dropped word that it will unveil the launch of similar services in the Czech and Slovak Republics next month.

All three are branded with the "UPC Direct" name, and follow in the footsteps of UPC's Polish DTH service, Wizja TV.

UPC presently has cable systems that serve 551,000 subscribers in Hungary, 247,000 homes in the Slovak Republic and 364,000 customers in the Czech Republic, according to company officials.

UPC Central Europe chairman Nimrod Kovacs said in a prepared statement that the platforms are "an important development toward the provision of home Internet access" in those markets.