Star In Ong’s Eyes

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Veteran cable programmer and current COO of Hong Kong-based satellite distributor Star TV Laureen Ong recently sat down with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead to discuss cable’s burgeoning multicultural marketplace and her efforts to gain U.S. distribution for Star TV’s India and Chinese-themed content. An edited transcript follows:

MCN: Why are you looking to gain U.S. distribution for the internationally based Star TV services?LAUREEN ONG: The Indian and Chinese populations are two enormously growing populations that are growing here and are very influential — they have a lot of disposable income and they bring a lot of very positive things to this country skill-wise and talent wise. The fact is it’s been an audience that [U.S. programmers] haven’t paid attention to because everyone assumes that we’re a homogeneous audience and everyone watches American content.

Well, for some people [Star TV is] a way to stay connected to their homeland and be able to talk to their family and friends who are still back in their countries. They can watch the same television shows and talk about it; it has something of interest that keeps them tied to their family and friends.

MCN: Where are you in terms of U.S. distribution?
LO: We’re on Dish [Network] and DirecTV, and we recently closed a deal with RCN. We previously announced a deal with Cox, and we have many other deals in the works.

MCN: Is most of your distribution on a tier?
LO: It is, and that’s sufficient because that audience wants that programming and they’ll pay the extra that’s required.

MCN: What type of programming does Star offer?
LO: The content that we’re most famous for is the local language we do in India as well as greater China. We produce over 10,000 hours of programming. Star Plus is the No. 1 general-entertainment channel in India and has been for 400 weeks and running, which is no easy feat since India is the most hyper competitive market in the world.

We also offer Star One, which is what I call the spunky younger brother channel, and Star Gold, which is really a lot of our Bollywood movies.

MCN: Are you finding that there’s a greater interest among operators to launch multiethnic channels today?
LO: Absolutely. I think everybody is looking at how to grow their business, and so as they’re trying to figure out where the sectors are for growth, they understand that they have to look at it from a nontraditional point of view.

MCN: Will the election of Barack Obama as President change the atmosphere with regard to the distribution of minority-targeted content?
LO: I think from a cable-television point of view, it points out that America is just not one flavor — it’s not about one sector of the population. I think we all knew that, and now that that voice is a lot louder and people understand better that this is a pretty diverse place.

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