Since their arrival in Asia over a decade ago, it’s no secret that international networks have been localizing feeds, channels and content to please affiliates, as well as to attract both viewers and advertising dollars. But one thing that became apparent was that even executives with a pan-regional marketing remit did not necessarily command a regional budget, and often needed to seek approval from in-market marketing heads to release country-specific funds. This made selling whole-region solutions more difficult, as even those advertisers with regional budgets still wanted to ‘cherry-pick’ by market, or language, or sub-region. At ESPN STAR Sports (ESS), senior vice-president ad sales Charles Less will say only that pan-regional versus localised advertising “is a healthy ratio that mirrors the advertisers’ and brands’ media strategy. The key is to be able to offer both in the market place. For the foreseeable future, there will be an opportunity to sell both markets and to ignore either one would be not appropriate.” The hard part, says Less, is balancing inventory, “because if we sell something on a local level, it makes the regional deal less attractive. Once we see that there is local interest we need to make sure that the local interest is in enough markets to justify the loss of regional inventory. With popular properties, this decision can be difficult to make.” ESS has substantial distribution across Asia, covering 24 countries via 17 networks, namely: ESPN Asia, ESPN China, ESPN Hong Kong, ESPN India, ESPN Malaysia, ESPN Philippines, ESPN Singapore, ESPN Taiwan, MBC-ESPN (Korea), STAR Sports Asia, STAR Sports Hong Kong, STAR Sports India, STAR Sports Malaysia, STAR Sports Singapore, STAR Sports Southeast Asia, STAR Sports Taiwan, and STAR Cricket. Continues Less, “Where we have localized in markets such as India, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan, we have seen healthy growth. What is particularly encouraging is that we see brand count increase, which means our revenue has become more diverse than what we see on a regional level. It is always easier to budget and plan when you are working with ten clients spending $100,000 each, rather than working with one client spending $1million.” Sony Pictures Entertainment Networks – Asia’s (SPENA) recently-appointed vice president, advertising sales and marketing Jack Lim says that network also has a healthy mix of both (regional and local ad revenues), and the ratios are definitely more well-balanced today than they were a few years ago. “More importantly,” says Lim, “the point of regional vs local revenues aside, the real story here is the driver for this growth on both fronts. This stems largely from the success formula our channels have had with viewers all across Asia. When you take an iconic brand like Sony, apply that to the immense resources of the studios; with the local market insights of SPENA – you get a bouquet of channels very well positioned to help clients reach….out to the increasingly globalizing and affluent Asian viewer, and in turn create maximum value for our clients and agency partners.” SPENA’s AXN and Animax, have four and five feeds respectively. Newly-launched channels AXN Beyond and Sony Entertainment Television (SET) have one each with plans to grow aggressively throughout the year, Lim explains. “We are also actively pursuing online and mobile delivery platforms this year, again leveraging on extensive in-house resources we have at Sony, and also tapping into the network of partners we have globally to make this happen.” Lim continues, “Too many conversations on regional vs local tend to take a narrow focus by going straight into the revenue side of the conversation. In my mind, success and value should be measured two ways: how our viewers view us, connect with our brands and relate to the unique blend of programming mix we deliver; and how we can best serve our clients given how their organizations and budgets are structured. It is a complex mix on any given day and there is no one straightforward answer. Suffice to say that given the coverage model and extensive footprint we have at SPENA in terms of both our channels and our sales organizations, we are very well-equipped to do both – build meaningful relationships and channel loyalty with viewers, and drive long-lasting economically beneficial partnerships with clients.” Toby Hayward, senior vice president advertising sales at CNBC Asia Pacific says that most international broadcasters have adjusted their product for local consumption, whether by entering into partnerships with local media companies or by re-versioning their programming. And this is true for CNBC. “Where CNBC differs from many broadcasters is by our commitment to following through on this general localization with a series of on ground events and programmes. For example, our headline show Squawk Box went on the road and centered itself for a week in New Zealand, focusing on comprehensive coverage of New Zealand (the special was called Squawk New Zealand). And before that Squawk went to Hong Kong. This year we plan further excursions for the programme. We have also produced shows focusing on local content, like Korea In Focus and Thailand in Transition, for example. Hayward says that CNBC’s strategic forums, covering a wide range of business related topics continue to appear in many Asian cities and the CNBC Business Leader Awards are now active in Mumbai, Shanghai and most recently Seoul. “This strategy of continuous engagement with our audience, on air and on the ground, allows advertisers to roam well beyond the borders of broadcast advertising and maintain contact with traditionally hard to reach viewers in a receptive environment.” But at MTV Networks India, China and Southeast Asia, excutive vice president and managing director Amit Jain advises caution. “Multinational companies should be cautious of over-localizing to the point of fragmentation – or ultimately they may find themselves running a multitude of small businesses. We need to ensure that while our content is locally relevant, our business practices remain solidly multi-national.” Indeed BBC World has launched a strategic positioning focusing on its appeal to ‘the Internationalists’ – taking more of a psychographic than geographic approach. “BBC World is a global international news channel that offers advertisers the opportunity to target an Internationalist audience by selecting region specific feeds. We have six global feeds with local market advertising opportunities only available in Japan, Australia whilst the world is divided up by region: US, Europe, Africa – and three feeds in Asia – South Asia, the Middle East and Asia Pacific,” explains Sunita Rajan, vice president advertising sales, Asia and Australasia, BBC World. As to how schedules and programming are localized, Rajan says, “On weekdays the channel is focused on news, business, and sports around the clock, with blocks of news for breakfast audiences around the globe – for example in Asia, we produce much of our breakfast coverage from Singapore. At other times of day, the hourly news is followed by current affairs, features, and interview programmes, scheduled for peak time audiences in each market. Our flagship hour-long news programme, World News Today, is also regionally targeted to provide our best journalism for evening viewers. “In order to keep our ‘Internationalist’ audience up to date with daily business news, the channel offers regular business reports from around the world – World Business Report, Asia Business Report, India Business Report and Middle East Business Report, which are anchored from London, Singapore, Mumbai, and the UAE,” she says. “On weekends, BBC World’s news is supplemented by debates and documentaries that provide context and global insight around the core news coverage and appeal to the tastes of our global audience. These often form themed seasons, for instance going Inside China for the Beijing Olympics this year, or on America as it elects its new President.” Rajan adds that advertisers are constantly seeking innovative advertising solutions, “Sponsorships, ad-funded programmes, integrated solutions and creative ideas to cut through clutter and create impact as well as resonance for their brand/product message in the quality environment that the BBC World has to offer clients.” At sibling operation BBC Global Channels, a spokesperson says that two channel brands have carriage in India, “BBC Entertainment, a premium destination for English language programming targeted at the 20 – 45 years age group. Before (it) launched in India, British content like Yes Minister, which was also made into a local adaptation, had been popular on other channels. This is the first time that Indian viewers can get their favourite British fare all on one channel. Drama series such as Spooks, Hustle and Hotel Babylon have been well received, especially because of their strong storylines and slick production values. For advertisers, BBC Entertainment is the only differentiated option among the English language entertainment channels, in that it offers British shows in a premium environment,” she says. “CBeebies which has also been launched in India is the only pre-school targeted channel in India today. It brings content that has been carefully catered and researched to stimulate and develop pre school children – which was an unfulfilled need in the Indian market. CBeebies is available in Hindi, which makes it relevant to a wider gamut of audiences; (it) does not carry advertising. “The branding and on-air look combines the best of two worlds – the universally powerful respect that the BBC brand has with visuals of local symbols/icons that signify local festivals and occasions. A case in point is the Diwali campaign on BBC Entertainment which was produced and shot using Indian icons (a classical Indian dancer), that represented the spirit of the festival of lights,” the spokesperson concludes. ESPN STAR Sports’ vice-president programming South East Asia Nick Wilkinson says that scheduling and programming has been localized via properties, programmes and presentation. “Asia is divided into three sub-regions of North Asia, South Asia and South East Asia and we acquire properties according to the preferences of the region,” outlines Wilkinson. “For the North Asia market, there is huge interest in baseball and basketball. Our acquired NBA basketball and Major League Baseball properties cater to that market and we ensure that more live games are shown in these markets. On the programming front, we produce original baseball and basketball magazine shows such as Baseball Tonight and Basketball Tonight. In Taiwan, we have embarked on an in-market joint venture with the Chinese Taipei Basketball Association to jointly organize the Super Basketball League (SBL), augmented with our specially-produced programme SBL Focus. “Cricket enjoys a massive following in South Asia and to cater to this market, we have strengthened our programming a healthy mix of acquired and original content. In June 2007, we launched a dedicated 24×7 cricket channel, STAR Cricket for the South Asia sub-region, and in short span of a few months, it has reached penetration levels of 90 – 95%. In India, we also have Premier League Hockey (PHL), a joint venture between ESS and the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) to create a unique league featuring the biggest names from the top hockey playing nations such as Pakistan, Netherlands, Spain, Argentina and Malaysia. “For South East Asia, soccer and motorsports remain the most-followed sport and we provide a strong lineup of live coverage of the Barclays Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, The FA Cup & England home games for football fans and Formula One, MotoGP, A1 and World Rally Championship.” On the news front, Wilkinson says ESS has five localized editions of signature news programme, SportsCenter (Asia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India and Malaysia) that is broadcast in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, and hosted by local faces. “Across the region, ESS produces pre-and-post shows around major properties such as major tennis tournaments like the Australian Open and Wimbledon and golf’s Augusta Masters. (And) further localization comes in the form of customized language presentation for each region, with English for South East Asia, Mandarin for China and Taiwan, Hindi for India and Cantonese commentary for Hong Kong. We also have a stable of multicultural talent that reflects our localization strategy.” SPENA’s Lim outlines that AXN has four separate feeds for East Asia, Korea, South Asia and Taiwan. “The programme line-up for these feeds differs based on the viewing preferences of the various markets. For instance, the Korea, South Asia and Taiwan feeds tend to have more movies as compared to the East Asia feed. The prime time for the various feeds may also differ slightly, with Korea and South Asia having a slightly later prime time. Animax customizes the programme line-up and schedules for five different feeds – Southeast Asia, South Asia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines. Programmes in Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Philippines are primarily dubbed in English, with some programmes having a Japanese original language option. Prime time programmes in Hong Kong and Taiwan are dubbed in the local language of Cantonese and Mandarin respectively.” Asked how ad sales have increased in line with any localization strategies, Lim says it is too limiting to think in terms of just one strategy stand. “Our growth strategy is built around two mega trends – firstly the rise of the Asian economies and closer to home, the economic integration of SEA has resulted in the ascendancy of two key demographic segments – Asian youth and Asian middle class – leading in turn to an unprecedented explosion in Asian consumerism. This in turn coupled with strong economic fundamentals will drive continued GDP growth, rising household incomes and increasingly robust domestic economies which present a tremendous opportunity for marketers and media alike. “Secondly, the globalization of the Asia, and hence of Asian media and entertainment is the other trend. In the past, you could simply replicate a global product in Asia or depend entirely on local brands to serve local needs. The result of economic success is that Asian audiences today are increasingly sophisticated, discerning and demanding. Going back to your question, we need to succeed with our viewers first to deliver success for our clients, and ultimately, our shareholders. Because we have consistently strived to understand and define what viewers want and need, SPENA has been experiencing double-digit revenue growth for consecutive years running now. We expect this growth momentum to continue as we in turn help clients capture the tremendous economic opportunities ahead in the years to come.”