This story appears in the October 2020 issue of Television Asia Plus.

Read part two here.

The pay-TV perspective

Pay-TV company A+E Networks has also felt the hit of the coronavirus pandemic in terms of production. According to Saugato Banerjee, Managing Director of A+E Networks Asia, some of the company’s local productions were affected as a result of travel bans and lockdowns across the region. He admitted that while it was challenging to do shoots, they were able to adapt by quickly hiring on-ground crews who were already present to navigate travel restrictions. He added, “In Korea and Japan, production has resumed, and we have been able to progress and air all projects in the pipeline.” 

One of the challenges for A+E Networks was to ensure the health and safety of its team across Singapore, Tokyo, and Seoul by instituting work from home guidelines. Saugato shared, “As teams have adapted and adjusted to the ‘new normal’, we have to face up to the business challenges of dealing with a pandemic-induced global recession. Part of this is making sure that we have a steady supply of content or repackage existing content in fresher ways. But it’s also important to increase the reach of our programming through new distribution partnerships or AVOD platforms.” 

Across the Asia Pacific market, Saugato shared that the popular shows from A+E Networks include Season 12 of MasterChef Australia, whose launch coincided with many of the lockdowns in the region, mirroring the growing trends that A+E Networks is seeing as home bakers and chefs learn new culinary skills. Lifetime Original Movies continues to perform strongly for the channel, as well as its home and lifestyle shows such as #Instafamous Lives. In addition, HISTORY also had an increase in viewership across flagship factual entertainment programs like Pawn Stars, Alone, Swamp People, and Mountain Men. For Crime+Investigation, A+E Networks also saw the continued trend of Asia-based crime programs, in addition to Surviving R Kelly Part II. 

Saugato said, “In Korea, we debuted, to great success, our first premium drama investment, Backstreet Rookie on Lifetime. Our digital channels in Korea continue to set trends and be part of the cultural zeitgeist.” 

Meanwhile, in Japan, HISTORY set viewership records by combining popular global titles like Ancient Aliens with meaningful local acquisitions. Saugato shared that in March, the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place, and A+E Japan was a key participant in the co-production between History US and Hulu Japan to bring the globally relevant Japanese story of Hiroshima: 75 Years Later to worldwide audiences. 

Demand for more in-home entertainment increased as more people stayed home due to lockdowns. “At A+E Networks, due to our extensive catalogue and content ownership, we have been able to meet this demand easily and find ourselves in a strong position. One of the challenges facing the industry is the supply of content to satisfy on-demand services, as mentioned, we have been able to help partners with this demand during this period,” Saugato said.

Saugato added that demand for content is growing exponentially across media, time, and length formats, as well as cross-border demand for international content. The global premiere of Backstreet Rookie found an audience, thanks to A+E Networks’ deal with iQIYI.

Outlook post-COVID-19

OTT and pay-TV players are adapting well to the current situation while being able to meet consumer demand for content. The same goes for consumers as people have now adjusted to the new normal brought about by the pandemic.

Hrushikesh commented, “With the rising popularity of OTT content, it’s expected that consumption habits will continue to change, driven by ongoing advances in digital platforms and new technologies with increased speeds and network capacity.”

He continued, “As we move towards the future post-COVID-19, we expect many of these viewing habits and the way people consume content are going to stay post the pandemic. People are going to continue to stay online, looking for new experiences that will fulfill their needs and passions.” 

Hrushikesh expects that there will be a continuous leap in the consumption of content like entertainment, gaming, cooking, and exercise across platforms such as video channels, social media, and content verticals.

“TV services are certainly making life on lockdown more manageable, but it’s online video platforms, social media platforms like Instagram, and video conferencing tools like Zoom, which are uniting families and friends. Going forward, mobile TV viewing platforms are also likely to increase among consumers,” Hrushikesh concluded. 

Meanwhile, A+E Networks is looking forward to the changing needs of its affiliates, partners, and consumers as the world begin to emerge from COVID-19. Saugato said, “With the increase in viewership that we have seen, we will now see trends emerge around our shows, this will help to inform our ongoing content strategy. We also look forward to partnering with more platform providers and brands across the region as we continue to invest in our brands and entertain our growing audience.”