KC Global Media Entertainment is part of a rising breed of indie live curated channels operators in Asia. Six months after buying Sony Pictures Television’s business across much of Asia, co-founder, president and chief executive, George Chien, talks about the business and where to next.
AXN All-Stars is something of a coming-out party for one of Asia’s oldest live video channel brands, officially under new management since May this year. The special goes live on Saturday, 28 November, with a mix of celebrities from shows such as Asia’s Got Talent, The Elements: Cosentino and Cyril: Simply Magic, and a slew of new hosts and performers.
AXN All-Stars demonstrates a few things: ongoing pulling power some thought AXN may no longer have after Sony Pictures Television sold to indie outfit KC Global Media Entertainment; the ability to attract title sponsors for original production; the will to even do original production in a wickedly shrivelled regional channels environment where most others have fallen back; the EQ to tap into a desperate need for hope and optimism at the end of a hideous year, sidestepping most of the nauseating platitudes of companies hijacking real sentiment.
While KC Global Media said from the start that original production was part of its playbook, no-one would have held them to it through a year of upended plans and vanishing advertising support. And so, it turns out, no one needed to...
AXN All-Stars goes live on AXN Asia’s Facebook and YouTube channels, with appearances by Afgan, Anggun, Cosentino, Cyril Takayama, David Foster, Michael Bolton and Mel C, guest performers from five countries – Indonesia, Taiwan, Philippines, Singapore and Japan – and hosts from Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and the U.S.
AXN All-Stars comes six months after KC Global Media took over most of Sony Pictures Television’s networks business across Southeast Asia, Korea, China, Australia/New Zealand and South Asia (excluding India).
The sale, involving four channel brands (AXN, Animax, ONE and Japanese channel Gem) was followed up in July with the acquisition of a bundle of Korean drama rights for Indonesia from Korean broadcaster SBS, which wanted out of its own Indonesia channel. The new arrangement expanded ONE’s footprint in Indonesia.
“When we bought this, our focus was really on how we were going to make this company more efficient,” says co-founder, president and CEO, George Chien, who, along with KC Global Media’s Andy Kaplan, was a fixture in Sony Pictures Television Networks Asia for almost two decades. “We felt like there was unfinished business there,” he adds.
“We don’t believe that linear TV is dead. We do see that there are tremendous headwinds. There are obviously a lot of linear channels going away, but there’s definitely a marketplace for this. We saw a brilliant opportunity with the strong brands. It wasn’t an oversized portfolio. We didn’t feel like we had a lot of fat that was sitting there,” Chien says.
That was before Covid-19. “Externally and internally, there were going to be challenges when we took this business over, but with Covid, everybody’s dealing with the same thing... it made it that much easier to have the various conversations. We had to be innovative, smart, efficient.”
“If anything, Covid accelerated the mindset changes that were required for us to be successful,” Chien adds. “I think... we’re getting to the place we wanted to be in maybe three to six months earlier than we had initially anticipated.”
At the same time, he acknowledges the challenges. “Do we still see there are tremendous headwinds? Do we still have adjustments that need to be made? Absolutely,” he says.
KC Global Media sees the linear/live channels environment playing out differently market by market in Asia.
“Some markets are going to fade a lot faster and face a lot stronger headwinds,” he says. Like, for instance, Singapore, and others with high broadband penetration and a taste for VOD/SVOD services. Advertising support for linear services in Taiwan, however, remains “pretty strong”.
The expansion of ONE in Indonesia two months after the sale closed was a happy opportunity rather than part of the original strategy. ONE, a part of
Sony’s original bundle in Indonesia, rolled out a separate Indonesia feed a few years ago when Korean broadcaster SBS pulled its rights back so that it could launch its own Indonesia channel. A change of heart at SBS meant rights became available again and KC Global Media was able to step back in.
The new era kicked off with first-run rights to Backstreet Rookie, an SBS title sold by A+E Networks outside of Korea.
Today, ONE in Indonesia is again part of ONE’s regional play, with, of course, its own language feed. “We’re going to do what’s right and what’s necessary for ONE to continue to be a powerful linear channel,” Chien says.
While the output deal with SBS remains in place, Chien says Korea’s production environment today is “very different” to what it was when the original ONE agreement was sealed. “We need to pause and understand the dynamics,” he adds. “The output deal is still the same, but the dynamic behind the output deal has differed. So that’s what makes it a little bit more challenging, but we’re still going to deliver.”
What about content supply from Sony? “Some of our best-rated shows come from Sony,” Chien says, mentioning Lincoln Rhyme, Black List, LA’s Finest and acknowledging, along with everyone else, content and price rationalisation.
Everyone, he says, is “open to dialogue... They understand the market. They understand what’s happening here. They understand the changes that are happening... there’s an abundance of supply, especially for the linear pay-TV space. There’s not many of us still standing.”
The big-budget original productions of old, led by The Amazing Race Asia and Asia’s Got Talent, are not coming back anytime soon. At least not to KC Global Media. Chien says the competitions shows are still on his agenda. “The question is when.”
“We love those regional bigger productions and IP formats, but it’s really really challenging to do those,” he says. Covid/travel restrictions/production protocols/social distancing make it even more difficult, never mind the sponsorship challenges and “finding the right revenue model to go along with these big budgeted regional OPs”.
KC Global Media has no immediate plans to join the production rush in Indonesia. Chien says the Singapore-based regional network may not have the expertise – yet – to pull off originals in Indonesia. But never say never. “Should we see the opportunity and think we could pull it off. We will absolutely go for it”.
As evidenced by AXN All-Stars, Chien remains committed to production. “We have a lot in the pipeline, and not only non-scripted. We’re also looking at scripted, both long-form and short-form” across platforms, including social media and drawing on in-house creative talent, he says. Podcasts could also be part of the mix eventually.
Whatever is added to AXN’s line up, the channel will continue to be action oriented. “The brand has been in the market for two-plus decades,” Chien says. “The formula works. We have a core audience and operators who want the channel. We’ve always been known as an action-adventure adrenaline-filled brand, and we are not going to stray too far away from that”.
KC Global Media also took over Japanese channel Gem, launched across Asia in October 2015 with a focus on high-profile Japanese dramas, such as Death Note and Angel Heart, and eight carriage deals in four markets. The channel was a joint venture with Nippon TV, which decided not to continue the venture after the channels were sold. Chien says Gem will continue to carry Nippon TV content, along with other Japanese content rights holders.
Whatever happens next, Chien, like other indie channel operators in the space, believes “there is a place for linear TV. Is it going to shrink? The answer is yes. Are the streamers going to have a place in the living room? Absolutely. At the end of the day, it’s about who is relevant. With the strength of our brands, we believe we’re going to be relevant”.
Published in ContentAsia's Issue Four 2020, November 2020