Sony Pictures Television Networks’ Hui Keng Ang

HKAngSINGAPORE: Hui Keng (HK) Ang, the senior VP and general manager of Sony Pictures Television Networks, Asia, tells World Screen Newsflash about the importance of the new Asian entertainment services ONE and GEM in the region’s rapidly evolving multichannel business.

WS: How did the partnership with Nippon TV for the Japanese entertainment channel GEM come about?
ANG: Nippon TV is the leading Japanese broadcaster and in 2014 they won the “triple crown,” which means they won prime time, early prime and all day. In 2015 they are still number one. They really have a vision to expand internationally, expand beyond terrestrial and expand beyond [program] syndication. Sony has built a nice bouquet with a good number of channels, and Nippon TV really liked how we’ve marketed content into brands and engaged consumers. They approached us and we concluded a JV deal in April of this year.

The channel started on October 1. When we flipped the switch it was immediately available in four countries and on eight platforms. We have a vision of rolling this channel out to the entire Southeast Asian footprint, plus Hong Kong. There are still seven or eight territories that we’re working on. That’s the immediate goal, and that’s what the next 12 months will be all about. Of course, once we reach a critical mass—when we have two or three more key territories—we will be looking to go beyond linear: OTT, SVOD, etc.

WS: You also have a Korean entertainment channel, with ONE. How is that performing?
ANG: While new players are coming into the market, the share the channel occupies is still about 70 percent of the TV viewership among four regional players. We continue to engage our audience through various means. Just as we did with the American content on AXN and Sony, for the Korean content we have selected key shows that air very close to the Korean telecast. That has been very well received and has kept us in the leading position. We continue to bring the artists from key shows into markets. Just recently we brought the star of The Gang Doctor into Jakarta and Singapore. We engaged almost 10,000 fans during this two-day trip.

WS: Is linear the focus for the ONE rollout, or are OTT and SVOD opportunities on the agenda?
ANG: For ONE it is a linear conversation, and that is primarily a function of the programming rights we have licensed from [Korean broadcaster] SBS. But when the OTT market is a lot more established and mature, then there will be conversations we can have.

WS: Are there plans to develop original content with your programming partner, SBS, for ONE?
ANG: It’s definitely something we’re looking at. SBS has lots of formats. There are conversations happening.

WS: AXN and Sony Channel are so well established. Why was it important for you to add Asian content to your channel portfolio?
ANG: English-language content, primarily from the Hollywood studios, has always been the driver for pay-TV audiences in Southeast Asia. The pay-TV market over the last decade has only been tapping the very affluent households. As pay TV gets into the next tier of penetration, you are beginning to get into the median income. These are the people who will look up to English content, but deep in their hearts they really enjoy Asian content: Korean content, anime and the Taiwanese and Hong Kong dramas. We identified the next wave within this, and that’s Japanese content, which had been very popular 25 to 30 years ago in Southeast Asia. So having that portfolio of both English and Asian languages gives a very good mix to target the entire pay-TV audience.

WS: What’s new at AXN?
ANG: You’ve heard about our rebrand. We’ve almost closed out the window [on our U.S. imports.] All the key properties we have—The Voice, Quantico, The Blacklist—are telecast in our footprint within 12 hours of the U.S. broadcast. We want to counter piracy—we want the audience to hear the buzz about these big shows in the U.S. and then they can watch them almost within the same day. Year to date the AXN success story is still very, very strong. We are still the number one broadcaster in Southeast Asia among all the English-language channels.

WS: You rebranded Sony Channel last year. How have audiences and platform partners responded to the new look?
ANG: Affiliate platforms in Hong Kong, Indonesia and Singapore are loving the new look and loving the new content. It’s not just about a brand change. We have significantly invested in the programming, so we added on How to Get Away with Murder, Madam Secretary and Jane the Virgin. We’ve just added StarHub to the distribution, in addition to Singtel TV in Singapore.

WS: As the market continues to evolve, how are you satisfying the demands from both audiences and affiliate partners for multiplatform access to content?
ANG: The linear pay-TV business is the core, but we have already engaged [with our affiliate partners] in terms of TV Everywhere. Most of our affiliate platforms are able to use our existing linear channel brand on a TV Everywhere service. We are already in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. As long as the platform has the ability, we are happy to work with them. From a VOD perspective, we are constantly looking at the rights we have to expand. We have our VOD content within StarHub Go and Astro on the Go. It’s a delicate balance. The next question is, when do we go direct to consumer? Sony Pictures Television Networks, as a com­pany, has digital assets. For example, in the U.S., U.K. and Australia we have an AVOD platform called Crackle. That business is very successful. We can roll it out in Asia anytime we want. We want to make sure that our existing partners are taken care of first, and secondly, is the market ready for such a service? And then beyond AVOD, we have other SVOD services in parts of the world. So, Sony Pictures Television Networks as a company has the assets. It’s about timing and it’s about there being the right business model and the right partnership to roll this out.

WS: You did a pan-regional version of Got Talent this year. How important is original programming for AXN?
ANG: Original is a core pillar within my programming strategy. It is no longer a nice-to-have; it is a must-have. It engages with the audience, it allows us to differentiate ourselves and continue in our leadership position, and it creates opportunities for social engagement. The goal is to go big, go regional and go local. Asia’s Got Talent and The Amazing Race Asia, those kinds of shows are regional platforms. They are broadcast in 19 countries and we have faces from three, four or five territories participating in the shows. We’re also going local. We will select one or two key markets and produce a show just for them.

WS: Looking ahead to 2016, what’s your outlook for SPT’s channels business in Asia?
ANG: Very exciting and slightly challenging. Exciting because we’ve just launched GEM, so we’re going to strengthen our leadership in Asian content. We have high-quality originals coming out—pan-regional and single-market shows—that create social-engagement opportunities. And we’ll be engaging platforms in terms of how we fulfill their own digital expansion opportunities. Challenges come with the whole economic situation and the outlook in key Southeast Asian markets. Whether it’s Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines or Thailand, we have some foreign exchange challenges, and some political leadership instability and uncertainty. Then you have Netflix and a few of the other OTT players announcing launches in Asia. They are disruptors. As with any disruption, there will be confusion and it will take at least 12, 24, 36 months before the new normal settles.

WS: Are there any other local initiatives you’re working on that you’re particularly excited about?
ANG: We just rolled out Picture This, a global corporate social-responsibility initiative. Each of the regions has identified a project. For us in Asia, we’ve seen an overuse of plastic bags, so we have engaged the winner of Asia’s Got Talent, the shadow dancer group [El Gamma Penumbra] to perform an act to demonstrate how the excessive use of plastic bags and not recycling enough can cause a lot of environmental issues.