Broadcast major Turner, emerging from a major overhaul of its Asian operations, has announced its first major local partnership in Asia in more than three years, unveiling a new JV called M Turner with Thai media company Major Kantana Broadcasting.
M Turner will act as a bridgehead for Turner’s Thai ambitions, helping launch a dubbed version of kids channel Boomerang on free-to-air satellite – a move that will reinforce an already burgeoning kids portfolio in Thailand – before diversifying into other genres and local production.
“We hope to go beyond this initial launch in kids – in not a very long time – and explore other opportunities in general entertainment and other genres,” says Turner International Asia-Pacific’s outgoing president and MD, Steve Marcopoto.
Similar ventures could follow suit, he adds, with “advanced conversations” taking place in other Southeast Asian growth markets such as Indonesia and the Philippines.
“There will be increasingly a blend of content and perhaps formats that we bring to the party from our existing properties elsewhere, and then local content that will be co-produced and produced by partners,” Marcopoto explains, speaking in an interview with Media Business Asia.
“In time, as we get into other genres, whether its general entertainment or niche entertainment channels, we expect all these initiatives will include a local production component.”
Time to diversify
With HBO run separately in Asia, Turner International’s revenues for this part of the world largely come from two genres, news and kids. Diversification, especially into entertainment where the company has an existing suite of branded channels, is a key priority articulated by international boss Gerhard Zeiler.
At the same time, Zeiler also wants to build on current strengths in kids and news segments as the growth of local advertising and subscription bases in specific markets opens up further opportunities.
The launch of Boomerang in Thailand, for example, heralds a new wave of life in Asia for the channel as an ad-supported play and flank offering for Cartoon Network.
While relatively strong in Australia and New Zealand, Boomerang has been replaced on pay platforms in Asia over the last year or so by Toonami, a more niche boy-friendly superhero channel.
“That gave us the opportunity to rechristen the brand in a new strategic iteration, which is now free satellite, but could be DTT [digital terrestrial television], could be free-to-air, depending on where the opportunities are,” Marcopoto explains.
“It’s our sister brand we will be applying as and when we can in scenarios like this.”
Boomerang will reach 11 million homes via free satellite in Thailand, joining three existing kids channels on pay platforms – Cartoon Network, Cartoonito and Toonami – helping bolster a respectable licensing business for Turner in the Thai market.
Thailand will also soon be home to a Cartoon Network-themed waterpark called Amazone - the first of its kind for Turner worldwide, with more set to follow.
Turner envisions Boomerang, which has been repositioned as a more family-oriented channel to broaden its appeal, as a top 10 satellite channel and number one in kids in Thailand.
Existing satellite channels tend to offer more niche kids content, such as anime.
Scarce ad revenue
Securing ad revenue won’t be easy however, with free satellite taking little more than 1% of TV ad revenues in Thailand.
Cable and satellite as a whole account for an estimated 7% of TV spend, with the lion’s share of that slice going to Thailand’s largest pay-TV platform, TrueVisions.
Other recent deals in Thailand from international players such as Disney and Fox have largely focused on paid rather than free platforms.
Emerging free platforms however could still evolve into a significant segment in the medium term, suggests Clint Easthorpe, CEO of Thai operations for media agency network Omnicom Media Group.
“We see major developments in the direct-to-home satellite area, not only as the industry becomes more cohesive, is better regulated and streamlines itself over the next five years, but also with the emergence of digital TV and investment by heavyweight media companies,” Easthorpe says.
“It is possible that free satellite advertising revenue could reach 5% in the next three to five years, with overall cable and satellite advertising revenue rising to 10% of total advertising.”