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A+E Bets On More Tentpole Shows

Almost as soon as the first episode of MasterChef Asia – by some way, A+E’s biggest local production in Southeast Asia so far – went to air last month, executives were already working on the second season.

Big-budget shows are a cornerstone of A+E’s expansion strategy, with MasterChef commissioned to boost audiences and revenue for Lifetime, a female-oriented channel that the broadcaster first launched in Asia less than two years ago.

“We’ve always seen [MasterChef] as a long-term property,” Prem Kamath, A+E Networks Asia’s deputy MD, tells Media Business Asia.

“We’re thrilled by the response we’ve had but even if that wasn’t so, we always saw it as something we want to build for a long period of time."

With multiple seasons of MasterChef underway, Kamath is looking for at least one more tentpole to air on Lifetime, currently evaluating internal and third-party options, with maybe more to follow, to help the channel cut through in a crowded entertainment landscape.

It’s all part of a broader audience push which in the short term also includes a dedicated beam for Indonesia, scheduled to go live in the next two months, complementing existing feeds for Malaysia and the Philippines.

A+E is also building out additional touchpoints in the region via digital extensions and, in the Philippines where it has a strong local presence, on-ground events.

On the digital front, A+E unveiled History Plus in May, as an ad-supported online video platform showcasing short-form content from its most widely distributed channel, History, in a deal with digital distribution company Brand New Media.

“We saw History Plus as a means to get our brand and content to as wide an audience as possible,” Kamath explains.

“We believe that a platform like Brand New Media, and the plans they have for extending it, give us an opportunity to do that.”

At the same time, A+E has also tied up with web portal MSN to distribute original video content from MasterChef Asia, such as interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, as well as catch-up episodes available a week after the original telecast.

Programming priorities

In total, A+E produces around 100 hours of local programming for Southeast Asia, supplementing a content pipeline from the US which forms the backbone for its channel schedules in Asia.

History, which already airs two localized formats, Photo Face-Off and Ride N’ Seek, is next in line for bigger local productions.

“At this point in time, the additional formats we are considering are for Lifetime, but History remains our biggest channel and almost a calling card for us,” Kamath notes. “That’s something we’d look to do.”

Over time, Kamath wants to apply the same localization formula to the other three channels in A+E’s Asian portfolio, establishing core tentpoles to support a mix of other local as well as US content.

Further localization is less of a priority for H2 and Crime + Investigation, as these have attracted loyal audiences with their current, mainly US line-up.

Expect more near-term activity however for FYI, a new global lifestyle channel that replaced Bio last year. Kamat feels FYI is well placed for localization as the brand gains traction.

“It brings in the kind of audience that a History or a Lifetime doesn’t pull into our portfolio,” he explains.

“It lets us do programming that is very local, very contemporary, very relevant, very young, very digitally savvy. There’s a bunch of boxes that a brand like FYI ticks, and those boxes are very critical to us as a portfolio.”

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