A+E Networks – the stable for channel brands such as History and Lifetime – is looking to build local production hubs in some of Asia’s biggest markets, via stronger footholds in India and Japan and potential partnerships in China and Korea.
The moves are part of a strategic push by A+E to create more IP at home and abroad as the broadcaster diversifies its output, in drama and OTT content in particular, while stepping up international growth.
The company announced two Asian deals during this year’s APOS conference: a majority investment in The History Channel Japan, increasing its stake from 50% to 80%, and the launch of its second channel in India, a localized version of FYI.
Domestic co-production will anchor both moves, David Granville-Smith, A+E’s EVP and CFO, told APOS attendees, during an on-stage Q&A.
“It’s all about original content and local content,” Granville-Smith remarked. “And it’s not necessarily about exporting content. There’s content that can be exported, and it resonates, but it’s really about finding how to tell the local stories.”
A+E, a relative latecomer on the international front compared with some its peers, has been steadily increasing its interests outside the US.
In 2012, it took over operations in Southeast Asia, which had been run in a JV with Astro. In 2013, it took control in Italy, its first fully owned channels business in Europe, where the History brand had been licensed to Fox.
“We will continue to do that,” Granville-Smith told APOS attendees.
“Over the past five years, we’ve grown 15-20% internationally. I think that growth will continue over the next five years,” he added.
“As we look at our different businesses, it’s clearly the business that’s growing the most, and we will put the most dollars in to invest.”
In Japan, A+E’s JV partner Super Network – a satellite broadcaster run by Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, one of the country’s biggest media agencies, and local studio Tohokushinsha Film – will continue to assist on ad sales and distribution with a 20% share in the business.
A+E is also injecting digital rights in the venture, to capitalize on Japan’s domestic growth in mobile and nonlinear video distribution.
In India, lifestyle and entertainment offering FYI TV18 will roll out with a slate of 100 hours of Hindi content, including three locally produced shows.
The channel will be managed by AETN18, a four-year-old JV with Reliance-owned TV18 Broadcast, which also operates History TV18, a localized version of the History Channel.
Meanwhile, discussions are ongoing with potential distribution and production partners in China and Korea. The company currently airs History in Korea, and is working on a branded block deal in China.
Globally, A+E’s international head Sean Cohan added the company’s digital brief to his portfolio at the beginning of the year, bringing the two disciplines closer together.
“It’s important to marry international and digital,” Granville-Smith said. “As we grow our businesses, linear will continue to be very important, but we want to have extensions in digital and also focus on new digital brands as well.”
A+E is pushing to expand its OTT presence worldwide, including a bigger footprint for two SVOD services, Lifetime Movie Club and History Vault, which have already launched in the US.
In May, the broadcaster has centralized its digital resources into 45th & Dean, a new hub in New York to create branded as well as self-funded content for its linear channels and standalone digital properties.
In the US, A+E also has a majority stake in Viceland, a new channel slanted towards multiplatform ad deals launched with millennial media specialist Vice.
A+E, which has a separate stake in Vice itself, can help steer Viceland’s international rollout, Granville-Smith noted.
The channel has also launched in Canada, via a separate JV between Vice and Rogers, and has signed distribution deals with Sky in the UK and with Canal Plus in France.
“There will be situations where we will do something together as a partner and potentially launch, and situations where they will launch a channel on their own,” Granville-Smith said.
“But ultimately we’re working hand in glove on it, given our global reach and our ownership in both the channel in the US, as well as our ownership in Vice the parent company.”