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A man and his Muppets By Marc Checkley Jim Henson, if he was still alive today, would have turned 75 on September 24 and in homage of this date, the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) organised a special screening of documentaries and rare footage highlighting Henson’s 40-year career in television and film. Joining the celebrations was Arthur Novell, a close friend of Henson and former Executive Director of the Jim Henson Legacy, who flew in from New York to speak at a series of post-screening discussions, held at the Lido Cinema complex. Novell, 75, who worked with Henson from the early 1980s, shared anecdotes and insights about the filmmaker’s work and life right up to his untimely death on May 16, 1990. One of the most surprising of stories was the unknown adoration between Henson and famed Italian filmmaker, Federico Fellini. “Jim wanted to be the American Fellini,” said Novell.

“He loved his work and style of filmmaking. We only found out after Jim’s death that Fellini in fact loved the Muppets and had deep respect for Jim’s work… Fellini loved the Muppet Show.” Novell also noted that Henson was thinking about his global television audience well before localization became a buzz word. “Fraggle Rock (1983) was specifically made for the overseas market. It was set generically underground and the characters were developed with international kids in mind – no definable ethnicity.” He added that as well as the character of (Fraggle) Uncle Travelling Matt visiting different locales and people around the world, the opening and ending of each episode (the US version featured Sprocket the dog and Doc) could be easily reversioned with local characters and situations in different territories.

The topic of the new Muppet movie, which debuts later this month, was mentioned a number of times during the talks with Novell. Produced by Disney, this is the first Muppet feature to be released in theatres since 1999. Novell, who is not associated with the production, said understandably, a lot is riding on the movie to bring the Muppets and all their classic, politically incorrect, antics back into popular culture. “It’s been a while since we had a Muppet hit and a lot of that comes down to Jim dying too soon and Disney being left with all these characters but not understanding the medium,” he said. “Jim loved parody and that’s what the Muppets were good at. If they can get this formula right, then I can see the Muppets coming back to our screens more regularly. Jim, I’m sure, would be very happy about this.”

Forum host Marc Checkley with Arthur Novell

The event concluded with Novell and attendees singing Happy Birthday to Henson along with a Muppet cake, featuring Miss Piggy, hecklers Statler and Waldorf and of course Kermit the Frog. TVAplus See more pictures on page 40.

Online ad stats get reboot By Kelvin Ong Tracking online properties has been the bane of marketeers since the inception of the World Wide Web, until Nielsen recently launched a new system of measuring online properties – the Online Campaign Ratings (OCR) in the US. The OCR, the online equivalent of Nielsen’s TV Gross Rating Points (GRP) system, hopes to improve upon the research firm’s previous online measurement by providing the truest value of advertising on a website or web space. The previous measurement was chastised by industry observers. Problems such as undercounting the traffic on the internet and underestimating time spent online by approximately 22 per cent, plagued the system since its launch last year. The new method integrates traditional Nielsen TV and online

panel data (from its pool of 35,000 homes) with aggregated, anonymous demographic information from social networking site Facebook, after an exclusive partnership was signed between the two companies. Essentially, when users view advertisements while logged onto Facebook or within the same browser, a notification is sent to Facebook, which then searches its own user database to identify the user. Facebook will then store that person’s demographic data without revealing personal details and send the information to Nielsen for data compilation. In doing so, the system is able to provide overnight audience reach, frequency and GRPs for internet display and video advertising campaigns of nearly any size, running nearly anywhere across the web.

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According to Nielsen, the new system is able to track 42 per cent of impressions of a given advertisement, compared to the traditional online panel sample, which recorded only 3 per cent of such impressions. “Advertisers and media companies alike are looking to prove the value of online media and advertising, but have lacked a reliable, standard measurement to demonstrate audience delivery against marketing goals,” said Steve Hasker, President, Media Product and Advertiser Solutions, Nielsen. Some industry observers like Colleen Taylor at Web2.0 blog, share this optimism about what this new indicator could do for internet advertising. Taylor goes as far as to state that previously, “the money spent on online advertising was not even close to the stratospheric

spending levels poured into TV ads. But finally, the internet could become a first-class citizen in the advertising world – for good”. But others remain sceptical of this online value determination method. Leland Hicks, COO of marketing agency MatterMax Media, commented on an internet discussion forum that one big issue with the new system is “the flawed rationalization behind Nielsen’s 35,000 panels being able to represent the viewing habits of over 200 million TV viewers”. Instead, Hicks feels that a better indicator of online advertising values is sales. Despite this, things are still looking bright for the system. Since its launch in August, several industry leaders, including Procter & Gamble and Disney/ABC Television Group, have employed the OCR as their measurement of choice. TVAplus


Hard truths Asia-Pacific’s PayTV landscape is in a state of flux. At present, the industry is littered with markets of varying performance standards. Although regulatory improvements have been made in some territories, others are still muddled in over-restrictive legislation. TV ASIA Plus highlights some of the key findings from CASBAA’s latest industry review. By Kelvin Ong CASBAA, the association for digital multichannel TV, content, platforms, advertising and video delivery in Asia-Pacific, is not one to pull its punches when it comes to commenting on the region’s PayTV environment. The latest report Regulating for Growth, the first since 2008, is no exception. As John Medeiros, CASBAA’s Deputy CEO and Director of Regulatory Affairs, pointed out during a recent media briefing detailing the report, “We’re at a point where governments really need to start thinking in a forward-moving sense…Policies in some markets are getting better, in a few they are unfortunately getting worse and in others they are stagnant. The hard truth is that nobody is doing a good job of regulating PayTV”. One example of a market on the up is Korea, which has made big strides in recent times, diversifying

its programming, opening up its market and seeing the benefits of strong competition across both Free-To-Air and PayTV platforms. Competition from telcos and IPTV delivery systems has also given cable networks the push to improve and develop. Indonesia too has improved some aspects of its regulatory system – increasing efforts to curtail piracy and ensuring steadiness and cooperation among the main regulators. However, the study notes that regulators still have their work cut out for them if they are to develop the PayTV landscape further. Some territories, however, are in “negative development”, becoming more regulated and controlled than before, stated the report. Singapore is highlighted as a prime example of regressive growth in the sector. Unlike Korea and Indonesia,

which improved their ranks in the region, Singapore suffered greatly, falling 11.7 percentage points from 81.7 % in 2008 to 70 % in 2011. The report attributed Singapore’s steep decline to the John Medeiros Media Development Authority’s decision to implement cross-carriage measures this year – whereby content from providers is not exclusive to any one operator and should instead be made available to all parties, according to legal requirements. It posited that the new requirements placed “restrictions on content owners’ use of their programming”, going on to add that the most

harmful impact of the new regime was “its extension to cover all forms of TV programming, rather than any areas where specific competition problems could be identified.” Singapore’s scenario is unique as it represents one of only two PayTV markets belonging in the healthier half of the report’s rankings that actually fell in index points. Australia, being the other country, fell five per cent to 80% from 85% in the last report. This is due to the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s extension of its antisiphoning list in late 2010, introducing a two-tier list of sporting events which must be shown on Free-To-Air TV, effectively preventing PayTV operators from “siphoning off” such content. CASBAA’s report states that both rulings – Singapore’s crosscarriage measures and Australia’s anti-siphoning list – represented a high level of state involvement and interference in their television landscapes, a degree of regulation that the association deems to lack neutrality and instead enforces “outdated and unnecessary constraints”, which results in what it terms, “less effective regulation”. Marcel Fenez, Chairman, CASBAA, believes that despite the good intentions of the legislations,

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features Medeiros said that Vietnam’s heavyhanded role in the country’s PayTV landscape is such a disincentive that up to as many as half the channels and operators could pull out of the country early next year.

Marcel Fenez

they are nevertheless unfairly tampering with market forces. “When governments respond to advances in technology by tightening bureaucratic controls, they threaten growth of all kinds,” he said, adding that Asia already has clear and distinct examples of countries with ineffective regulation and systems. The countries he is referring to are India, China, Vietnam and Taiwan. The four territories occupy the bottom most ranks in the Regulatory Regime Index table. Unsurprisingly, China remains the lowest ranked market in the index at 38 per cent because it continues to be closed off to outside participation. However, the situation is improving, slightly, with an increasing amount of localized foreign PayTV content, such as this year’s local debut of BBC’s Top Gear format.

Unlike India and Vietnam, which suffer from overregulation, and China, which suffers from a non-inclusive, anticompetitive structure, Taiwan is low in the rankings because of lax protection of intellectual property (IP) in broadcasting of TV content. The report said the Taiwanese government treats signal theft as a minor misdemeanour, which has lead to a rise in mass piracy. Coupled with this, is the country’s low rate of digital penetration. According to Medeiros, although Taiwan has one of the highest rates of PayTV penetration in Asia, it also has the dubious distinction of having the “lowest digital penetration of any sizeable market in Asia”. The study found that the country’s strict and uneconomic rate regulations (which mandate delivery of a large, fixed analogue bouquet

For India, near industry-wide regulation remains a big problem, as it did in the last study. CASBAA’s study found that regulation of the Indian PayTV industry is now the most restrictive in the region. It stated that almost every aspect of the industry is controlled, from channel availability, retail and wholesale rates and advertising to even the commercial and technical arrangements between different levels of the supply chain. Vietnam too suffers from overregulation. In March this year, the Vietnamese government approved a new set of regulations for the PayTV industry resulting in a substantial increase in operating costs for international providers and a likely reduction in revenue. One such new ruling requires all “television advertisements to be made in Vietnam”. 28 | television asia plus november 2011

for an ever-declining monthly payment) have played a central role in constraining the country’s digital development. “The situation has been stagnant for seven or eight years”, Medeiros added.

industry-average ARPUs (Average Revenue Per Unit). A decreasing ARPU is good because it shows that “consumers are getting more content and paying less for it,” said Medeiros.

At the other end of the spectrum are markets performing well, despite their size. Top ranking examples are New Zealand and Hong Kong, considered to be favourable regulatory environments.

Thailand has also set in motion initiatives to stimulate and support its PayTV market. According to the study, the country has provided convincing evidence of “light touch” regulation. The country, which previously imposed a total ban on PayTV advertising – leaving the industry little room to grow – relaxed this ban in 2008. Since then business has increased. PayTV is now in close to 50 per cent of homes in the Kingdom and seen the proliferation of more than 100 new Thai TV channels.

Medeiros explained that both work due to regulators using a “light touch” approach. They have created a free market that allows for active competition and leaves decisions on programme distribution, content choice, packaging, retail and wholesale rates and reliance on advertising, to their respective market forces. He added that a free market is beneficial because, “Evenhanded, neutral and consistent market-friendly regulation results in economic stimulus, provides consumers benefit and supports creative industries.” Hong Kong’s PayTV industry is one of the freest in Asia, according to the index. The policies, which the study states has been a rousing success, have led to a growth in consumer choice and declining

“The more investment that goes into the industry, the more growth, more jobs and better content there are for the consumers,” said Marcel Fenez. CASBAA’s goal for the next few years is to “support an industry that shapes its own competitive business model without undue government intrusion, such as wholesale and consumer rate regulation and constraints on the development of compelling programming, the greatest strength of pay-TV”, stated the report. TVAplus


Exit strategy By Kelvin Ong Some 20,000 people gathered at the landmark 700th Anniversary Stadium in Chiang Mai to watch their favourite Asian music acts earlier this year. Artists like Korea’s mega-popular boy band Super Junior M, quirky Australian vocalist Kate Miller-Heidke and Bangkok-based rock band Slot Machine sang, danced and entertained the energized crowd. Except this was not just a regular music event. The free outdoor concert, organized by the MTV EXIT Foundation, was actually held in support of the organization’s cause – to increase awareness and prevention of human trafficking and exploitation. The United Nation’s International Labour Organization estimates that about 2.5 million people worldwide are victims of trafficking and more than half of these people are in the Asia Pacific. EXIT was launched in Europe in 2004 and expanded across Asia, with the cooperation of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in 2007. Today, it is one of the world’s largest anti-human trafficking awareness campaigns. The Chiang Mai concert is just one of numerous events EXIT has organized. To date, it has produced 26 free live concerts, reaching more than 500,000 people throughout Asia. But the movement goes further than running rock concerts. One of EXIT’s main goals is to use the cultural influence of the MTV brand to draw attention and raise awareness to its cause. Similar to its sister project MTV Staying Alive, a campaign encouraging HIV prevention. Utilising the power of connected media, EXIT has adopted an


aggressive two-pronged approach – employing various platforms, such as television, online, plus on-the-ground events, and creating diverse content to keep its message engaging. For the foundation, this multi-platform strategy is one which campaign director, Matt Love, believes is key to the campaign’s success. As he told TV ASIA Plus, “We’re creating content that’s across all platforms. It’s not just traditional forms of TV programming.” Such a move has become especially essential, considering the highly fragmented audience of today. Youths now have a greater wealth of options at their fingertips to choose from. Content and information can be accessed via not just traditional media, but new media as well. A multiplatform approach thus seems to be pivotal for reaching out to all segments of the population, especially for an initiative like EXIT, which is trying to raise as much awareness as it can. Love said that one way the campaign has done this is to go outside the Pay-TV structure into terrestrial TV territory also. The Chiang Mai concert, for example, aired on MCOT Channel 9 in Thailand, one of the country’s most watched television channels. He added that the foundation is also currently working and in talks with other terrestrial TV stations, such as China Central Television (CCTV), Singapore’s Channel News Asia and Malaysia’s 8TV, to broadcast some of its new documentaries. “There is a misconception that MTV EXIT only airs its programmes on the MTV channel,” said Love. “But right across the region, we’re working with terrestrial TV channels… So these are important

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EXIT’s Chiang Mai Concert

ways for us to make sure our messages are getting out there to a wider audience than just cable.” He added that at present, while the other platforms are still important, “What we’re really exploring more and more is a cross over to digital platforms. We’re using a lot of new media, social media platforms as a means of connecting to youth.” To date, EXIT’s online efforts have included its official website MTVEXIT. org, Facebook and Twitter pages. Visitors can also view documentaries, music videos and entire concerts on its website. But Love said that there are more online activities in the pipeline, as the initiative seeks to move beyond these few online avenues. “We’re also looking at online premieres of our new programming, to really maximize reach,” he said. The former lawyer turned campaign director enthused that the foundation takes the internet as a tool to further its message, very seriously. “We do our research as to what are the major online platforms for example, in Vietnam, what are the major digital platforms in Indonesia that are being used and how we can really tap into all these platforms to engage youths and empower them as much as possible”. EXIT’s content ranges from documentaries hosted by celebrities as Angelina Jolie and Lucy Liu, to formats such as a Manga-style animation series Intersection; and music videos featuring music acts as The Click Five, Muse and The Killers, to Public Service

Announcements (PSA) produced locally for and across Asia. On September 17, Enslaved, the campaign’s latest documentary, premiered on MTV Southeast Asia channel. The programme is the second in a series of 12 new documentaries launching across the region in 2011. Love was extremely pleased with the half hour documentary special as it “tackles diverse exploitation stories and not just the traditional” trafficking victims who are poor and from villages. He noted that there is now an increasing prevalence of well educated, city kids being targeted through online recruitment schemes. Still, sometimes the simplest ideas work just as well. One of the most successful campaigns saw EXIT go back to its MTV roots: music videos. A trilogy, produced in collaboration with international music bands Radiohead, The Killers and Muse received millions of views online, according to EXIT. These videos contain scenes depicting human trafficking and exploitation throughout the world. The multiple strategies has certainly carried EXIT’s name well across Asia, increasing its profile and even shifting attitudes and behaviours. This has been its intent from the beginning and Love says that the multiplatform approach will remain the team’s backbone to innovate from and communicate to Asia’s fragmented youth about the daily reality of human exploitation, right on their doorstep. TVAplus

Television Asia Plus November  

The articles that I wrote in TVA Plus November.

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