AZN Television To Go Off Air

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Comcast pulls the plug on Asian American network after two years

Cable operator Comcast Corp. announced last Friday that it will be pulling the plug on the Asian American channel AZN Television.

“The decision was made after considerable review of the network’s financial situation,” said Teresa Wiedel, executive director of communications at AZN Television. “Comcast, the network’s parent company, will continue to broadcast additional Asian programming through the International Networks and other independent providers, and remains committed to supporting the Asian American community through programming and civic and cultural events.”

Comcast said it had difficulty attracting advertisers and AZN’s reach — a lower-than-expected 13.9 million viewers — did not grow despite changes in programming. The channel’s last day of broadcasting will be April 9.

AZN Television, which has aired popular Asian movies, dramas, documentaries, music video shows, anime and original programs specifically targeted at the elusive Asian American demographic, went on the air in 2005 after Comcast acquired the International Channel from Liberty Media Corp. in 2004. It was renamed and given new programming to make the channel marketable toward advertisers.

Comcast will continue its support of the 2008 Asian Excellence Awards, the only nationally televised event honoring Asian American achievements in film, TV, music and the performing arts. The awards show, which will be taped on April 23 at UCLA, will air on both E! Entertainment and through Comcast On Demand, making the show more widely available. Wiedel was unsure about what would happen to the awards next year, but said Comcast hopes that the show will continue.

There are about 15 employees at AZN Television’s offices in the Denver area, and Wiedel said Comcast is currently looking to offer them positions elsewhere in the company.

As for the on-air personalities of AZN, the programs are acquired from different studios and not directly produced by AZN. Other channels may pick up the rights to air programming that was previously on AZN, Wiedel said.

The Asian American Journalists Association responded to Comcast’s decision last week by calling it “a big loss of yet another important venue through which the American public can learn more about Asians and Pacific Islanders through community-specific news and entertainment.”

Center for Asian American Media’s executive director, Stephen Gong, said that AZN Television was ahead of its time — the way media is distributed in the world is in transition, and a new approach to specialized markets, including an Asian American audience, is needed.

ImaginAsian TV and MYX TV are now the only remaining Asian American networks, but both are broadcast only in some markets.

Community Reaction

“Our community doesn’t have anything like a BET or Telemundo to develop talent and content that can crossover into the mainstream, and the scarcity of Asian American media platforms is placing real constraints on our ability to build a sense of community and empowerment. I’ve been trying this past year to make sure that Asian American voices and issues are not overlooked in mainstream debates and media, but it sometimes feels like I’m hitting my head against a wall.”

Yul Kwon, winner of CBS’ reality show
Survivor: Cook Islands in 2006

“AZN is to the Asian American community just like Univision is to the Latino community and BET is to the African American community. We urge advertisers to step up to support such programming, because studies and surveys have consistently pointed to a significant marketing potential in the Asian American community, which is the fastest-growing population in the U.S., next to the Latino community.”

— Rene Astudillo, executive director
of the Asian American Journalists Association

“With YouTube and Internet steaming, and new Web sites like Caachi.com offering films with APA content on the Web, I foresee a time when the cable giant or satellite middleman is no longer a barrier between Asian Pacific American artists and audiences of all ethnicities in markets worldwide.”

— Eric Byler,
filmmaker and activist

“We know from our own experience that programming to second-generation English-speaking Americans is a difficult thing to do. Once you speak English, everything on the dial is open to you, making it hard to keep audiences stuck on one channel.”

— Michael Sherman, general manager of KTSF
Television, the nation’s largest Asian-language broadcaster

“I hope that in spite of this occurrence Comcast will continue to broadcast and support Asian programming. … We need to see more Asian American programming and actors on all channels.”

— Christine Padilla, program director of
Asian Heritage Street Celebration

“It’s unfortunate news, but it’s not surprising. The viewership of all forms is shrinking. To launch a new service that had to prove itself to advertisers was too difficult.”

— Stephen Gong, executive director of the
Center for Asian American Media

“Although the news of AZN’s closing is disappointing, there are very few in the industry who were surprised. Like ImaginAsian, AZN had a mission to serve Asian Americans and those interested in Asian entertainment and culture. There is a tremendous market for this type of content. … There is still much work to be done, and ImaginAsian … will carry on and continue to foster the marketplace representing all things Asian.”

— Michael Huh, V.P. of marketing and strategic
development of ImaginAsian Inc.

“For an Asian American television station to be successful in the future, the first step is to go back to the community and ask what they want to see and be willing to stick to it for a few years, because it won’t happen easily over night. Also, since a lot of Asian Americans today are pretty tech savvy, the next step would be to go on the Internet and have programs downloadable and streamable.”

— Valerie Soe, professor of Asian American
studies at San Francisco State University

“This is a good time to think of other mediums beside television to reach out to Asian Americans. [Utilizing the Internet and sites like YouTube] is the best way to reach a large audience, not only nationally, but globally.”

— Grace Yoo, associate professor of Asian American
studies at San Francisco State University

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