Business TV supremo undaunted by hurdles

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 March, 1998, 12:00am

BUSINESS TV channel CNBC Asia Business News is not expected to become profitable for at least two years, despite the synergies created with recent CNBC-ABN merger. But the company's president, Paul France, is not perturbed.

According to Mr France, advertisers had reacted favourably to the merger. And there is room for financial TV in Asia.

Mr France, who was in Hong Kong recently for the official launch of the merged channel, said the product - which is now a part of the Dow Jones range of specialist business titles - was managing to reach the target audience of people in powerful positions.

'That's what our advertisers want. They clearly see [the merger] as working in the marketplace,' Mr France said.

'The market for multinationals is influencers, which is what we are very good at doing. All the evidence we have accumulated in terms of research over the years at ABN shows that we are very good at reaching influencers, and decision-makers in business and government for a market a lot of those advertisers want to reach.' Last December, following months of speculation, the two business channels announced the merger, which led to 150 people being laid off at CNBC, and a move to Singapore.

A recently released Pan Asian Cross Media Survey revealed the penetration rate of specialist business channels was relatively low. But Mr France disputes the premise that the channel must reach a maximum number of viewers.

'The survey showed for the first time, and demonstrated absolutely, that regional cable and satellite TV was a substantial part of the media diet of people in the region. No longer could people say it was peripheral. We're talking about substantial numbers who access a regional news media all the time.

'The second thing it showed was that the group surveyed, which was the top 30 per cent demographically, accessed a very wide range of regional media. They didn't just do this or that. They looked at the MTVs, the business channels and everything else. The drawback in the research for us, which we knew from day one, was that it was very broad in its scope in terms of audience.' The narrow audience of heads of governments and multinational corporations would grow on the strengths of the merger, Mr France believed.

'The strengths are twofold. One is that we have plugged together Asian and global. ABN grew from being seen as 'interesting' to being passionately loved,' he said.

'Despite the fact that it was passionately loved, and it was seen as being quite slick and sharp, there was a cultural cringe that said that if it was Asian, it can't be quite as good as the big boys.

'Because we have now plugged that culture into the global network of regional Dow Jones print products, it is very powerful with advertisers. What is very powerful about this is that it's actually a group of products which focus on one target market.' Subscription revenues at CNBC Asia Business News account for 25 per cent of total revenues, with advertising revenues taking up the remainder.

In Hong Kong, the channel can be viewed on Wharf Cable and on ATV during breakfast time, a factor which has limited growth in subscription revenues.

Mr France said he was under no pressure to cut costs and there would be no further layoffs.

'One of the things we've developed as a result of the merger is a developed international sales team,' he said.

'We've done that on the basis that it is a good investment.'