Beaming 'adrenalin TV' to Asia
Written by Tim Metcalfe
There's no business like the satellite TV business for AXN's top regional executive
Todd Miller is a youthful 40-year-old, listing equally youthful activities such as wakeboarding, mountain biking and adventure travel among his spare-time pursuits. At work, he also has one of Hong Kong's most glamorous jobs - as Asia's equivalent of a Hollywood show business mogul.
The company he heads, Sony Pictures Television International, promotes itself as 'the Asian Hollywood studio', distributing top entertainment products from Hollywood blockbusters to Asian box-office hits, and coming up with in-house productions like the AXN action-adventure channel and Amazing Race Asia.
To an outsider, being executive vice-president and Asia managing director for such a high-profile outfit seems a fabulous line of work; surrounded every day by talented, passionate, successful and beautiful people, dripping with enthusiasm for creativity and happily divorced from the humdrum world of simply earning money to pay the rent.
Of course, it is not quite like that. Mr Miller is the first to admit he feels 'blessed by the extraordinarily creative people I work with', while from one day to another he may be visiting a television studio in Mumbai, or a film set in South Korea.
'Interaction with so many smart, accomplished, interesting and creative people makes my day,' he said.
But on the other hand, he reminds those dreaming of a show business career: 'At the end of the day it is a business, and all about creating something that people want, and are willing to pay for.
'It just so happens that we make movies, television shows and channels, but it is still all about delivering results.
'Anyone who enters this industry with the idea of mixing with a lot of stars is doing it for the wrong reasons.'
Mr Miller grew up in Kentucky. His father was a newspaperman, so he has been 'exposed to the media all my life'.
Indeed, his 'first job' in the industry was publishing a school newspaper in the third grade. The first edition was led by a report headlined 'Big Car Crash'. He laughs at the simplicity of it now, but acknowledged: 'The media has fascinated me ever since.'
Armed with a bachelor's degree, he embarked on a sales career with a local magazine, followed by CNN International, before moving to Asia to join the fledgling Star TV in Hong Kong as a senior sales executive - just as satellite television was taking off in Asia.
To an extent, he was in the right place at the right time. 'The industry was in its infancy,' he said, considering himself fortunate to have got in on the ground floor.
'You have to keep in mind that until about 15 years ago most Asian markets only had a couple of broadcasters each. Hong Kong had two TV companies. Until 1994, India had only one national broadcaster, and now there are over 200 channels.
'Growth in demand has been explosive since then as Asian economies have grown, creating more purchasing power and disposable income. Along with that has come a desire to spend more on entertainment and television.
'I was fortunate to join the industry here in the very early stages, so I was able to develop my career along with it.'
After completing an MBA with Columbia Business School, he moved across from Star to Sony in Hong Kong in 1994 - where he subsequently held 'three different roles in 13 years'.
Initially, he was sales manager, running the distribution and syndication business, and credited with doubling the operation's market share and client base while growing Asian business by 300 per cent.
In 2000 he was appointed to the helm of AXN Asia, the first 24-hour action-adventure channel in Asia.
'That was probably the most exciting period of my career to date,' he said. Based in Singapore, he led a team of 150 producing the popular channel.
'We sourced content from all over the world, identifying and securing programmes that were full of adrenalin, energy and life, offering viewers incredible experiences,' he said.
AXN successfully continues to this day, as does another of his successes, Animax Asia, a Japanese anime channel launched in 2004.
Promotion to senior vice-president, international networks for Asia in 2004, followed by his more recent elevation to executive vice-president, he now heads the entire outfit, overseeing all three aspects of the company's businesses he previously headed.
The 'bread and butter' of his responsibility is syndicating, or selling, Sony productions across Asia. These have included two of the highest-grossing Asian movies of all time, Kung Fu Hustle and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as well as international hits like The Da Vinci Code.
His brief also embraces exploring new markets like the internet and mobile phones for distribution, along with sourcing and producing TV shows across Asia, which is probably the most glamorous and fascinating side.
The portfolio collected under his stewardship has included the CJ Media drama Hyena; the award-winning Korean anime series MaskMan; the Korean feature How to Keep My Love; Long Legged Beauty; the Japanese anime series Humanoid Monster BEM and Blood+; the Japanese mini-series Tokyo Friends starring pop singer Ai Otsuka; and the Chinese feature Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles directed by three-time Academy Award nominee Zhang Yimou.
One of his latest big in-house production projects is Amazing Race Asia, which he describes as 'one of the most ambitious TV projects ever undertaken'.
But anyone who imagines that producing such a show must be enormous fun, and hardly like work at all, should consider the basic logistics behind it.
In the first season, the film crew and contestants covered 36,000km over 15 cities in 24 days - transporting at least 65 individuals every 1? days. Each change in location required the transportation of a ton of equipment.
Given the fact that no fewer than 1,286 production crew from 17 different nationalities worked on the show, merely ensuring everyone has the necessary visas and travel from one exotic location to another on time was a major planning challenge. Despite the headaches, the show has been a success and a second season is in the planning stages.
While the industry in general has advanced dramatically from its 'infancy', Mr Miller still suggests it remains in 'youthful stages', leaving much room yet for growth and career opportunities.
But getting into the business is another matter. 'You don't need a specialist degree, but it is quite competitive to break in,' he said.
'Sony's senior management seems to be populated by MBAs, which has increasingly become a prerequisite for success. But at other levels we tend to hire people with character, talent and passion who genuinely want to be in the business.
'The other key is determination to get things done and produce results. You have to be able to work with many different people in many different places, and the multi-tasking requirements can be extreme.'
But in the end, he would not have it any other way. 'I truly enjoy what I do,' he added. 'I wake up every morning conscious of how lucky I am.'
Todd Miller may be considered as having one of Hong Kong's most glamorous jobs; as executive vice-president and Asia managing director of Sony Pictures Television International he heads 'the Asian Hollywood studio'.
Distributes Hollywood blockbusters and Asian box-office hits, and produces AXN action-adventure channel and TV shows including The Amazing Race Asia.
He feels 'blessed by the extraordinarily creative people I work with'. But insists show business is still a business 'about delivering results'.
Mr Miller grew up in media family and arrived in Asia as satellite television was taking off.
Sales and marketing in broadcasting
Regional managing director
HK$150,000 or more
20 years' experience
HK$100,000 or more
15 years' experience
HK$80,000 to HK$100,000
12 years' experience or more
HK$25,000 to HK$43,000
Five to eight years' experience
Channel distribution manager
HK$35,000 to HK$40,000
Five years' experience