Stepping up efforts to boost brand awareness in Hong Kong, United States media conglomerate Walt Disney International plans to launch its first Asian radio channel in the SAR before setting up its theme park in 2005. Asia-Pacific president and chairman Jon Niermann said: 'We have been in active discussions with local radio stations for a while.' The entertainment company could launch its first Radio Disney in Hong Kong once it clinched a deal with one of the two commercial radio stations - Metro Broadcast and Commercial Radio. The around-the-clock radio channel could be the fourth feed after the US, Latin America and Britain. 'We want a local partner to run the station but we will invest and bring in some international talent,' Mr Niermann said. But he said the primary problem was radio frequency and he doubted he would take up a sound broadcasting licence without a local partnership. As part of the campaign to increase its media exposure, the company was also planning to beam its cable television channel to Hong Kong viewers. The 24-hour Disney Channel is now available in eight Asian markets. Mr Niermann conceded there was only one key cable player in Hong Kong - i-Cable Communications with its near-monopoly position, sending to one-third of TV households or 600,000 users - but said the outcome of negotiations would depend on viable commercial terms. Live entertainment - such as performances in schools and community centres, theatre shows and even musicals - would also be introduced to Hong Kong audiences as soon as possible. Leading up the park's opening, Mr Niermann said the firm would provide entertainment to Hong Kong in the form of localised and customised programmes. 'Our findings show that the brand awareness and acceptance [of Disney culture] is very high but we would try to offer more experience [before and after the theme park opens],' he said. The Disney park, which could create up to 36,000 jobs, is estimated to cost HK$2 billion and is due to be completed in July 2005. Mr Niermann projected that one-third of the visitors would be members of the Hong Kong public, a third from mainland China and the remainder from Southeast Asian countries. However, he admitted the company had been looking at the possibility of opening two theme parks in greater China. Fears of a proposal to build another Disney park in a major mainland city such as Beijing or Shanghai could put Hong Kong's park into an unfavourable position, analysts said. 'Our focus now is in Hong Kong,' Mr Niermann said. 'Hong Kong would be our creative hub as the park is a key part in our strategy.' At present, a majority of its content is produced in the US and then exported to the Asian region. He said: 'We would increase content development in the home country and distribute that to Asia.' The company would also create more local content by acquisition and working with partners, but Mr Niermann said: 'Where we go depends on opportunities.' Meanwhile, he said the revenue derived in the region was evenly distributed between media and retail business. Media business refers to TV programmes and content distribution whereas retailing includes licensing, retail shops, music and publishing. When asked about its performance in the sluggish economy, Mr Niermann said: 'It is now a tough environment for the retail business but [consumers] would turn to entertainment products for an escape, or simply to laugh. There are always opportunities to see growth within our group.'