Over the past 18 months, AETN International has launched 16 new linear channels and 40-plus branded digital media services across EMEA, Asia Pac and Latin America. The AETN bouquet – which includes History, History HD, Bio, A&E, Military History and Crime & Investigation Network – has expanded its footprint across several new regions including Southeast Asia, Scandinavia, the Benelux and Central Europe during that time.
Undoubtedly, at the core of this success is the extraordinary content that our company produces and our straightforward, iconic brands. However, a series of challenges and opportunities face even the strongest propositions when entering new markets. The right local partners, local relevance and community outreach are also critical factors in the success or failure of brands and services abroad.
1) The right local partners
International markets, whether mature or nascent, often present considerable structural hurdles, including local and international competition, industry and consumer fragmentation, and cultural idiosyncrasies. Inevitably markets like German-speaking Europe with its large free-TV base, or Asia with its piracy and host of diverse markets, are complex, rapidly changing ecosystems that are difficult for multi-national companies to manage from headquarters.
This makes selecting the right local operating, distribution and content partners critical. AETN seeks out joint venture and long-term license partnerships, where a strong local partner can bring knowledge, relationships, infrastructure and/or clout to complement our content and marketing output and expertise.
Partners like Ole Communications, FOXTEL, Astro All Asia Networks, ZDF and BSkyB bring impossible-to-duplicate distribution clout from launch, significant infrastructure, an essential knowledge of local viewers’ and clients’ tastes, priorities and approaches. This helps us bring these brands to market quicker and really fine-tune them upfront for local success. The cultural fit between our company and local partners is important so we spend a great deal of time making sure our relationships are built on trust and mutual respect. After all, we are in it for the ‘long haul’ and managing a partnership, like any worthwhile relationship, is definitely hard work.
2) Local relevance
Creating local relevance and connections for our global brands is crucial for success, particularly for our genres – namely history, people and crime – which tend to be fairly personal and local. AETN has been committed to building global brands that resonate locally since our first international launch in 1995, and this continues to be a major focus as our channel brands launch and mature across a myriad of markets. We simply cannot afford to be North American or Western history, people or crime; we are the local viewer equivalent.
Several key ingredients must be part of the mix to ensure local relevance:
1) The channels and services should be languaged from the outset. The challenge here is that languaging is a very expensive investment, and a tough one to swallow before distribution reaches critical mass. However, from Germany to Southeast Asia, languaging from launch is a must.
2) Channels should include a significant component of local and/or regional content from launch, both interstitial material and standard-length programming. Again, there may be a long investment horizon at the outset. Retaining consistent, high-quality standards with local programming can also be very challenging in some emerging markets. However, when it is done right – from Great Crimes of Asia, to Historia a la Carte, to Battle of Long Tan and 50 Things You Need to Know About British History – we’ve seen repeatedly that quality local properties drive viewership and local perception.
3) Our operations must build lasting relationships with strong local production companies to develop the content pipeline. Again, in territories with younger factual production industries, this is more difficult and requires commitment by us and our competitors to help develop the industry and share knowledge.
4) We must be careful to adhere and be sensitive to local regulations and sensibilities – whether religious or cultural. This one is a balancing act as we strive to maintain the integrity of the brand and the objectivity of our voice, while avoiding the offensive, irrelevant or regulated. Whether that’s the watershed restrictions on violent content in the UK or sensitivity towards sexual innuendo in Muslim territories, vigilance and care is required.
Another key driver for the success of AETN’s brands in the us and abroad has been community outreach and consumer engagement efforts across the brands. In addition to advancing important causes within the community, these efforts serve to ‘personalize’ and build on the active reach of our brands. History US has developed a number of acclaimed educational and community programs, including the award-winning Save Our History, which encourages people to become active in learning about and preserving their own local histories. Save Our History has been adapted locally by many of our international channels.
Our international channel partners have developed a number of successful home-grown community initiatives. History in Israel sets up a yearly program to assist students studying for the history matriculation exams, providing study guides and other resources. In Australia, Crime & Investigation Network provides on-air and online support to local police agencies, including a partnership with the Australian Missing Persons Bureau.
Another example of this outreach is our Photos for the Future initiative, which calls for viewers to submit historically relevant photos, which are then used to create local interstitials and a Web gallery. Initially developed by History UK, AETN and its partners have successfully launched the initiative into many other territories.
Some of our channel partners have even developed related extensions to Photos for the Future, ranging from a partnership with a daily newspaper and museum in Israel, to an installation in a Madrid subway station, to a published book of photos in the UK.
Of course, content providers can reach out to the community, localize their product and choose the right partners, yet still fail miserably. Economic uncertainty, hyper-competition and geopolitical instability, not to mention content, brands or business model could still doom market entries to failure. Such is the risk/reward of the exhilarating international markets which many of us compete and thrive in every day. We are fortunate at AETN to have strong content, brands and a few logical rules of thumb that have driven our success to date.