WASHINGTON – With a fast-growing population and higher than average incomes, Asian Americans are an advertiser’s dream, but the community long has had no nationwide media outlet to call its own.
In hopes of seizing an untapped market, Mnet, the first round-the-clock Asian American entertainment network, has been expanding across the United States with programs ranging from Korean pop to US-produced animation.
Mnet, which entered Washington and Philadelphia in June as its latest markets, faces a complicated task ahead as it looks to appeal to one of the most diverse demographics in the United States.
A unit of South Korea’s CJ Entertainment, Mnet is looking partially to seize on US interest in the Korean Wave of pop stars such as Rain, Super Junior and Girls Generation who have drawn major fan bases across Asia.
Mnet has brought to the United States the popular South Korean-based ”M! Countdown” show along with a K-pop show aimed at US fans called ”Hello Pop!” which is produced at the network’s base in Los Angeles.
But Mnet is also creating original content for Asian Americans including a new program starring YTF, comedians who have become sensations on video-sharing website YouTube.
The network also plans later this year an animation based on Lela Lee’s comic strip “Angry Little Girls,” a biting look at the lives of young Asian Americans and the stereotypes they confront.
Mark Aronson, Mnet’s senior vice president of distribution, said that the network’s audience tended to be younger, better educated and better paid than the average US television viewer, all draws for advertisers.
“I think we also represent a massively underserved market when you look at the landscape of ethnic programming. Compared with Hispanics or African Americans, there are multiple networks that are targeting each of those ethnic groups,” he said.
But Mnet, distributed as part of cable packages on major providers such as Comcast and Verizon, has far less penetration than networks geared toward other US minorities.
Mnet, which started broadcasting in 2004 in San Francisco, has a total potential audience of up to 15 million subscribers, Aronson said.
Hispanic-oriented Univision’s audience rivals that of the mainstream US English-language networks, with more than five million viewers tuning in recently when it aired the Mexican telenovela “La que no podia amar.”
“For us to be really successful, we need to get to 40 to 50 million subscribers in order to really attract advertising dollars, which is how we make our money,” Aronson said.
Asian Americans are the fastest-growing US racial group. The US Census estimates that 17.3 million Americans are of Asian descent and the community enjoys higher incomes and educational levels on average.
Some community advocates say that such statistics are misleading as Asian Americans are not monolithic and income varies widely among them.
The diversity of Asian Americans also presents a quandary for television programmers as recent immigrants from, for example, South Korea and India are unlikely to have identical tastes in entertainment.
Mnet’s solution has been to focus on youth culture and to let Asian Americans define themselves, with the market dictating what airs. Just over half of the programming is Korean but the network’s lineup also includes bhangra, the danceable Punjabi pop.
“We are an entertainment network and we follow where the trends are, and things like K-pop just happen to be hot,” said Sang Cho, Mnet’s chief operating officer.
“Ten or 20 years ago we may have been into Hong Kong noir action movies or anime, which is still hot. It’s really what’s trending,” he said.
In a survey last year, media measurement company Nielsen found that Asian Americans watched less television than any other US group and spent more time on the Internet.
But Mnet hopes to reach a broader audience. Network executives said that they have been surprised by the number of non-Asian fans of K-pop.
The network has chosen to broadcast entirely in English, despite occasional complaints from hardcore K-pop fans who dislike translations.
“We are taking a pan-Asian, pan-Asian American approach. It’s got to be hip, it’s got to be cool and it’s got to be in English in our original programming,” Aronson said.