Growth plans for Asiavision's news exchange

Kuala Lumpur, March 2014: The regional news organisation, Asiavision, has never been in such good health. Membership numbers have been increasing steadily and now stand at 28 - the highest in Asiavision's history.

Se-Deuk Ahn
Se-Deuk Ahn, the news director of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) - which runs the Asiavision news exchange from its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur - told TVZ that he's optimistic membership numbers may rise even higher this year. In particular, it's hoped that at least one of the Central Asian countries may join.

It's a far cry from the dark days of 1997 when the financial crisis swept through the region. Se-Deuk, who is seconded from KBS in South Korea, said for Asiavision it resulted in "several of our members leaving, including KBS. Only eleven members were left."

Membership costs have always been an issue. In those days all broadcasters that wished to participate in the news exchange had to pay US$8,500 per month - no matter their size. Nowadays, the cost of transmitting on AsiaSat have reduced considerably and, as such, the fees levied by Asiavision have also dropped and are now scaled to reflect a broadcaster's size, ranging between US$3,000 to US$500 per month.

Also helping the downward pressure on fees is the decision made by Asiavision to set up a parallel IP server system which enables members to upload and download news clips via the internet.

The Akamai cloud computing system offers massive storage facilities and fast downloads - providing the local internet connection is good.

Se-Deuk said, "The speed depends on your local connection. It can be fast but, for example, TV5 in Mongolia say they struggle to download a 1-minute story in 15 minutes."

Se-Deuk, who has been with ABU for two years and has one year left to go on his contract, is a man who speaks passionately about his role and the importance of improving the Asiavision network. But, in doing so, he recognises the hurdles that have to be crossed. One of them being that many of the members of the news exchange are State-run broadcasters whose journalists are sometimes regarded by governments as civil servants. And, as such, the journalists are given guidance as to what they should cover. This results in many of the stories being focused on domestic politics or feature items that are of limited interest to other broadcasters.

"The situation is improving," said Se-Deuk."Before I arrived here, there was a survey done about how many items were used by broadcaster members. The answer was about one per month. Now it's one per week. This year we're doing a new survey and I estimate clients will say that they're using two or three stories per week because the stories are getting better and better."

Not only is the story content improving but the number of stories being exchanged is also on the up. Currently about 10,000 video clips per year are exchanged. "My target is 50,000 stories per year," said Se-Deuk, "which would compare with Eurovision."

In addition to encouraging better-quality stories to be transmitted onto the Asiavision news exchange, Se-Deuk has been instrumental in organising the Global News Forum which was held last year in Seoul.

The aim of the forum was to invite dozens of television journalists from across the region to discuss the major issues facing the industry. But getting them to Seoul was no easy task.

"The problem is that nine out of ten countries are still poor," said Se-Deuk, "so the broadcasters can't afford to send their journalists. I had to find more than US$300,000 of sponsorship money from South Korean companies as well as from KBS in order to invite 100 journalists. There were about another 40 journalists whose costs were covered by an Asiavision budget."

KBS's involvement in Asiavision has little to do with benefiting from the news exchange. Since re-joining the organisation in July 2012, KBS has not broadcast one video story that has appeared on the exchange. Nor has NHK in Tokyo. The reason being that the two broadcasters are on HD systems whereas ten out of the 28 Asiavision members are still using analogue tapes.

Se-Deuk says KBS believes it has a moral obligation to help the less wealthy broadcasters in the region. "People in Asia look at our country and they see our success," said Se-Deuk. "They want to grow quickly just like us. People have bought so much from Korea and made us successful so now we feel it's payback time."
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