Q&A with AsiaVision's Kenny Bloom

And other people news in Greater China

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SHANGHAI--For the past two decades, Kenny Bloom has been at the forefront of China’s music industry. He has managed the record catalogs of Warner and BMG, and local artist production and management including China’s first and biggest rock star Cui Jian.

He produced China’s first music video TV show and produced Dream Maker, the precursor of Supergirl, the number one-rated show in the history of China as well as scores of radio shows, TV commercials and live events.

As the Beijing-based CEO of AsiaVision, he is launching Mogo.com.cn, an ad-supported video webcast portal for the China market with six channels of original content, including two for music.

Mr. Bloom was a speaker at the Music Matters Asia/Pacific Forum held at the Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong May 30–31, 2007, where he talked with AdAgeChina Editor Normandy Madden about trends in China’s music industry.

AdAgeChina: You’ve been in China for a long time. How has the music industry changed?

Kenny Bloom: They didn’t have piracy when I first got to China, now they do. Not much else has changed. China is still mostly a pop market. Music companies are creating pop stars, because that’s who they can get on television. But the market is still controlled by state-owned distributors. There is a lot of distribution online, of course, but you can’t make money there.

AdAgeChina: What can China’s entertainment industry learn from more advanced digital markets such as Korea and Japan?

Mr. Bloom: You’re connecting technology with music. What they first need to do is to open up the industry, so I won’t have to go to a pirate shop to buy what I want and have a more varied choice of music on the radio than just pop and traditional Chinese music. The problem with China is that you don’t have access to a lot of varied content. If you’re not in Beijing and Shanghai, you’re only going to see what’s on television and radio; that’s a very narrow scope of music. How many new Chinese films and albums come out every year? It’s a very small number relative to the population.

AdAgeChina: Since the internet and mobile phones create hundreds of music selling points in China, how can the industry and consumers navigate the market and cut through the clutter?

Mr. Bloom: People know about more things through the internet but their knowledge isn’t necessarily pervasive. If I’m a teenager in China, all I will hear on the radio is Chinese pop. Having more variety in the kinds of music available will drive a lot more content downloads.

Otherwise you’re talking about millions of people listening to twenty or thirty selections. The songs on the top ten charts stay the same for months at a time. There is variety but there isn’t much access to the variety. If you don’t live in Beijing, you aren’t going to learn about new bands in that city. So the record companies don’t sign the bands. It’s a vicious round-robin cycle.

AdAgeChina: Can’t online communities in China help source and promote new music?

Mr. Bloom
: Actually, we’re launching a digital video platform, Mogo.com.cn, in a couple of weeks with two music channels, one is hip hop and one is alternative rock. The other four channels on the platform are related to lifestyle, sports and one is for the Beijing Film Academy, where they will upload short films. The whole site is video-on-demand, free to consumer, all ad-supported.

AdAgeChina: Are ad-driven models the best approach for the music business in China?

Mr. Bloom: No question. If consumers won’t pay, get the advertisers to pay. They are kicking themselves to get first in line for music. Hip-hop is still in the early stages but I think it has potential to be huge.

AdAgeChina: Why is hip-hop getting so popular in China?

Mr. Bloom: For one thing, Mandarin works better with hip-hop than with pop or rock. These kids have something to say and they are talking to peers in a language they all understand. And marketers love it because it’s aspirational.

AdAgeChina: What should advertisers in China do better or differently to tap into the popularity of music among young consumers? Are any of them doing it well at this point?

Mr. Bloom: I think advertisers are doing the job of record companies, finding and signing artists, and they’re doing a really good job. What should happen now is advertisers and record companies should team up and find artists that advertisers will support and record companies can sell. Both Nike and Adidas are doing it well, this comes under their global philosophy as well. Others who are working a lot with music in China are Motorola, Nokia, Coke, Pepsi, Red Bull, Apple and M-Zone [China Mobile’s youth brand].

AdAgeChina: How about ad agencies in China, do they understand the power of music as a marketing tool?

Mr. Bloom: Only the ad agencies working with those clients really understand music, like TBWA and Wieden + Kennedy, and we’re working with the big media agencies like MindShare, Zenith and Starcom. When I go see a new band in Shanghai or Beijing now, half of the audience are guys working for the ad agencies.

AdAgeChina: Is there any real solution to music piracy in China?

Mr. Bloom: Yes, prosecute and make it a criminal offense. If the government wanted to clean up piracy, they could certainly do it. But you have to replace pirated goods with a legitimate market. You need both. The reason they have piracy is because there is no legitimate market access. It’s not a price point per se. But if I want something that’s not legally available, I’ll find it somewhere else.

AdAgeChina: You were involved with Supergirl in its early stages, and that show because hugely successful and created a lot of spinoffs. Is the reality-show singing contest type of programming starting to fade in China?

Mr. Bloom: No, but they aren’t producing great artists. I can tell you that the best singers are voted out in the first round and you end up with mediocre winners.

But they are losing some influence. There are 20 or 30 million kids in China, aged 14 to 21, who are middle class, upwardly mobile, with no siblings, who never or rarely watch TV. They live on the internet. That is the market that advertisers and record labels are becoming more aware of, because it’s a very valuable market. Statistically, they have no money but if they want something, their parents or grandparents will buy it. And they’re buying real jeans and caps and CDs, not fakes. It’s almost a way of showing off that they’re cooler than everyone else. It’s their version of a Mercedes-Benz.

They have no knowledge of Mao. They’ll never use a stamp or mail a letter at the post office. Their whole life is about the internet, and they know more about hip-hop than I do. Three to four years ago, this market didn’t exist.

Other people news in Greater China

[shanghai] Philip Beck will step down as Shanghai-based CEO of China Media Exchange (CMX), the holding company for Publicis Groupe's media divisions in China, including Zenith Media, Optimedia and Starcom, at the end of June. He will not be directly replaced. Phil Talbot, Hong Kong-based chairman of Publicis Groupe's media operations in Asia, will assume his responsibilities.

[hong kong] Walt Disney Television International has appointed Daniel Shum in Hong Kong as VP, consumer strategy and research, Asia/Pacific for the Disney Channel. He will direct all brand and consumer research studies in the region and help define marketing and programming strategies for key franchises. He will also support the development of brand extensions, new media and branded offerings throughout the region. Previously, he was managing director, Taiwan and Hong Kong, based in Taipei.

[hong kong] Hong Kong-based inflight magazine publisher Emphasis Media has hired Felicity Glover as managing editor, in charge of the English-language content for 16 of the company’s publications, including China Airlines’ Dynasty, Thai Airlines’ Sawasdee and Singapore Airlines’ Priority magazine and KrisWorld guides. Previously, she was assistant editor for Post Magazine, part of the South China Morning Post Group, in Hong Kong.

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