From Korean dramas to Filipino sitcoms, Asian Americans lead the way on streaming

“When we say that Asians have been on the leading edge of streaming, we're not kidding,” one expert said.
The digital video series "Being Filipino" on TFC celebrates the millions of everyday heroes changing communities around the world.
The digital video series "Being Filipino" on TFC celebrates the millions of everyday heroes changing communities around the world.TFC

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By Saleah Blancaflor

The late '90s was a time when connecting to the internet meant hearing the screech of a dial-up connection, and downloading files called for a level of patience that feels completely foreign two decades later.

When researchers began studying how Korean households consumed media then, they found that the families were downloading Korean dramas online — at the time, that meant leaving the files to complete the hourslong downloading process overnight so they could watch them the next day, said Adriana Waterston, a senior vice president for Horowitz Research.

“When we say that Asians have been on the leading edge of streaming, we're not kidding,” she said. “This is something that has been 20 years in the making.”

Waterston added that historically, multicultural audiences, particularly Asians, have been underserved by traditional cable networks. In the past few decades, several cable TV channels and streaming services targeting Asian American communities stepped in to fill that space — including The Filipino Channel (TFC) and Myx TV. While some like TFC, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, have stuck around, others like DramaFever and AZN Television have folded amid the challenges facing media.

According to Horowitz’s FOCUS Asian: The Media Landscape 2019 report, 78 percent of Asian TV content viewers report streaming at least some of their weekly TV content; overall, they spend 52 percent of their TV time streaming and just 39 percent watching live, traditional TV. In contrast, just 65 percent of the total market are streamers, and viewing behaviors are virtually flipped: Just 37 percent of time is spent streaming, while 47 percent is spent watching traditional live television.

Waterston said when it comes to the Asian demographic, there are many reasons that contribute to why they use streaming more. “Tech orientation and familiarity in multicultural groups — not necessarily only just Asians — tend to skew younger than white, non-Hispanics,” she said. “Comfort with technology comes with the age.”

ABS-CBN Corporation, a Filipino media and entertainment group that has been around since 1946, launched their flagship network TFC in 1994 and currently has 3 million subscribers worldwide. Along with TFC, the company launched Myx TV in 2007, an Asian American entertainment network based in Daly City, California, that broadcasts more than 15 million households on both cable providers and digital platforms.

On their website, Myx TV is described as “the only English-language multicultural Asian American entertainment network in the United States.” Both TFC and Myx TV produce films, sitcoms, documentaries and reality TV competitions.

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Meanwhile, other streaming sites and cable channels for Asian American audiences were less successful.

DramaFever — a Korean and Asian drama video streaming website previously owned by SoftBank and later acquired by WarnerBros. — launched in 2009 it quickly gained popularity. However, it shuttered last October due to “business reasons and in light of the rapidly changing marketplace for K-drama content.” It reportedly had 400,000 subscribers around the time it shut down. AZN Television, a cable TV channel that promoted itself as "the network for Asian America," was run by International Networks, a wholly owned subsidiary of Comcast Corporation, which owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News. However, Comcast announced in 2008 that it shuttered the network after “a review of the network’s financial situation.”

ImaginAsian, a multimedia company based in New York City, launched its television network, iaTV, in 2004. But the company dissolved in 2011.

For ABS-CBN, remaining on the marketplace has meant adapting to their audience.

Myx TV started on cable and satellite TV airing music videos before they began adding other content and making it available to stream, said Olivia De Jesus, the chief operating officer of ABS-CBN Global. While she said they’ve achieved a lot, they still face challenges staying on top of the shifting digital trends while also operating on a tight budget.

“We’re not the only ones, but I think a lot of traditional media companies are finding challenges with this shift to digital,” De Jesus said. “We just need to embrace the change rather than fight it because if we do that then we’ll survive.”

In honor of their 25th anniversary, TFC is launching a digital video series to highlight the diversity in its Filipino communities.

In #BeingFilipino, directed by filmmaker Marie Jamora, the series of videos feature three Filipinos — a teacher, doctor and a poet — and the impact they’ve made on the people in their lives. It will be debuting this month on YouTube and other digital platforms.

De Jesus said for the 25 years they have been around, they always created content for Filipinos in the Philippines, but have been wanting to produce more digital content to reach the generation of younger Filipino Americans internationally to keep up with the evolving market.

“Today, there are more native born Filipinos — those born in the U.S., in Canada and all over — and they identify more as Americans, Canadians and other nationalities because the countries their parents migrated to are the only ones they’ve ever known,” De Jesus said. “And we feel like we have to be a part of it to let overseas Filipinos know that we are able to bring them a piece of home.”

De Jesus said while they have other projects planned for TFC in the near future, she hopes that #BeingFilipino can be the beginning of more digital content to come for not only TFC, but all their platforms.

“We have to help the younger generation appreciate the culture and heritage and values of their parents and grandparents,” De Jesus said. “They have to understand that being Filipino isn’t just defined by the color of their skin, but by behavior and traits that were passed on from generation to generation, and guided by this knowledge, they can continue making a positive impact on the world.”

CORRECTION (Aug. 16, 2019, 4:42p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misidentified the executive with Horowitz Research. Her name is Adriana Waterston, not Adriana Wilson. The previous version also misidentified the company for which Olivia De Jesus works. She is the COO of ABS-CBN Global, not ABS-CBN Corporation.

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