Tuned in to Asian taste
By Lester Gopela Hallig Updated February 26, 2009 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines – Faced with a food channel that describes itself as bringing “the unbiased and honest Asia” to viewers, there is no other recourse but to pull up a chair and watch.
Way back when, tuning in to a channel that looked at Asian cuisine the way an Asian would perceive it seemed farfetched. Now, the Asian Food Channel (AFC) is breaking ground as Asia’s first and only 24-hour pay TV food channel.
Based in Singapore, AFC is dedicated to airing the best food and lifestyle programming from around Asia and the rest of the world. AFC is seen in the Philippines on Sky Cable.
“AFC has the widest range of food programming, from all the different genres that you can imagine,” says AFC co-founder and managing director Hian Goh when I spoke with him at the Peninsula Manila. “AFC has a wide palate, from instructional cooking shows to restaurant makeovers. What we have is not just an extensive array of food shows but also balanced content of Asian and Western programming.”
True enough, alongside culinary icons such as Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, there are also Vivien Tan, chef Wan, and Martin Yan. In fact, there is Tablescapes: Life On A Plate, the first lifestyle program produced in the Philippines to be broadcast pan-regionally. It is hosted by Angel Aquino and chef Bruce Lim.
“It is a Filipino show that excites and adds to our diversity. The Philippines is an exciting territory for us,” Goh declares. AFC managing director for acquisitions and programming Maria Brown agrees: “People here want to know what’s going on. There is so much to know and Filipinos are passionate about food, so it is about time our shows came to them. One of the things we want to do is to be able to promote the other side of the Philippines, as has already happened with Singapore, Japan and India. There is a whole world here in Asia that remains unexplored.”
Goh adds, “It is Filipinos as seen through Asian eyes. That is our approach.”
Launched five years ago, AFC began with a pact between Goh and Brown, who both vowed to create a channel that fed their passion, which is food. AFC first appeared in Singapore and Hong Kong. But for them, the Philippines is the crème de la crème of TV markets.
They chorus that Filipinos definitely know their TV. Brown remarks: “The platform is developed. What that means to us is greater opportunity to do more things and make the business viable. Along with Malaysia, the Philippines is our pet market. We are also excited about working with Sky Cable because they believe in us. The ratings are also good.”
AFC’s shows attract a broad spectrum of viewers, including teenage food lovers, empty nesters, housewives, aspiring chefs, and high flyers. Among their must-see programs are Iron Chef (the original Japanese series), Sugar with Anna Olsen, Martin Yan’s China, A Cook’s Tour with Anthony Bourdain, The Heat with Mark McEwan, and Restaurant Makeover.
Brown adds: “Actually, our main draw depends on what area of food you’re here for. Housewives want the instructional cooking shows so we put those in the middle of the day. In the evening, we found out that they want something energetic, so we were the first channel to bring Gordon Ramsay to Asia. Nobody else would touch him because of his language, but we like him for his energy, passion and knowledge of food. It’s also a business show.”
When they were shopping around for shows, Goh and Brown had to politely reject several because of their poor food knowledge.
The duo stresses that AFC is still all about bringing the best programming to families. That is why, for 2009, AFC is bringing, as Brown puts it, “a stomper of a lineup.”
She explains, “We are always developing new product. We do not believe in cutting back just because we can get away with it. We are producing a big-budget series this year. We want to do more Filipino-centric stuff because nobody here is exporting the Philippines to Asia and the world. From our shows, we want the rest of the world to see the Philippines as a tourist spot. We can make stars out of people very easily. Who knows? The next Jamie Oliver could be a Filipino.”
Among the things that AFC is taking full advantage of is its relationships with food and food-related authorities, as well as with advertisers. AFC regularly executes 360 advertising and marketing campaigns and solutions for top FMCG, financial and travel brands.
Brown, a former BBC journalist, states, “This is, after all, a channel that communicates food and lifestyle. We are glad that they get what we do. They feel the authenticity. Since we are the founders, our passion is indivisible from our product.”
For Goh, an investment banker-turned-entrepreneur, AFC is confident about doing a great job for its viewers. With nine territories and over 15 million viewers watching AFC, all indications point at continued growth for the channel. He has one parting piece of advice for food lovers and viewers: “stay tuned!”