Intertainer Asia, the licensee of US VoD service Intertainer Inc., will launch a broadband entertainment-on-demand network with Singaporean telco SingTel at the end of May and is pursuing similar launches in New Zealand, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan.

Executive Chairman Greg Coote told Screen Daily that the Singapore-based company is market testing its service with New Zealand Telecom and has signed a memorandum of understanding with Hong Kong Telecom. It is close to deals in Korea and Taiwan.

Coote, formerly president of Village Roadshow Pictures, licensed the Intertainer brand and technology in 15 Asian territories including Malaysia and China. (Sony Corp., one of the original investors in Intertainer Inc., reserved for itself the rights for India and Japan.).

Coote's partners in the venture are Australia's Macquarie Bank (where Coote is a board member of its relatively new film division) and Singaporean leisure group YTC Corp. Intertainer Inc. retains a portion of the equity and will receive a share of gross revenue.

The service will feature regional and local content from major content providers in Asia, half of which will be in Mandarin- and Cantonese-language fare. In the US, Intertainer is supplied by most of the major studios and it is thought likely that they will supply Intertainer Asia. Coote said the initial service will offer 250 films, most of them current. The service will also offer music videos, TV programmes, games and shopping services, all of it accessed via PCs connected via cable or DSL.

Coote said an Australian deal is complicated by local telco Telstra and its 50% ownership of pay-TV operator Foxtel: Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and Kerry Packer's Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd (PBL) control the other half . "Telstra's the 500-pound gorilla," said Coote. "We can't move without them." Coote said SingTel's proposed purchase of Australia's number two telco Optus, which also operates a rival pay-TV network, might simplify matters. Richard Li's Pacific Century Cyber Works (PCCW) formed a $3bn alliance with Telstra in April 2000.

Coote's relationship with Intertainer Inc. president and CEO Jonathan Taplin goes back to the 1991 production of Wim Wenders' Until The End Of The World, which Taplin produced and VR backed. Shortly after Coote left VR in 1999, he met up with Taplin who floated the idea of his licensing the Asian rights. During his 10 years at VR, Coote greenlit such films as The Matrix and A Walk On The Moon. He and fellow VR exec Jeffrey Hayes organised a management buyout of VR's television arm to form Coote/Hayes Productions.

Intertainer is the most established VOD operator in the US. The company has 40,000 subscribers in its launch city, Cincinnati, Ohio and hopes to have a further 260,000 by the end of the year through service agreements with telecoms Qwest and Comcast in cities such as Seattle, Minneapolis and Baltimore.

Said Coote, "Movies-on-demand will put an end to the corner video shop but it means more than that. VoD is challenging network television as we know it by putting the product on the shelf. It puts the whole entertainment business back to the consumer. It's an evolution as opposed to revolution."

Including China, there are 1.7 billion persons in Intertainer Asia's footprint but, admitted Coote, "Unfortunately, a lot of them don't have cable or DSL."