The chances of Asian films getting North Americandistribution are set to increase with the launch later this year ofImaginasianTV, one of the US' first dedicated Asian entertainmentchannels.

The company was set up last year at the initiative ofMichael Hong, a former Spelling Television and Paramount executive. Backed by aconsortium of asset managers and music impresarios, the channel will present afull-service mixture of Asian films, series, news, animation and studio showsin a free-to-air mix.

It is in negotiations with all the US' major cablenetwork operators to be carried on their basic digital tiers from August, whenit hopes to be available in six million homes.

Programming will be shown in original language withsub-titles. "This is not about importing Japanese shows for Japanesepeople living in the US. We want this to be accessible for as many Americans aspossible," said David Chu, vice president of acquisitions andprogramming.

The group defines its remit as addressing the six majorAsian ethnic groups in the US - Chinese, South Asians, Filipinos, Vietnamese,Koreans and Japanese - but says it will not be slavishly tied todemographic metrics. "There are simply too many good Japanese and Koreanshows for us to ignore them for the sake of demographics," said Chu.

In many instances, ImaginasianTV will source directly fromAsian producers, studios and sales agents, but it will also buy content fromthe US micro-distributors, such as New York's Kino, which are oftenall-rights buyers in the US. "We believe they will be willing to dealwith us on TV rights. Often there is no other buyer."

Significantly, the group has recently bought a Manhattancinema, very near to Bloomingdales, which it will re-brand as the ImaginasianTheater. This will be programmed in a fashion that promotes and complements thechannel's film line-up and also mean that ImaginasianTV will in someinstances be a theatrical rights buyer. "We need to help our contentpartners and are seeking mutually beneficial deals," said Chu.