“AZN Television: The Network for Asian America”

by: L. S. Kim / University of California, Santa Cruz

AZN TV Logo

AZN TV Logo

In March 2005, a new American television network launched. It was a quiet affair, announced mostly word-of-mouth and through the Asian American independent film festival circuit. AZN — “The Network for Asian America” — currently broadcasts in a handful of major markets including Los Angeles, The Bay Area, Seattle, New York, and Houston. It’s too early to know how the network is doing and who is watching it, but it’s a good time to consider the emergence, significance, and implications of television targeted towards Asian Americans.

What is Asian American television? As in defining ‘what is television’ more generally, we begin with the level of the text, include a consideration of the production context, and of course, emphasize the level of the reader or audience. At the same time, the concept of Asian American television floats as an open signifier, filled in by various parties and perspectives. For example, some non-Asian Americans might assume it means Asian product, and indeed, AZN regularly airs films (subtitled) from Asia; likewise, advertisers might not be clear about how to market to Asian Americans as distinct from Asian immigrants; and Asian American viewers themselves are newly discovering what Asian American television is, simply for the fact that it has never existed before.

So does it come down to the producers and programmers at ethnic networks to define “ethnic programming?” Is carving out a niche for the vastly diverse Asian and Asian American populations viable? How might looking at other ethnic networks (BET, Univision) inform the development of Asian American television, in terms of content as well as business structure? There are philosophical questions too. Following the observation/criticism that the television landscape might be gaining in diversity but in a way that amounts to segregated programming, is racial programming like racial profiling?

It Speaks Your Language

I do believe that Asian American programs — and at the least, programs with rich Asian American characters — are important and needed. How such programs are programmed (i.e., on a niche channel, basic cable channel, or major network channel) is a separate though related question. The promo for the niche network, AZN, is a quickly-paced montage of images and personalities from shows on the network which announces in a hip, young, male voiceover:

“It’s television that speaks to you, by you, for you. It’s AZN prime, redefined. Prime-time programming in English, you know, your language. Every night starting at 7 p.m. … Only on AZN Television, the Network for Asian America.”

The “you” is clearly an Asian American person. The address and appeal are direct, forging an affirmation of Asian American viewers — as consumers and citizens. Moreover, it announces the concept of ‘Asian America’ (we haven’t heard the term African America, or Native America). This emphasizes a declaration of belonging, that Asians are located here, in America. The following are statements from the promo for the New York-based ImagineAsianTV, which also declares a sense of place (both promos can be viewed at the respective network’s website):

“What does it mean to have an all-Asian network?
It’s a place where I can relate, where I can call home. …
On general TV, there’s nothing I can relate to. We never get to see people like us on TV — unless it’s the computer geek, grocery owner, Chinese delivery boy. imagineasiantv has the potential to make us feel worthy and proud.”{emphasis mine}

The promo ends with actors repeating the name “imagineasiantv!” in a victorious tone. First, both names of networks are clever: “AZN” are like call letters, or a sorority/fraternity organization — a club — for those who identify as azn; “imagineasian” of course, sounds like “imagination,” connoting creative, innovative programming for those in the know. Second, both networks carry the theme of being able to ‘see myself’ — one’s reflection, or people like us — thus asserting a subjectivity for Asian Americans, one that hardly exists in mainstream film and television stories; these are stories about (and “for”) Asian Americans. Third, the programs are created “by you,” meaning by Asian Americans, in a way that does not humiliate or dismiss and instead makes you/us feel worthy and proud; there is a sense that trust is fostered based on authorship because the writers/producers know where the viewers are coming from — and visa-versa. And fourth, both networks indirectly express that the need for Asian American television networks stems from a deficiency in “general TV” which does not seem to be a hospitable realm where Asian Americans matter or register in any significant way. AZN and ImagineAsianTV give Asian Americans priority.

Roots

The AZN Network has its roots in the International Channel. The former, ichannel, has been re-branded as AZN Television. The channel now targets the fast-growing, young, affluent and English-speaking Asian American community with original programming produced in the U.S. I also read the following line in a recent article about ANZ being picked up by a large Houston cable operator:

“Programs are in various Asian languages, with many of them subtitled in English to accommodate more acculturated Asian American and non-Asian viewers.”

On one hand, part of the discourse surrounding AZN flatters Asian Americans as a desirable demographic. But another part of the discourse reminds Asian Americans of their (or their parents’ or grandparents’) foreign status as some are more “acculturated” than others, and moreover, as they stand apart from the “non-Asian” viewer, i.e., American and white. Is this a schizophrenia linked to the larger social and discursive struggle to define Asian American — as ‘American’ or ‘Asian’? There are both Asian American (U.S. produced in English) and Asian programs (Asian-produced in other languages) on AZN and imagineasiantv. Why and how does this constitute Asian American programming?

The program line-ups on the AZN schedule are organized according to broad, somewhat loosely defined genres, and the days of the week: AZN MOVIES, ANIME, ORIGINALS (“Fresh, new original programs from leading Asian American talent”), which to me, is the most significant form of programming in that it unequivocally fits the category of Asian American television. Noticeably, many of the original shows are about Asian Americans in the media and popular culture. Programs such as POPCORN ZEN, CINEMA AZN, THE BRIDGE, and STIR TV feature Asian Americans working in the film, music, and fashion industries. Continuing during the week: DRAMAS, VARIETY, specifically music-related programs (“Asian recording artists are now among the creative forces in the worldwide music scene”), NEWS (the news programming that I saw was in Korean, and was not subtitled), and MASALA, a diverse mix of programming produced in India and/or geared towards a South Asian audience.

Speaking of masala and a mixing of elements, not only is there a dual address in terms of the U.S. produced-English and imported-Asian language programming, but also in terms of the shows’ making an appeal to young, hip viewers while the advertisements jump suddenly to topics of home equity loans and life insurance. Examples of the numerous 1800-ads that fill the commercial spots are for Ditech lenders, CreditGuard of America, SMC start-your-own-business, and dental insurance. Also consistent are the advertisements for the U.S. Army; along with the commercials for Devry, these could be seen as being aimed at twenty-something people of color and/or immigrants or children of immigrants. This, however, is a different path to upward-mobility than that which is connoted in AZN’s own advertisements.

From the Ford Fusion Website

From the Ford Fusion Website

The one sponsor that stands out as not discordant is Ford Fusion, whose style of advertisement is similar to the way-cool Mitsubishi ad campaign (you’d recognize the tune upon hearing it, and might even begin to bob your head in rhythm). Moreover, you can visit a special Ford Fusion website which features a kind of television show, with pseudo characters all of whom are Asian/Asian American. What is fascinating about this ad campaign and its employment of what I identify as ‘Asianess,’ is that the origin and location of these characters in their cool cars is transparent and moveable: when you enter the website, you choose a language — English, Chinese, Korean, or Vietnamese — and only the printed words change, all the images of faces, fashion, cityscapes, and streets remain the same. This signifies, literally and figuratively, the Pan-Asian disposition that I think AZN is taking. Moreover, it expands the notion of Pan-Asian beyond Asia, indicating a fluidity between Asia and the United States.

Brautwurst and Wasabi

So the “open signifier” I mentioned at the beginning of this essay is filled with Pan-Asianess, which comes to signify Asian American television on AZN. One of AZN’s most frequently run promos reveals this message. In it, Eugene Lee the host of POPCORN ZEN says “when two things collide — like brautwurst and wasabi,” Holly who hosts XBYTES and is of mixed Asian heritage from Hawai’i, says, “if you have two different ideas,” an Asian American man adds, “two different things,” and an Indian American woman says, “bam! they come together”…”You’ve got to check this out.” The historical goal of cable television was to promote and enable diversity. Many agree that this hasn’t necessarily happened. AZN is filling at least one empty frequency on the (proverbial!) dial.

Some may criticize the existence of ethnic-specific cable channels that provide content “for and by” specific ethnic groups as essentialist, but at this racial-historical juncture, the need for ethnic-specific networks and programming is acute. A new African American cable channel has recently come on to the scene. TV One is a joint venture between Radio One, the nation’s largest black-oriented radio broadcaster, and Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company. Kristal Brent Zook has written that TV One acknowledges an eclectic group of urban and upscale viewers, and “represents a welcome change for an industry plagued by UPN sitcoms like HOMEBOYS FROM OUTERSPACE.” While she argues that some in the industry “just don’t get it” that Black people are not monolithic, AZN seems to pitch its programming fare to a single Asian America. According to Nielsen estimates, Asian Americans represent 3.8% of all American TV households, though this number increases dramatically in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, where the figure is 11.4%, and San Francisco, where Asian Americans make up 19.6% of the television audience. Whether ethnic niche cable networks like AZN have decided to acknowledge, affirm, and attract Asian Americans as a matter of politics or a matter of profit is inconsequential to the fact that it answers a similar call MTV viewers shouted out 20 years ago: I want my A(ZN)TV!

Links
YAO IN THE NBA
MTV Desi
MTV Chi

Image Credits:

1. AZN TV Logo

2. From the Ford Fusion Website

Please feel free to comment.

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25 comments

  • What a relief it is that someone finally took the intiative to create a network for Asian-Americans and Asians alike. To be honest, I am somewhat shocked that the AZN network and Imagineasian even came to be. Television has always had the notorious reputation of lagging in certan aspects of culture, particularly those aspects that address racial issues. Even to this day, networks struggle to encorporate African Americans into there daily programs, though African Americans have been part of United States since the beginning. Similarly, Asians and Asian Americans have deep, though dark, roots in American history aswell. Thus, it is not surprising that Asians have been one of the demographics neglected the most. While TV struggles with encorporating even African Americans into narrative plots, network progamming made clear a long time ago, that attempting to encorporate another demographic is simply asking for too much. Though admittedly there have been improvements with series like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Lost”, personally, I have lost all faith in the utilization of television as an educational, progressive medium. That is why it is absolutely essential that networks like AZN and Imagineasion exist. Though some may criticize the mere conception of racially specific television channels, without them, network executives would continue living in an imaginary TV world solely populated by “beautiful” white people. Furthermore, a large demographic (there are percentages to prove it) would go completely ignored. Perhaps with the development of new Asian programming, other networks will get a clue about who the american public truly is– a unit of people that are as diverse as the fish in the sea, and who also deserve a piece of the television pie. Sure its great that there are new networks for different racial groups, but its also sad that they need their own seperate space to express themselves, when they should be ( as should other races and cutures) incorporated into daily network programming, since people of all colors are part of our daily existence. Hopefully, AZN and Imagineasian will be only the beginning of culturally aware television (Key word: hopefully). As far as I’m concerned, AZN and Imagineasian are the best things to happen to TV since Murrow and Friendly hit the airwaves over 50 years ago. If the only means of expressing American diversity is to create channels made specifically for certain demographics ( though this culd aslo be refered to as segregation) , so be it. At least SOMETHING is being achieved. However, i hope that the creation of such networks, like AZN and Imagineasian, is only the beginning of expressing diversity rather than another unsatisfactory attempt to divert criticisms regarding racial issues.

  • What an intriguing development the creation of the AZN network is! As a white kid growing up in a predominantly Asian neighborhood, I always wondered why there was such a void of Asian American based programs on television. I remember the elation that a lot of my childhood friends felt when Margaret Cho got her own sitcom, and the subsequent disappointment they felt after it was cancelled. Thinking about the historical lack of Asian American based television shows, I wondered, where is the bulk of AZN’s programming going to come from? Since a significant portion of the programming of other race-specific networks, such as BET, comes from syndicated television shows, and there are no such programs to draw upon for the AZN network, what are they going to do in lieu of that? Or will the original programs you mentioned be enough to accommodate 24 hours of programming during the day? Reading this article, I also wondered about the reasons why a venture of this kind had not been attempted in the past, or the reasons why Asian Americans have been, for the most part, historically excluded from network television. I’ve always thought that perhaps network executives have naively assumed that Asian Americans might be more likely to identify with “White” sitcoms than say African Americans and therefore there was not a need to specifically target them as a demographic. In any event, the inception of this network is a good thing, not only for Asian Americans. And perhaps one day, Margaret Cho’s famous quote, “When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an extra on M.A.S.H.” will not be applicable to new generation of Asian Americans.

  • To Be an Asian American

    I had not thought about this before, but as I read your article, I realized how their programming variety helps identify the Asian American viewer as “Asian American.” While doing some research on my own in the past few weeks, specifically regarding Asian Americans on reality television programming, I realized how there was this lack in television’s ability to represent the identity of who an Asian American is. If not stereotyped horribly, then we were able to see successful Asian Americans, such as the recent winner of But Can They Sing? Michael Copon. But sadly, Michael Copon seems to have lost his asianness for the sake of success, at least in the way the show has chosen not to mention his Asian heritage. I feel that remembrance of roots is so important, but advancement in television today means being performatively up to par with the rest of America and fitting in to the point of loosing one’s own roots (either in action, such as getting rid of the accent or never speaking about the heritage, or in physique, such as getting eye-lid surgery for a more western appeal). There seems to be an ultimatum, which I do not agree with: stereotyped or just American.

    AZN and their choice of shows helps (me at least) remember who I am and who I came from. It is also designed in a way to reach through generational gaps. Although there are many multi-generational families, there are also several families of one to 1.5 to second generational peoples. This is the first time I can watch television (in reference to Asian shows with subtitles) with my non-English speaking parents and enjoy the same text at the same time. I have never been able to experience this before. As a social medium, television through AZN is finally helping this dynamic of socializing be applicable. It’s an amazing milestone for ethnic programming. The inclusiveness of Asian roots and American identification helps me see what the Asian American should be.

  • Reality TV

    I agree with Professor Kim’s idea that reality programs give people feel the sense of equal opportunity and upward mobility. She says television could be seen optimistically and pessimistically. I still feel that minorities are illustrated in stereotyped way when casts are “narrativized’’ in reality programs. When reality TV continues to show minority people in that way, it gives continuous hegemony ideologies to the viewers. She mentions that reality TV casts more minorities than other TV programs. Because of it, reality programs have to be responsible for the representation of minorities. People who make these programs also have to be more integrated to take off the stereotyped images about minorities. Some problems exist about the representation of minorities, and they need to be fixed.

  • There are some networks which broadcast Asian programs that are made in Asian countries. I wonder if those programs attract not only non-speaking Asian people but also English speaking Asian American people. So, I’m interested in how AZN produce their original programs and how Asian American people perceive them. At the same time, some problems such as sponsoring remain as Professor Kim mentions. Good marketing strategies are needed for AZN to success. Sponsors need to attract as many people as possible, and AZN needs to deal with the diversity among Asian. I don’t think it’s easy to deal with the diversity among Asian people. Targeting Asian American viewers has both a great possibility and difficulty.

  • The Signified of AZN

    I think AZN is a great network to have around for Asians or anyone just interested in watching Asian television. However, it does separate what is perceived as “Asian” and what is not “Asian.” This sort of thing seems inevitable when comparing it to typical modern media seen in America. The programs on American networks are typically focused on the white crowds, but not all of them are. The existance of AZN signifies there is attempt to have diversity in the world of networks in America to where groups with different interests are targeted. There could be two arguments posed to the production of AZN, and L.S. Kim does state them in her article. AZN could be accused of singling itself out, making it obvious of being an Asian network that caters to only one specific audience and taking that risk. This would also leave American born Asians in an inbetween state on which network would be “theirs.” One the other hand, it can be viewed as a break away from the typical media seen in America. It can spice things up to offer a variety away from the large corporate networks that own most of our country’s media rights.

  • Comcast cuts AZN’s Original Programming


    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/200.....comcast_dc

    Goodbye to “the network for Asian America.”

    I’m crossing my fingers for MTV World (Desi, Chi, K, etc.)

  • are philippino’s considered asian?I recently found your channel,( probably becauseof a lack of marketing)and discovered that there seems to be nothing to draw in Philippino (pinoy) viewers.This would be somthing I would consider a major error.The Philippine population in the states is approx. 1%of the whole population, and the majority of these are in the group with the largest amount of disposable income.I am not sure what your network goals are, many(most)networks are trying to make money.Anyhow you seem to have made it to the generalcable market. The Philippino channels jhaven’t done that (yet)The audience they have is willing to pay more for their programing.I don’t know where I’m going here, but I think that by bringing more focus on this public you could increase your bottom line revenues. Hey.John

  • Could you please inform me as to when there is Filippino programing.

    Thnaks,Eli

  • toshio akamatsu

    i have seen i think 2 episodes of “getting any” some time ago. i keep looking in the daily schedule but havent seen anything about “getting any”. please update me. thank you

  • the bridge

    on the first episode there was a video of two guys playing guitar does anybody know who they were?

  • i have a question. please email the answer=) how come when international channel was rebranded as azntelevision, there weren’t anymore korean music videos? i reaaally wish you guys would bring it back.

  • Anime

    I LOVE this channel but i have a question when is anime on and what animes are shown? plz e-mail the answer to my question if it wouldnt be too much trouble:)

  • I’ve recently noticed that there is barely filipino shows on the azn channel and i did some research filipinos are counted as asian. The main thing that I am concerned in is the fact you are makin viewers think filipinos are not asian and I am filipino and i really love my culture and being asian. My pride of being asian is really strong but from experience people are getting the idea that we arent asian but the fact is us filipinos are ASIAN PACIFICS. So in sum shows on the azn channel maybe you can consider putting a little bit more filipinos on because wer feeling left out.

  • AZN drama series

    I wish that I had known about the network earlier. I have loved Asian dramas and some of the music for years: interesting comment perhaps from a Black female. Loved “Emperor of the Seas”; “Rooftop Cat”; “Winter Sonata”(donot mean to offend in any way, please believe me. I’m a dentist by profession. What happened to beautiful teeth and smile Junsang had in the “Sonata” compared to Dongyuk in “Hotelier”? Bae, get that smile back if you can and certainly only if you want to.); and the Chinese dramas with English subtitles(the legend of Feng Shi Yu, etc. Beautiful music in “Winter Sonata”. Seeing the scenery and hearing the language entices me all the more to visit the Far East. I’m very glad that AZN television is around! Much success to all of you!

  • That Fan in Chicago

    I appreciate the dramas so much because they give a non-Asian viewer some insight into the the dynamics of interpersonal relationships within the societies currently represented-contemporary Korean and ancient Chinese. The relationships and dynamics within the family; btw a man & woman in love; btw friends; btw others in power and those subject to them-I love to observe these things in other societies. I’m glad that you’re around AZN tv.

    Just happened to check out BBC News on the web and saw amongst other things I read, a 2004 story about Korean and Japanese artists becoming popular in each others country. To my surprise, my favorite Korean actor, Bae Yong-joon aka Yon-sama, was featured as was “Winter Sonata”. He has a fan in me. Thanks for introducing us in America to this talent. As a Christian, I found the love relationship btw the two principals portrayed in “Sonata” to be refreshingly wonderful and beautiful.

    Being non-Asian (Afro-American), and not speaking the languages(wishing that I did), I’m always curious as to when these series were produced. I can’t tell from the credits. I check the cars, styles of dress or hair to get some handle on how current things look in Korea today, for example.

    Keep the programming coming and I’ll continue to watch!

  • Joseph J. Burgess, Jr.

    We have been enjoying Korean historical videos sent to us from relatives in Hawaii. My wife is of Korean background, and I was at one time trained in Chinese. Therefore, we are interested to find out if AZN is available here in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

  • I am not asian american. I look foreward to your series every night. I missed th ending of Happy House Is there a way to find it on video? I hope I will not miss the ending of Emperor of the Sea after watching it for 39 days. How long will this go on? The only thing I don’t like is so many commercials but I look foreward to watching the shows. I even tell by family not to call me when my program is on. Looking foreward to all your series.

  • Emperor of the Sea

    I just hate to see this seriesend. I hope I will not miss the last ending being this is a holiday. I know into my 50th day. I only watch your program at this time, not by local and natiowide programs.

  • when i’m watching this channel i watch some good music videos. but sometimes the videos don’t have the name of the artist nor the title of the song. they should have the title of the song while the video is playing. and also if anybody knows the title of the song where these two japanese guys are playing guitar and running around, please tell me.

  • If anyone could help please, my brother and i daily watch “the Handsome Siblings” on AZN. and if someone could please help me find the name of the opening theme song i’d be so grateful. we’ve been looking for it but for no avail. if someone could please provide it to me in english and who its by. Thanks Much

  • recaping an anime i saw

    ok well on AZN I daw an anime series during the mideval time. I don’t remember what it’s called cause I moved have been moving around from state to state. If I can get help finding out what this anime was called it would be much appreciated. just email me.Thx

  • Carol Sakaguchi

    I just want you to know how much we’ve enjoyed the Korean programming with the English subtitles. We’ve especially enjoyed Chumong, Emeror of the Sea and My Lovely Samsoon. I hope you don’t run out of these quality shows. By the way I am not Asian I am a caucasian American. Thanks again for the great programing. Carol SakaguchiYou can see from my name I am married to a Japanese and did live in Japan for 8 years. I think there is a market in caucasian America for these shows but they don’t know about them. To be honest I ran across your programs accidentally while channel surfing and became hooked. I was introduced to the dvd winter sonata thru my son and his wife and I guess that clued me in that these types of shows were available. One of the things I like is that for the most part they are cleaner than a lot of regular programing. Thanks again.

  • I’m proud to be amerisian but i’ve notice you don’t have anz filipino.I don’t get it, I thought the show is for asian, and we are not part of it?

  • I miss this channel =*( I wish there was a way to bring it back…and to all the filipino people asking about why there aren’t any filipino shows in this channel, maybe it’s because there is an all filipino channel on satellite somewhere. My friend has that channel and it’s in tagalog all day 24/7. There isn’t any all Vietnamese or Chinese channels or Korean channels (well I haven’t found any) that is not AZN channel. I really hope they bring it back. I love the dramas and the movies and anime especially Record of Lodoss War. And like the other two people asked ahead of me, does anybody know the artist and the song name of the two guitarists walking around meeting people and playing guitar everywhere? I think the video took place in Japan not sure.

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