Television's video-on-demand services, in which viewers are charged for specific programs they choose to view, are for the most part dominated by ultimate fighting bouts and movies such as "Bikini Chain Gangs."


Now, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors wants to get in on that action. To keep constituents from suffering endless re-broadcasts of "bored meetings," Time Warner Cable Inc. has proposed delivering the new county cable channel through a video-on-demand system. Unlike most systems, viewers won't be charged to view the meetings.


With VOD, the channel would consist of a library of available programs rather than a schedule. Cable subscribers could choose what and when to watch. The VOD delivery "is new for any county jurisdiction in the country," said Martin Zimmerman, the county officer in charge of the startup channel. He said Time Warner offered the system as part of its negotiation to acquire new cable franchises within the county.


Programming would consist of Board of Supervisor meetings (currently taped by an outside vendor and broadcast on educational channel KLCS-TV, Channel 58), as well as video presentations already produced or in development by other county departments. They include emergency bulletins, health advisories, videos on how to access to government services, and information about cultural and educational resources such as Hollywood Bowl, Music Center, Disney Hall, county museums, parks and holiday events.


Startup costs for the TV venture total $3.6 million, of which $1.7 million is existing expenses and $1.85 million is new. Going forward, the channel will cost $4.2 million per year to operate, consisting of $2 million in new costs and $2.1 million in existing expenses.


The existing costs come from the regulatory office that manages local cable franchises, which would fold into the new channel, and from contract services to broadcast the current board meetings. Zimmerman said the county is already bearing more than half the budget of the proposed channel.


Final approval for the VOD plan is scheduled for a supervisors meeting on Aug. 15. Assuming a thumbs-up and later approval of funding from the board, Zimmerman expects the cable subscribers to start downloading government video before the end of 2006.


Picking Up the Tab
On August 21, the Orange County Register plans to launch a daily tabloid called the OC Post. Publisher Christian Anderson describes target subscribers as "very, very busy a lot of them have young families but they are interested in the community and want information about their community."


Unfortunately, that could describe the entire next generation of newspaper readers many of whom don't read daily newspapers anymore.


But publication designer Mario Garcia believes the tabloid format could slow or even reverse that trend. He cites a 2005 study from the International Newspaper Marketing Association that looked at 16 newspapers with changed formats; on average, they increased circulation 4.6 percent.


And newspapers are going small, according to Garcia, who redesigned the Wall Street Journal in 2002. "Tabloids are protagonists in a play about newspaper survival," he wrote in a 2005 white paper. "One by one, the largest and best-known newspaper titles around the world will make the transition to smaller formats."


Resistance to tab size comes mostly from journalists who associate it with sensationalistic coverage of celebrities, sports and police dramas. But Garcia said that research shows readers, especially young ones, prefer the format. In fact, a number of respected and iconic publications are in tabloid format, including the Times of London, the investment weekly Barron's, the showbiz trade journal Variety and the Los Angeles Business Journal.


The OC Post is a tentative move toward reformatting. The publisher expects home deliveries to start at 140,000, or about half of the Register's circulation. Promotional subscriptions will sell for $19.99 a year, compared to a full year of the Register for $97. Alternately, readers can pick up the Post on the newsstand for 25 cents, half of the cost of a daily Register. (Because tabloids use less newsprint, publishers can afford to sell them for less.)


So will Southern California's other major newspaper go tab? A Los Angeles Times spokesman said last week that there are no plans to change formats, although this year the Times has published several tabloid special sections, including one on the Oscars and another on the Emmy Awards. Some readers might be reminded of sensational celeb coverage, but it's hard to argue against the economics of going small.


Asian Take-Out
Asian-American youth see themselves as trendsetters in technology, according to a new study from New American Dimensions. The flow of manga (Japanese-style comic books) and anime (animation for film and television based on manga conventions) from Asia to the U.S. has grown to a flood in recent years, with much of the product coming through Los Angeles publisher TokyoPop Inc. and San Francisco-based Viz Media.


"Anime and Manga constitute a growing $4 billion business in the U.S. and is embraced today by millions of American kids across the color spectrum," said Thomas Tseng, co-founder of New American Dimensions, an ethnic marketing research firm based in Los Angeles. "As ambassadors and curators of this subculture, Asian American youth really shape the contours of this space and spread it to the rest of their peers."


Based on interviews with 538 young Asians in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, the study found that nearly 80 percent of respondents identified "technology/gadgets" and "anime/manga" as the top sectors in which Asian American youth influence U.S. culture. A solid 72 percent felt the same for video gaming, with lesser percentages citing food and the visual arts.


"These results contrast with previous research we have conducted among Hispanic youth," commented David Morse, president of New American Dimensions. "Whereas many second-generation Hispanic kids often exhibit their pride through their language and culture, Asian American youth seem to assert their pride in how they are shaping mainstream American culture."


In terms of consumption, the study found U.S.-born Asians preferred hip-hop and alternative music. Among this group, 62 percent identified "hip hop/rap" as their favorite music genre, followed by 51 percent with "alternative/indie" music. In contrast, Asians born outside the U.S. listened mostly to top 40 pop songs.


Despite their tech wizardry, Asian youth discovered new trends through old-fashioned word-of-mouth rather than via the mass media. Second-generation Asian Americans indicate they were twice as likely as their first-generation counterparts to learn about trends from friends.


Staff reporter Joel Russell can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 237, or at jrussell@labusinessjournal.com .

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