On his return to Asia, veteran broadcaster found himself at a career crossroads. His former company wouldn’t return his calls and the on-air opportunities seemed limited elsewhere.
So, at the age of 47, Dasey re-invented himself as an executive producer in a start-up project – and went head-to-head with his one-time colleagues, with surprising success.
That was three years ago. Now the Australian-born Dasey has a job in Malaysia heading up a team of more than 30 full-time and part-time staff as Vice President/Executive Producer and Senior Host at Malaysian satellite network, Astro SuperSport, specializing in football programming.
At the start of his Malaysian career in May 2009, when Dasey walked in the door, Astro SuperSport held the rights for many of the big soccer leagues around the world, but did no original production like weekly magazine shows, or wraparound studio programs. Today, SuperSport generates more than 10 hours a week of its own content, all in High Definition (HD), with an all-Malaysian production staff.
Two of the shows were nominated for prizes at the 2011 Asian TV Awards in Singapore, even though the annual gongs carried no sports categories.
Now Astro SuperSport is looking beyond its borders to share its original shows to other parts of Asia on regional carriers.
“In short, we are aiming to be Asia’s best original football and sports programming network in HD,” he said. “It’s my view that the rest of the region should be given the chance to enjoy our high quality shows.”
Dasey is a former sports host with international networks, BBC World News and CNN International. Between 2001 and 2006 he was the senior sports presenter of Singapore-based ESPN STAR Sports and the original host (2002) of SportsCenter Asia. In 2007 and 2008, he was an anchor for ESPN International, based in Bristol, Connecticut.
Prior to his role at Astro SuperSport, Dasey was predominantly an on-air host. However, he started out as a reporter/producer in his hometown as Sydney, and in the early 1990s, he was executive producer of his own small production company.
What’s your proudest achievement at your Astro SuperSport job in Malaysia?
What I am most proud of is that I built an array of quality TV sports programming from the ground up. At the beginning, I was a one-man band: producer/host and organiser all rolled into one. The first project was the 2009 Confederations Cup, a soccer tournament from South Africa. Initially it was just a short-term contract, but thankfully things went well and here I am three years later with a truly wonderful team of people.
What are some of the challenges you faced doing business in Malaysia in your early days at Astro?
It was quite tough in the beginning because there was no culture or tradition of creating sports shows. We had to create everything from scratch… sets, graphics, hosts, experts, production staff… you name it! Fortunately I have a fantastic boss in CK Lee who showed a lot of trust in me and gave me plenty of scope to operate. One challenging aspect initially was the difficulty in bringing in foreigners because of Malaysia’s tough and restrictive labour laws. But in the end, it was probably better not to be full of expats like some of the other networks in Asia because I actually think my all Malaysian-team is now better than anything that I would want to import.
You were primarily an anchor, making a name for yourself in South-East Asia and India, with your on-air career at BBC, CNN and ESPN STAR. How did you suddenly find yourself an executive producer and manager job in Malaysia?
When I returned to Asia without a full-time job, it was at a ‘danger’ time for me – in my mid to late 40s, when some broadcasters drift off the air completely. In other industries, people lose their jobs altogether because they are too expensive – and too experienced.
I was lucky that I had a pretty solid producing background in the earlier part of my career – I was a producer before I became a host at CNN and BBC, for example. Also in Asia previously, I’d worked with some fairly ‘green’ and inexperienced producers and had to guide them along – so at times, I was effectively self-producing. I’d also done in-house training before – mostly script-writing. So I was definitely ready. Instead of complaining about my bosses (which I’d certainly done plenty of in the past) I now had to walk to walk! I think it helped that I’ve always loved the craft of television – from shooting and editing to creating and moulding shows.
What were some of the key moments in building the success of Astro SuperSport?
Very early on, I got lucky when I chose my first female co-host to be our sideline reporter when Manchester United toured Malaysia in July 2009. Someone had recommended Jay Menon, one of the DJs from Mix-FM, a radio station that Astro runs, who had done some TV anchoring – as well as acting and modeling before. Three years later, Jay is a senior host in our team, a versatile and talented anchor who has her own interview show, and a close friend and confidante.
Another breakthrough was when Astro won the contract to broadcast English Premier League football in mid-2010. That saw a wave of new recruits, including our senior producer, whom I brought in from my old company, ESPN STAR in Singapore. I could see his talent and immediately promoted him to senior producer at the age of just 28. He’s done a remarkable job in continuing to bring my original vision to fruition.
And also in 2010 we were very fortunate to enlist the services of Astro Arena as our production partners. Astro Arena is a 24-hour Malay language sports channel. We use their HD facilities for almost all of our in-house productions – and their support has been invaluable. I’m very proud of the fact that all our shows, including our Premier League studio programming, are HD while many bigger broadcasters in the region still put out almost of their shows in Standard Definition (SD). That means a superior picture quality for our viewers.
What was the reaction of your former company, ESPN STAR Sports, to you effectively becoming a competitor?
Some people were very supportive… others not so. I think they were a little surprised at first and didn’t really take it seriously because we started with just one weekly, half an hour show. It was when the whole band of football shows were created (our Nine@Night campaign with something different every night of the week at 9pm) – plus extra programming like golf interview shows and general sports chat shows with everything in HD – that the eyebrows raised a little. And then perhaps even more so when we had two shows nominated at the 2011 Asian TV Awards – best comedy and best talk show – even though there are no sports’ categories. But, I’m happy to say, that relations between Astro and ESPN STAR are very good today and we are partners in some projects of mutual interest.
What was the impetus behind making that original move abroad that led to your Malaysian career? What is your “origin story?”
I left Australia in 1987 and have spent all but two of the past 25 years away from my nation of birth. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my homeland – it’s just that I’ve always been able to get better and more interesting jobs abroad than in Australia. Even so, I’m proud of the fact that I was a pioneer for my country abroad. I was the first sports presenter on BBC World News (in 1994) and then I became the first Aussie on CNN’s World Sport (in 1999). I’ve been incredibly fortunate to get the opportunities I have. But then again, I’ve worked very hard for more than 30 years.
Do you feel that there exist strong opportunities in your industry for young expatriate professionals? What would they have to do to seize these opportunities for jobs in Malaysia?
My feeling on expatriate professionals in Asia is that they must offer something different – and they must work very hard. I’ve met some good expats in my time in Asia – and some very poor ones. Basically, an expat needs offer something a lot more than a local – otherwise, what’s the point? I’m not so keen on the ‘lifestyle’ expats who fill up some of the jobs that locals could do while getting twice or three times the salary. My message to the young expatriate professional: cherish the opportunity that you’ve got and work doubly well to prove your worth. And when you advance, give back through mentoring and leadership.
Can you tell us some of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on? In what ways did these experiences give you a unique competitive advantage as a manager and as an individual?
In 2009, my boss threw me a magazine called FourFourTwo and asked me if he thought we could make a TV show out of it. Astro had just taken over the license to print the magazine in Malaysia and Singapore. I told him: “I’d love to make a show out of this magazine” because I genuinely like the publication. Within three months, we were out-rating a rival show on a regional network that had been going for 10 years. Within six months we were tripling their ratings. That show doesn’t exist anymore – and we’re now doing three versions of FourFourTwo with planning for a fourth in the pipeline.
Naturally, I am a very competitive person. When the doors had slammed shut to my old employer in Asia, I felt that I had a point to prove. All the ideas that I wanted to share with them about original sports programming and shows, I took elsewhere and built from the ground up. It wasn’t easy – and I had to re-invent myself a bit – but boy am I glad that I did it. It’s probably been my most satisfying chapter in broadcasting.
Language fluency is increasingly becoming a basic requirement for international professionals – regardless of their position within the company. Have you ever felt this hindered you from succeeding in media in Asia?
By some twist of fate, I learnt Bahasa Indonesia at high school in Australian. The Indonesian language is similar to Bahasa Malaysia. I can certainly get by now in Malaysia and make myself understood. Fortunately all of my broadcasting is done in the English. But the locals do appreciate when I speak a bit of their language, for sure. However, I do wish I spoke better at times.
Where would you recommend that aspiring international media professionals head in Asia? Why did you choose jobs in Malaysia?
I chose Malaysia because, in many ways, it was an unconquered frontier in terms of sports TV broadcasting. Astro SuperSport did ad-hoc football production around big events like the World Cup, but nothing on a regular basis. And what they’d done wasn’t perhaps of the same quality compared to the international broadcasters. I would say to any aspiring media professionals to look for countries where there might be opportunities. That approach has certainly served me well so far.
How do you find Malaysians compared to Singaporeans to work with?
Singaporeans are more efficient but Malaysians are friendlier. If you find an efficient Malaysian – maybe one who’s got international experience or has studied abroad – and they are fantastic to do business with. I am not exaggerating when I say that my current team is more talented, more motivated and more committed than any other one I’ve worked with previously.
What are some the highlights and challenges specific to the media industry in the context of an international career?
Every country you go to, there are different tastes and styles when it comes to media. It’s important to tune into those so you can fit in easily. A small example is what people call the English Premier League in Malaysia. It’s always the BPL. But if you said that in Australia or the UK, no one would know what you were talking about! By the way, I host BPL every weekend on Astro – we even call it BPL Saturday and BPL Sunday. It’s a great pleasure of mine to continue to sit in the anchor’s chair for big football events. Euro 2012 in June is an upcoming assignment.
Do you have any particularly humorous expatriate stories to share with us?
I remember that when I first arrived in Southeast Asia – in Singapore in 2001 – I was taken aback by everyone asking me: “Have you eaten?” I thought I must have looked undernourished or something and maybe gave some bemused responses. But then someone told me that this was a friendly and accepted way of giving a greeting. It’s also a safe way too because you’re not touching on religion, race or culture in a multicultural society. In Malaysia it’s ‘sudah makan’ (already eaten). That phrase I knew from my days studying Indonesian in Australia in the 1970s!