MURDOCH MAY HITCH A PRIZE TO HIS STAR TV
Rupert Murdoch has had a busy summer. After being blocked in an attempt last July to buy a 22% share of Hong Kong's biggest TV station, Television Broadcasts Ltd. (TVB), his News Corp. turned around that same month and bought Asia's leading satellite-TV network, Star TV. Now, if regulators don't stop him, he could be on the verge of getting TVB after all.
Murdoch's feverish maneuvers are part of the new rush among the world's largest media powers to grab pieces of the massive Asian market. Fighting it out are News Corp., Time Warner, Turner Broadcasting System, Capital Cities/ABC, Dow Jones, and GE. They're all seeking to become powers in China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, where demand for more interesting news and entertainment has led to the proliferation of illegal cable-TV hookups and satellite dishes. Local access to foreign programming may displease government officials in Beijing and other authoritarian Asian capitals, says TVB Assistant General Manager Alfred Ng, but "they cannot stop it: first, because of the technology, and second, because the people are demanding it."
As in other parts of the world, Murdoch is focusing on television--and TVB is a major prize. This year, advertising revenues will hit $225 million in Hong Kong alone, says Kirk Sweeny, research director at Shearson Lehman Brothers Inc. Hong Kong. TVB's signal, which China stopped jamming last year, reaches 20 million households in Guangdong province.
STAR RIVAL. The addition would complement Star TV, which Murdoch bought from billionaire Li Ka-shing for $525 million. Star beams MTV Asia, BBC World Service, and other programming to 11.3 million households. TVB also would give Murdoch a link to the fast-growing Chinese film industry via its largest shareholder, Sir Run Run Shaw, who runs the world's leading Chinese film studio, Shaw Brothers Ltd., which cranks out scores of potboilers.
Murdoch may soon drop his Asian newspaper holding to devote more energy to television. To gain share of TVB he will likely trade his 50% stake in The South China Morning Post to Robert Kuok, chairman of Hong Kong-based Kerry Group, which controls 36% of TVB. Murdoch paid $230 million for the Post in 1986, and it has been a cash cow for News Corp., earning aftertax profits of $76 million last year. But analysts say the newspaper's growth potential is low.
Kuok may see things differently. He is close to Beijing's leaders, who have appointed him to an advisory panel on Hong Kong-China relations. Kuok has extensive real estate holdings in China, and owning the Post would increase his clout with policymakers. Press-watchers in Hong Kong worry that the Post may tone down its often sharp criticism of Beijing once it has a Chinese boss.
Murdoch's TV moves are jostling the other Western giants. In July, Turner's Cable News Network announced plans to join a "loose consortium" with Time Warner's Home Box Office, Capital Cities' ESPN, the Discovery Channel, and TVB to form what it calls a "program neighborhood." The group plans to start a rival to Star TV after the 1994 launch of a Chinese communications satellite. In June, Turner also announced its plan to spend up to $15 million this year setting up production facilities in Singapore, Tokyo, or Hong Kong. New English-language news and information programming should be running by early 1994.
Time Warner Inc. also is on the move. Warner Brothers is looking for an Asian partner for Chinese-language programming. Time Warner's HBO is now on cable systems in Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, and the Philippines. By yearend, it will add Taiwan, with Indonesia, Malaysia, and Hong Kong to follow. Dow Jones and GE are pushing into the new field of business broadcasting. Dow Jones plans a linkup in November with an Indonesian satellite to beam Asia Business News, a joint-venture project with Singapore Broadcasting and Hong Kong-based Business News Network. GE's CNBC hopes to broadcast business news from Hong Kong.
Other Asians are joining the fray. Hong Kong conglomerate Wharf (Holdings) Ltd. is less than two months away from launching Hong Kong's first cable system. Wharf says that by 1996 it will have 95% of the territory's 1.6 million households wired. Wharf has its own production studio and is moving to install cable in China.
As Western-style television spreads across Asia, the huge new market promises billions to those who can capture part of it. Murdoch is now in the lead, but he will need to keep fending off the Western and Asian rivals trying to catch him. MEDIA HEAVYWEIGHTS ZERO IN ON ASIA
NEWS CORP. Has acquired Star TV, Asia's leading satellite network, and
may get a stake in TVB, Hong Kong's biggest TV station
TURNER BROADCASTING Its CNN is joining a consortium to take on Star TV, and
it's spending $15 million to set up Asian production
TIME WARNER Hopes to produce Chinese-language programming, and its HBO
will be on cable in eight Asian countries by yearend
CAPITAL CITIES/ABC Its ESPN sports network will be part of group setting up a
satellite network to rival Star TV
DATA: BUSINESS WEEK
Dave Lindorff in Hong Kong