Murdoch spends dollars 525m on Asian satellite TV deal: News Corporation sidesteps Hong Kong regulators to take control of Star

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The Independent Online
RUPERT MURDOCH has launched himself into a key position in Asia's booming satellite television market, sidestepping Hong Kong's regulators with a USdollars 525m (pounds 350m) deal.

In a complex arrangement, his News Corporation is to buy a controlling stake in the Star Television group of companies.

News Corp will take a 63.3 per cent holding in HutchVision Limited from the Chinese billionaire Li Ka-shing, his family and his Hutchison Whampoa company, who together will retain the remaining 36.4 per cent.

HutchVision is the exclusive programme supplier and advertising seller for Star TV, whose pan-Asian satellite network broadcasts to 38 countries and can be received by 11.3 million homes and more than 45 million viewers.

News Corp, which has a half-share in Britain's BSkyB satellite network, avoids regulatory problems because the Li family and Hutchison Whampoa will keep control of HutchVision Hong Kong, the company licensed by the colony's government to operate the satellite uplink for Star TV.

They will retain responsibility for monitoring the standards of what is transmitted and so comply with the Hong Kong telecommunications ordinance, under which non-Hong Kong residents can own up to 49 per cent of regional satellite broadcasting licences.

Last month News Corp deferred its bid to take a 22.2 per cent stake in one of Hong Kong's domestic television stations, Television Broadcasts Ltd, (TVB), when it became clear that regulators were unlikely to waive the 10 per cent limit on foreign ownership of local television companies.

A big attraction for Mr Murdoch of the HKdollars 1.85bn (pounds 162m) TVB deal was that it provided a way into the regional satellite market through TVB's alliance with a group, including Turner Broadcasting, that plans to set up in competition with Star.

Peter Smith, News Corp's technology director, said in Hong Kong last night that News Corp had been talking to Star since before the TVB deal was originally announced.

The Star TV deal was not an alternative proosal, but regulatory problems had made it 'very difficult for it (the TVB deal) to happen', he said.

The Star deal is a much larger financial proposition. News Corp will pay dollars 525m for the 63.6 per cent stake, half in cash and half in its shares - the largest deal since News Corp's restructuring to deal with its debt burden.

The cash element will be funded by an issue of convertible preference shares that requires shareholder approval.

In the two years since it started broadcasting, Star TV has had considerable success in winning viewers for its five free channels and was already planning to launch a number of pay channels starting later this year.

News Corp brings Star access to a huge bank of programming material including the film libraries at Twentieth Century Fox and the Fox television network.

It also has satellite broadcasting experience through its half share of BSkyB.

For the Li family and Hutchison Whampoa, who proved the sceptics wrong about the potential for satellite television in Asia, the sale values HutchVision Limited at dollars 825m, about six times the amount invested in the satellite television business to date.