Media: Will Rupert's eastern Star turn to dust?: Satellite TV seemed to offer Murdoch riches in Asia, but he faces a dish of difficulties, says Maggie Brown - Media - News - The Independent

Media: Will Rupert's eastern Star turn to dust?: Satellite TV seemed to offer Murdoch riches in Asia, but he faces a dish of difficulties, says Maggie Brown

Eastern Asia has seen more imperial dreams shattered than fulfilled; and there are those who believe Rupert Murdoch's vision of a global communications empire could founder there. But then, almost every advance he has made in his career has been accompanied by jeers from onlookers convinced that this time he has overreached himself.

Last month he paid his first visit to India, a huge potential market for the Hong Kong-based Star satellite channels in which he bought a 63.6 per cent stake eight months ago for pounds 350m. He spoke of his 'amazement and optimism' over the country's prospects, and promised to make quantities of films and entertainment programmes locally.

More controversially, he talked about the difficulties international satellite broadcasters face when operating in politically sensitive countries, and said the Chinese were unhappy about BBC World Service Television, which occupies a Star channel. It has already had a big impact on English-speaking Indians, while media consultants predict that unrestricted access to foreign news will play as important a part in opening up China as foreign media had in bringing down the iron curtain and Berlin wall. When the Indian Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, expressed doubts about the image of India circulated by the Western media, Murdoch said he understood why people should want to see television reflect their own culture.

These diplomatic remarks were in sharp contrast to speeches Murdoch made in London last September and in Adelaide the following month. In the first he spoke of the power of satellite TV to challenge totalitarian regimes; in the second he said: 'Technology can get past the politicians and regulators.'

This incensed the rulers of China, which is Star's largest potential market. Partly in response to Murdoch's remarks, the Chinese have said they are considering whether to license satellite dishes to limit their spread.

'Rupert's still a bit confused,' a close watcher of the Asia satellite scene said last week. 'When he arrived in Asia, China was the great hope. Then he went to India and within 24 hours he had decided the future lay there. He's a man of brilliant decision, courageous determination and loads of money, but I wonder whether he's likely to remain in Asia, given his problems.'

These are manifold. Apart from a dispute with World Service Television (WSTV) - likely to be dropped from Star this year whatever the result of a pending court case - Murdoch is in trouble with Wharf Cable, the Hong Kong company which has exclusive rights to pay-TV in the colony and claims Star is not delivering it the channels it promised since it began last October. He is also meeting growing international opposition from the companies that provide the programming for the channels, which resent his attempt to exert a stranglehold on satellite television in Asia as he has succeeded in doing in Europe.

Star is making an annual loss of pounds 40m- pounds 55m. It has already had three chief executives in the seven months since Murdoch bought it - the latest of them Gary Davey, formerly of British Sky Broadcasting. An emollient Australian, he has been hand-picked for the job of smoothing Star's way with the Chinese. Murdoch has bought a house in Hong Kong so that he can take a personal role in Star's rescue.

When the BBC negotiated in 1991 to put its news and documentary channel WSTV on Star, launching its worldwide media ambitions, the Hong Kong satellite system was owned by its founder, Li Ka-shing, a businessman who has close links with China. Apart from locally produced channels, the Star package on the AsiaSat1 satellite includes MTV, the popular all-music station, and Prime Sports, both chiefly American-owned. A second AsiaSat is to be launched at the end of this year.

Star reaches well over 40 million households from the Middle East to China, but not all customers receive WSTV. China's cable system, through which the satellite station is mostly broadcast, can accommodate only a limited number of channels; and the officials who decide which ones should be distributed often leave out the BBC's news station. In Peking, where Star is in about 5 per cent of TV households, WSTV is in only 1 per cent.

The connection with the BBC, although it gives weight and credibility to Star's news output, has drawbacks. WSTV draws blame for BBC programmes it has not broadcast. The clearest example so far is last autumn's chilling BBC2 Timewatch on Mao Tse-tung which reported that he had a penchant for young girls and that the Red Guards indulged in cannibalism. This provoked anger in China, and is said to have fuelled Murdoch's doubts about whether to keep WSTV.

Almost as soon as he took over Star, Murdoch hinted that he was thinking of a break. He maintained that the agreement to broadcast WSTV on Orbit, a satellite covering the Arab world, was in breach of Orbit's contract with Star. The BBC denied this and obtained an injunction against any move to end the contract. However, the 10-year contract has a break clause allowing either party to pull out at the end of this year. It is virtually accepted that Murdoch will take advantage of this to dispense with WSTV, even though the news channel, with its upmarket viewing audience, accounts for 45 per cent of Star's advertising revenue.

While Murdoch seemed likely to replace the BBC's news service with Sky News, he has been telling other satellite broadcasters that he does not see why Star needs a news channel - and that, given the credentials of some governments in the region, it may be better off without one.

While Star may be able to drop WSTV, can it do without the other internationally owned channels riding on it, in particular MTV? The station is owned by Viacom which, like other US entertainment groups, is growing uneasy about Murdoch's near-monopoly of access to satellites over large swathes of the globe. MTV in Europe is on the Astra satellite used by Murdoch's Sky channels and, although not part of the Sky package, it can reach viewers only through the satellite dishes and decoder boxes that Sky supplies. Pay services rely on the encryption system and payments centre Murdoch has devised.

Satellites rely for their appeal on the wide range of targeted services they provide. If Star were to lose both WSTV and MTV, its appeal would greatly diminish. 'The major brand-holders are waking up to the fact that their brands make the distributor's name, rather than vice versa,' says Chris Irwin, WSTV's managing director.

WSTV has no intention of disappearing from Asian skies. If it were to leave Star it could be accommodated on one of a growing number of satellites serving the region. The Chinese-based Apstar 1, to be launched in June, has the news channel CNN, the film channel HBO and Australian television.

Apstar 2, covering much the same area as Star, should be operating within the year. Thaicom, based in Thailand, was launched last December. Some believe the future may lie with satellites covering smaller areas, but even so, satellite footprints never conform with national boundaries.

No tycoon can look at Asia without salivating at its lucrative potential. But if Murdoch finds that the costs of doing business there are greater than the rewards, he would not be the first.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Director of Programming and Industry Engagement

£40k - £50k depending on experience: Sheffield Doc/Fest: Sheffield Doc/Fest is...

Resourcer / Junior Recruiter

£15-20k (DOE) + Benefits / Bonus: Guru Careers: Joining as a Resourcer / Juni...

Head of Design & UX / UX Architect

£55 - 70k: Guru Careers: Head of Design & UX / UX Architect is needed to join ...

Media and Entertainment Lawyer - City

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - A specialist opportunity with ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week