A magnate's sphere of influence: ASIA

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IN THE summer of 1993 Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation paid $525m (£350m) for a 63.6 per cent stake in the Asian satellite broadcaster Star Television, which was looking to China as a prime market. The Chinese authorities expected that such an arch-capitalist would take the opportunity to broadcast "subversive" messages to the people. Instead, he stopped broadcasts of the BBC World Service Television News and set about winning their hearts and pockets by giving sport and entertainment programmes to the masses.

Since then Star TV has been working hard to build bridges with the Chinese authorities, focusing on sporting activities, where it has emerged as the biggest international sponsor. In July 1994 Star made its biggest investment in Chinese sport by signing a 10-year agreement providing exclusive and live broadcast international rights for selected "showcase matches" of China's premier football league.

Murdoch's men were slow into the field, however, because the league had already been bought up by a cigarette company that had renamed it the Marlboro League and the distribution rights had been snapped up by Mark Mc- Cormack's International Management Group, from which Star had to buy the TV rights. The company will not say how much was paid but the contract is understood to be worth about $30m. The football contract is part of Star's overall strategy for penetrating the Chinese market. At the moment it is working very hard in the northern port city of Tianjin in preparation for the World Table Tennis Championships by spending $12m in helping to build four television studios.

Media analysts think that the channel is finally getting the pitch right. Star is focusing on highly popular Asian sports, such as football and badminton (it has secured exclusive international broadcast rights for the world grand prix badminton circuit), which are of the greatest interest to local viewers.

However, the Murdoch empire in Asia has yet to tie up the kind of exclusive deals it has achieved elsewhere in the world. One of the reasons for this is that governments are less ready to lose control of television in the way that America and Europe have following the fashion for deregulation. They jealously guard rights to show material broadcast over terrestrial networks and Star TV has yet to sign a deal which supersedes these networks.