Business news is beaming
By OWEN HUGHES
BUSINESS television channels are set to proliferate in the skies over Asia as satellite television enters its second phase in the region.
Two years after the first of the five STAR TV channels went on air, the Hong Kong-based satellite television operation finds itself facing competition on several fronts with rivals looking to attract niche audiences.
Given the booming Asian economies, business channels have become a priority, with at least four concerns either already broadcasting regionally, or seriously considering setting up specialist units.
This is seen as recognition that business news in Asia can no longer be covered solely from Europe or the United States.
The BBC World Service Television (WSTV) on STAR TV has been considering opening a Hong Kong facility to offer real-time inserts in its Business Breakfast programme, broadcast live from London and aired at lunchtime in the territory, although a WSTV spokeswoman said the plans were on hold.
CNN International, which already produces a daily half hour Business Asia, has updates throughout the day, and other finance programmes dedicated to Asia is undecided about whether to open a facility in the region.
But, if it is to, the choice will be either Singapore, Hong Kong or Tokyo and the date early next year.
If the project goes ahead, it could mean Business Asia moving from its New York base to the new facility.
Wharf Cable is keeping tight-lipped about the identity of the business network it will get as a subscription service from STAR TV as part of an agreement to take four channels from the satellite programmers.
STAR TV was planning to operate a business channel in conjunction with Japan's Mitsui Corporation before the Murdoch takeover.
''Once that happened, Memoranda of Understandings with programmers were torn up because they saw Murdoch as a rival,'' a Wharf executive said.
''All I know is that we have been told four channels are on the way from STAR TV, but, quite frankly, I don't know what they are, and we are only a month from start-up.'' Both STAR TV and Wharf would not comment.
Asian Business News (ABN) is the only channel so far set to go on air.
ABN is owned by Dow Jones, TV New Zealand and TCI with equal 29.5 per cent shares. A Singaporean Broadcasting Corporation outfit, SIM Ventures, holds a 10 per cent stake, with the remaining 1.5 per cent owned by Hong Kong-based businessman Edward MilwardOliver.
Managing editor Christopher Graves said the free-to-air service would, hopefully, expand to a 24-hour service next year, but, initially, he hoped to have the operation on air 18 hours a day.
Programming will be a mix of comment, news and updates concentrating on trading in Southeast Asia. Evening shows will include programmes on topics such as personal finance.
It will be beamed from the Palapa B2P satellite, which covers an area from India to part of Japan, and from northern China to Indonesia.
Mr Graves said ABN had not decided if the service will move to the APStar 1 satellite, due for launch in July next year. ''We will wait to see what is the best distribution system for us,'' he said.
''We are not seeing the region as a pan-Asian market. We are pan-Asian distributors, but we are aiming at individual national markets.''