Wharf to carry movie channel

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 April, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 April, 1994, 12:00am

IN a surprise turnaround, Wharf's Cable TV may soon carry STAR TV's new movie channel, two months after the pair fought a heated legal battle over programming.

The Sunday Morning Post has learned that STAR TV executives are now negotiating with their Cable TV counterparts about the STAR Movies channel, due to be launched on April 17.

The talks follow an acrimonious battle between the two earlier this year. Cable TV deputy chairman Stephen Ng Tin-hoi took STAR TV to court over the satellite station's claims it was the exclusive supplier of English-language programming under the terms of a memorandum of understanding signed by the two parties last year.

Last month STAR TV's chief executive Gary Davey announced the station was backing down, and abandoning production of four subscription channels scheduled to run on Cable TV - including a movie channel. STAR Movies, which will be mainly composed of Putonghua-language movies although it will also carry Western-made features, will replace the BBC World Service Television (WSTV) next week on the northern half of the satellite service's broadcast area that includes Hong Kong.

Mainly aimed at the burgeoning Taiwanese cable TV market, STAR Movies will be the station's first subscription channel, meaning viewers will have to pay a premium to watch it. The signal will be encrypted to prevent unauthorised coverage, with cable operators buying equipment from STAR TV to unscramble it.

Under existing Hong Kong law, it is illegal to pay to receive TV signals, other than through Cable TV's franchised network. After a preview period, STAR Movies will be scrambled by May 1, in theory putting it off-limits to the territory's viewers.

Cable TV spokesman Gilda Chung confirmed the two sides were talking. ''We are trying to understand what the channel is all about, and what we are being offered by STAR TV; I think the discussions are going well.'' If the talks are successful, Wharf's estimated 45,000 subscribers will be asked to pay an unspecified premium to watch STAR Movies. This will be in addition to the $198 monthly fee for the basic eight-channel package that will be boosted with three new channels next month.

Left out of the picture will be local STAR TV viewers who will see nothing but a blank screen once the movie channel is scrambled, unless the Government relaxes its prohibition on decoders. Ms Chung said Wharf was still talking with the WSTV about running the dumped service for a few hours a day on its new ''international channel'' - comments endorsed in London by WSTV spokesman Phil Johnstone.