AFTER the mayhem of the infamous Black Monday in 1987, when stock markets the world over went into free-fall, government regulators looked at their exchanges and said: 'Never again.' In Singapore, notorious for its attempts to control the media, officials did something unusual: they ordered that CNN be installed in the dealing rooms. As one official admitted later, the city state would have been spared the worst effects of the crash had its money men been able to keep an eye on what was happening in the rest of the world through the satellite television news service. It is an apt example of the power that television, with its instant communication, wields in the modern world. We all have strong memories of the wars, famines and sport events we have seen live on screen. But as the events of the crash show, information about second-by-second fluctuations in shares is as valuable as the news that Iraq has invaded Kuwait. Asia is popularly judged to be the world's next economic powerhouse and it is no accident that satellite and cable business news networks are burgeoning in the region. In the past 12 months, the many existing television stations have been joined by: STAR Movies and music station Channel V on Rupert Murdoch's STAR TV; American news and business channel ANBC; CNN owner Ted Turner's TNT & Cartoon Network; the Ming Pao Group's CTN (China Television Network); MTV Asia, owned by US media giant Viacom; and Robert Chua's China Entertainment Television (CETV). Between them, they offer a mix of news, sport, films, entertainment and game shows. Yet business news has become one of the most important elements of any programming strategy. There are two all-business channels: ABN (Asia Business News), that went on air in October 1993, and CNBC Asia, which will replace the ANBC preview channel in the summer. CTN's Zhong Tian channel, like CNNI (CNN International), features regular business bulletins and specialist programmes. While the appetite for such information is, in theory at least, enormous, getting broad agreement on the most effective way to provide it is not easy. Speaking from ABN's Singapore headquarters, chief executive officer Paul France said: 'I think there is a lot of confusion . . . people talk about business news and they include the BBC World Service Television and CNN in that mix. But CNN, for example, is as much into business as it is into sport. It has sports bulletins and dedicated programmes but you would not think of it as a sports network, so you can't really call it a business news channel - there is a distinction that I think is often lost. 'ABN was the world's first dedicated business channel. While I respect the professionalism of CNN and the BBC, they operate under something of a split personality.' Ted McFarland, the newly-appointed Asia-Pacific president of CNNI's parent Turner International, countered: 'ABN is dealing from a regional perspective. We have a broader horizon because, truly, business is international. I see their point of view from an Asian perspective but there is a broader constituency. 'Look at the situation with the yen in Tokyo. That is a global story, not just Asian.' Lau Kin-fai, marketing manager of CTN, insisted his station had a better claim to representing Asian sensibilities than English-speaking Western-run rivals since the Chai Wan-based channel was the only one to broadcast business news exclusively in Mandarin. The trip to the Middle East by Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui was a case in point. It received only cursory coverage internationally because the countries Lee visited had ties with China. But CTN decided the economic implications of any trade deals were sufficiently important to warrant sending a camera crew from London. Over at ANBC, Mary Paris said CNBC Asia would incorporate stock market reports and business information from the network's existing US and European business channels. Paris did not like to use the adjective 'seamless' to describe the concept, but said: 'We will cross all the markets.' Asia was the final piece in the global strategy they were working on for US broadcaster NBC, and ultimately viewers in New York would be watching the same product as those in Zurich and Hong Kong. Such is the rivalry between the stations that Paul France refuses to mention CNBC Asia, which is due to launch in June, by name. It is no secret that he and the rest of ABN's management were stung by staff defections to the new outfit, including that of Sasha Salima who now heads the news operation. Former TVB newsreaders May Wong and Lorraine Hahn and reporter Geoff Cutmore have also joined the 150 reporters, technical and support staff - nearly twice ABN's 'lean and mean' complement. ABN's management has informally suggested CNBC's workers are overpaid and the operation overstaffed - sentiments dismissed as 'sour grapes' by some who moved from France's organisation. As well as the high pay, the cut-throat business is creating a need for a new breed of broadcasters in the region such as Patricia Chew, who has been a CNN staffer for 12 years and who hosts CNNI's live, daily English-language newscast from the company's new production centre in Hong Kong. Born in Toronto and educated in Canada and Hong Kong, she speaks five languages including Cantonese and Mandarin. 'Chinese faces with crisp American accents and television experience are what is in demand now,' one industry observer said. 'You could be Dan Rather and a director would choose a Chinese face ahead of you.' But despite the tidal wave of information, the industry intrigue and the hype, working out who exactly is watching it all remains an inexact science. Paul France said ABN had commissioned its own viewing survey in the last couple of weeks at a 'substantial' cost. But, he said: 'We are not counting viewers; we are interested in the viewers that count. They are upscale, sophisticated viewers.' The typical viewer dips into ABN for 15 to 20 minutes in the morning, then again throughout the day at the office, and perhaps ends up watching the less purely information-based programmes the channel runs in the evenings. 'What we find is that an awful lot of people who come back to us say they like to drop into ABN because it gives them a taste of what is going on.' CNN's Tokyo bureau chief John Lewis recalled a less typical viewer. Lewis travelled to the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan and into Afghanistan to interview fanatical Muslim fundamentalist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar whose private army was struggling to take over control of the country in the wake of the Russian withdrawal. As Lewis' crew walked into his tent they noticed he was watching Moneyline presented by Lou Dobbs. Lynn Karselsky, Turner's vice-president and Southeast Asia advertising sales manager, said the ad agencies were specific about the products they want to showcase when CNNI was running its financial programmes such as Business Asia and World Business. 'They are aimed at investors and senior business executives and at middle-ranking executives that are likely to rise to become senior ones.' This target audience is reflected in the brands featured in the commercials - financial services, economic development agencies and high-quality consumer products like cars, luxury pens and travel and tourism services. Regular viewers will point out that CNNI also features some fairly down-market spots for Interwood Marketing, distributors of the Duzzit Handy Hanger and Didi Seven cleaner. Language is also a critical issue for any broadcaster whose patch spans Southeast Asia, going as far south as Australia, north into China and west to India. France said ABN was rather nervous when it launched 18 months ago because its output was entirely in English except for a 30-minute programme in Mandarin, which goes out three times a day. 'But when it came down to it we recognised that regionally and internationally English is the language of business and there is no alternative to that. 'We are getting feedback from viewers who say that it is important for them to get their business intelligence in the same language they work in and that is English. It is the common denominator. It is a perspective on the issue; I can't claim it is a perfect one or the only one.' Said Ted McFarland: 'I would have to agree with that, but CNNI has started to have some of its programming shown on cable television systems in Korea. They translate Business Asia, for example, into Korean. We find that in Asia and around the world that our business programmes especially are the ones they translate.' CNBC Asia has plans to run Hindi, Japanese and Mandarin services, rather like its European channel that includes Dutch and German programmes on top of English. 'We look for the biggest markets and hear what people are speaking and want to hear their service in,' Paris said. Although English was the lingua franca of commerce, she added, running a business television channel in only that language would 'shut off' millions of entrepreneurs in Asia with a hunger for information. Naturally, Lau Kin-fai was adamant CTN's Mandarin delivery was a major weapon in its armoury. The Zhong Tian channel features six 30-minute Moneyline business round-ups including live reports from the New York and London stock exchanges as they close, business news in the main news bulletin and the Finance This Week round-up. 'I think it is very important, and not just for China,' he said. 'We cover Southeast Asia and even across to North America - that is more than 1.2 billion Chinese people. 'Business has a universal appeal', he said, but 'even if a Chinese businessman is fluent in English he will prefer to get his information in his own language'. Lau also raised the potentially tricky point that CTN was the first information channel to come from an Asian, rather than a Western, point of view. 'To use a small example, if there was an earthquake in Los Angeles most of the channels would rush to find out what happened to people in Beverly Hills. We would go straight to Monterey Park to find out how it had affected the Chinese community.' Conventional wisdom has it that the road kill on the grass verge of the information superhighway will include newspapers and magazines, victims of their inability to update themselves instantaneously, although this view has yet to be backed by much empirical evidence. There are also those who argue that specialist business channels are redundant in the face of on-line services like Telerate. However, the broadcasters said the same qualities that allow the print media to flourish, the ability to provide a measured analysis of events rather than simply flashing up data, will prove to be their real value to viewers. France's loquaciousness failed him briefly when he was asked to consider how ABN and Asia's other business information providers would be in a decade from now. And earlier this year, Fung Shing-kwong, general manager of TVB's overseas arm TVB International, warned there would soon be casualties as the reality of the market became clearer. France agreed. 'This is a very tough market. Anyone who thinks it is a goose laying lots of golden eggs is mad. There is extraordinary potential in Asian markets. The fact that there are so many major players around is proof of that. But it depends on how the advertising spend for television and the cable television distribution industry develops. 'You have to remember that while everyone talks about India's potential, its ad spend is less than New Zealand's last year.'