Wharf takes stake in Sichuan cable television venture

WHARF Holdings has plugged itself into the cable television market in Chengdu, Sichuan, open for the first time to foreign investment.

Wharf Communications, a wholly owned subsidiary, said yesterday it had agreed to take a 40 per cent stake in a Honkong consortium investing in the joint venture.

The two original shareholders - Wharf chairman Peter Woo Kwong-ching and the listed MKI Corp - will each hold a 30 per cent interest.

The Wharf-led consortium and the local Sichuan Province Cable TV Enterprise Development Co will have an equal share in a new joint venture, known as Sichuan Allday TV Development Corp.

Initial investment is about 33 million yuan (about HK$44 million).

Using microwave transmission technology, it will provide cable television to the 20 million people in Chengdu and its 20 neighbouring districts.

The service will be launched with four cable channels, broadcasting 18 hours a day. Programmes will include news and information, movies, drama and entertainment.

Wharf director John Hung said the fact that Mr Woo retained a personal stake was a reflection of confidence by the China partner.

The deal precedes another, involving Shanghai property, in which Mr Woo would hold a 15 per cent personal stake, with Wharf having 40 per cent, he added.

''Although not being a foreign practice, it is a friendly gesture for building a close relationship with Chinese companies, particularly on a municipal level,'' he said.

Mr Hung said the Chengdu cable project was expected to be followed by other telecommunications investment in China.

It is also consistent with Wharf's Hongkong Plus concept of tapping investment opportunities between Hongkong and southern China and gradually moving into the economic tripod: Hongkong, Wuhan and Shanghai, he said.

Wharf believes that Chengdu and Chongqing form an obvious logistics centre west of Wuhan.