Property, finance and stock executive Xie Tieniu may soon become the first person in China to trade stocks over a computer network. No longer having to place an order by telephone or stand in a queue at a brokerage, he will be able to deal through a computer in his office. 'The business scope of my company is very broad, so I need to track financial and share information,' said Mr Xie, president of the Dapeng Group. 'Many Guangzhou people trade stocks, so this product will do well.' Mr Xie has subscribed to an information highway being launched by the Guangdong Cable Station (GCTV) that is offering 24-hour Internet access, electronic mail, video medical care, an economic data bank and other services including stock trading. The system will enable Mr Xie to gain access to real-time data and analysis of stocks and the ability to trade them. GCTV president Wang Changli says the highway will be the first of its kind in China. As befits a province where making money is a preoccupation, its star attraction is the stock trading service. The World Trade Centre, where Mr Xie works, is the first building in Guangzhou to install the system. All you will need is a computer and a modem costing 2,000 yuan (about HK$1,860). Beijing, Shenzhen, Dalian and Shandong are building similar systems but Guangdong's is the first to go on-line. 'Internet access will be 24 hours a day,' said Wendy Ye, general manager of the highway, proudly surfing the Net and calling up prices and histories of popular stocks. 'There will be no need to make a telephone call, as now. The system has a wide band of 10 megahertz, enabling it to carry a larger volume of data than a telephone line.' The link is part of Guangdong Cable's attempt to keep ahead of the competition in the country's richest and most cut-throat media market. Guangdong is the only province in China where people have legal access to foreign television. Hong Kong channels are carried on four of GCTV's 31 cable channels and are watched by millions. It is the bitter competition posed by the Hong Kong stations that forced Mr Wang and the other television operators in Guangdong to think of ways to improve their programmes and diversify their revenue source. GCTV is spending 300 million yuan to build the optic-fibre system that will carry the highway. It will expand its subscriber base from 300,000 in Guangzhou, to five million across the province by the end of the year. Cable costs 300 yuan to install and a monthly fee of 14 yuan. 'To meet the competition, we must improve our programmes and develop all kinds of services,' Mr Wang said. 'By the end of 1997, we will be able to offer 45 television and 16 sound channels. We are preparing to offer a shopping channel, with content provided by foreign companies, and may offer a pay-movie channel.' GCTV already offers a wide choice. In addition to the four Hong Kong channels, it has four channels of its own - film and sport, a 24-hour news channel popular with investors because it is full of stock information and a general-interest channel. It also carries the two Guangdong TV channels, eight central TV channels from Beijing and channels from other parts of China. Carrying the four Hong Kong channels involves a compromise between the directives of Beijing and the reality of the Guangdong market. According to the Ministry of Radio, Film and Television, Chinese may not watch 'foreign' television channels uncensored. Ignoring these rules, Guangdong people have for years put up antennae and dishes to receive the Hong Kong signals and continue to do so despite official campaigns to remove them. The compromise is to allow live delivery by cable, but with 24-hour-a-day monitors watching the channels and scrambling 'unsuitable content'. Mr Wang said this content, mainly news, amounted to less than 1 per cent of the material broadcast. For instance, a TV Jade news broadcast that mentioned the words 'June 4' (1989) last month was replaced by a rainbow of colours until the end of the news item. Cai Xiansheng, vice-president of Guangdong Television (GTV), said 10 million people, or half the audience in the Pearl River delta, regularly watched the Hong Kong channels. 'If there were no Hong Kong television in Guangdong, our advertising revenue would be higher by up to 40 per cent,' he said. He estimated his station's 1997 advertising revenue was 30 per cent higher than the 150 million yuan in 1996, after a price increase of 30 per cent on July 1. 'From the past, Guangdong people have a tradition of watching Hong Kong television,' he said. 'They have this demand. We cannot ban it completely. What we must do is improve our programmes.' Some of GTV's social programmes can compete with the Hong Kong stations but not big entertainment programmes because it has a limited budget compared with its Hong Kong rivals, he said. GTV exchanges news and current affairs programmes with TVB and ATV and buys and sells other programmes with them. In 1996, GTV spent US$400,000 to buy such programmes and earned US$200,000 from selling its programmes, Mr Cai said. GTV, one of the oldest networks in China having been set up in 1959, has greatly increased its penetration since June 1996, when it launched its Guangdong Star channel on Asia-Sat 2, giving it a footprint from Siberia to Tasmania and Egypt to Japan, which broadcasts 24 hours a day, mainly in Mandarin with some Cantonese and English. Mr Cai estimated Guangdong Star's audience in China was about 200 million. 'Urban audiences like news, sports and current affairs, while rural people prefer music shows and dramas,' he said. It also broadcasts the Pearl channel which broadcasts in Cantonese.