SENIOR executives from STAR TV returned from the recent Cannes television programme laden down with new shows for the STAR Plus satellite channel, and that could have major ramifications for Hongkong's terrestrial broadcasters. The regional broadcaster's buying spree was aimed at wiping out the station's reputation for being a ''fifth-run haven for old shows that weren't even popular when they were first broadcast a decade ago'', as one critic put it. To bolster a viewership pattern that is already claimed to cover more than 11 million homes across 38 countries, STAR TV has purchased the Asian satellite broadcasting rights to such former hit American series as Moonlighting, Beauty and the Beast and Bay Watch - the sort of programmes Hongkong viewers will have previously seen on ATV and TVB's English channels. Although STAR's broad concerns are regional, its increased purchasing power and its ability to snare better programming could put the squeeze on Hongkong's programmers. STAR Plus will also be screening the current series of the Oprah Winfrey chat show, which recently created a stir with its exclusive Michael Jackson interview. That interview may have been screened by a terrestrial, but the series hasn't. Score one for the satellite people. The channel's 24-hour programming will also feature mini-series like Noble House, Around the World in Eighty Days, Lonesome Dove and The Man Who Lived at the Ritz - many of which are new to Asia if not to Hongkong. Mr Ross Plapp, STAR TV executive vice-president responsible for programming, said the five-channel network was ''now getting a better shot at international entertainment programming aimed at a general audience''. ''Before we really got started some suppliers were reluctant to release their shows to us. People didn't know who we were and what sort of service we would deliver. Now they see what we do, they want to be involved,'' he said. What has really changed since STAR TV first began bidding for general shows has been the prices it has been willing to pay for its STAR Plus programming. The recognition afforded STAR by the massive ABC/ Capital Cities group agreement to lease Moonlighting, plus the fact STAR will soon be bidding for first-run shows can only be bad news for TVB Pearl and ATV World. Their purchasing budgets are under constant pressure thanks to the comparatively tiny audience in Hongkong for English-language TV, and an increase in competition for hit shows such as L. A. Law can only add to that pressure. For the moment, at least, both Pearl and World maintain they are still secure within their niche. And while World programme manager Ms Hung Shuen-shuen speculates that acquisition budgets may have to be increased, she does not view STAR's growing footprint as a threat. ''Our budget may have to go higher - that's a possibility,'' she said. ''But, right now, STAR TV is not that accessible to Hongkong. Their penetration is in other Asian markets.'' Pearl programme manager Ms Cecilia Tan is of a similar mind. ''I think at this point we all have different programming strategies,'' she said. ''We don't imagine we will be competing head-to-head. My budget is geared towards our specific needs. And while STAR Plus may be increasing their budget, will the distributors want to sell to STAR and lose the business of selling to individual markets inAsia?'' Towards this end, both World and Pearl have bought programming that is tried and trusted in the Hongkong market. Nature documentaries in particular have proven successful. Pearl has just bought Life in the Freezer - another series from Sir David Attenborough - on the basis his previous offerings have always done well. ''Nature shows transcend cultural barriers,'' Ms Tan said. ''In Hongkong, people live in the city and don't often get the chance to see nature.'' Pearl and World are reluctant to give away details of their movie programming for the next season; suffice to say big Hollywood films will continue to play prominently on Hongkong television.