As CEO of year-old satellite channel Asia Business News, celebrating its first anniversary this month, the genial 48-year-old New Zealander is trying to build distribution by cable and satellite dish and coax advertisers into creating pan-Asian ad budgets.
ABN has come a long way since its shareholders arrived for a board meeting at the company's new Singapore headquarters in July 1993, expecting to find a half-built TV station.
"There was absolutely nothing, not even a box labeled Sony," Mr. France recalls. "Three months later we were in full operation."
In the face of competition-at least for advertisers-from CNN International, ANBC and Rupert Murdoch's Star TV, he insists only Singapore-based ABN is creating 18 hours a day of news specifically for the Asian market.
"People [in Asia] are sick of the O.J. Simpson trial [on CNN]," he said.
After 25 years as a journalist, mostly at Television New Zealand, Mr. France joined Asia Business News through TVNZ's 29.5% stake in the project and role as managing partner. Other major shareholders include Dow Jones & Co and U.S. cable group Tele-Communications Inc., both with 29.5%.
Mr. France ended up leading the charge at ABN due to an unusual mix of life and career experience. Besides having worked outside New Zealand more than his colleagues at TVNZ, he had been in charge of massive, fast-paced events like election coverage and the America's Cup yacht race, a special love because of his passion for yachting.
He used that experience to devise state-of-the-art three-dimensional computer graphics initially out of frustration at the difficulties of demonstrating visually who's winning a sporting event without a field, goalposts or whistle-blowing referees.
Now those leading edge graphics, developed with Silicon Graphics, the U.S. company that animated the movie "Jurassic Park," are relaying complex business data on ABN broadcasts.
ABN already reaches 13 million cable and satellite dish homes and hotels in Southeast and East Asia and will add 12 million in India this month through a deal with state Indian TV network Doordarshan to air three half-hour ABN segments a day. Mr. France plans to sell India, and probably China later, as a separate ad buy.
He is signing up airlines, including Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and British Airways, financial service companies such as American Express and Citibank, and other business-oriented marketers for long-term ad packages on ABN.
Mercedes-Benz has started sponsorship of an evening news program and Mastercard has just agreed to a major ad and sponsorship package after prolonged negotiations.
Rates range from $6,500 for a package of 28 30-sec. spots a week to $16,000 for 90-sec. spots scheduled for the same period of time.
"There is some regional ad spend because of [pan-Asian] print media," he said. "Now we're firmly in the planning of ad agencies as an option."
With a broad mix of shows from consumer-oriented business tips to more in-depth financial programs, ABN is appealing to a wide audience.
Mr. France says, "Asia has a very large population with a huge middle class for whom commerce is a part of life."