News Corp. takes Sky to new horizons in Asia

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BOMBAY -- Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is to launch the Sky Channel outside of its U.K. domestic market for the first time as part of a multi-channel assault on India and parts of the Asia-Pacific.

The planned Sky Sports channel - which observers believe may show the same material as is seen in Sky's other markets of the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland, including the U.K.'s Premier League football - will be the Indian sub-continent's first direct-to-home service.

It will be a pay-TV channel and unless new technology is introduced, cable customers will be charged whether they want the service or not. Cable companies are not currently able to block a channel going to a particular home.

Sky Sports and the other News Corp channels yet to be revealed are likely to beam to the same footprint as Murdoch's wholly-owned Hong Kong-based satellite broadcaster Star TV. Established in 1991, it already broadcasts one pay and four free-to-air channels in the South Asian countries of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as in the Middle East and South East Asia.

Ads for Sky Sports are currently running on Star TV in Dubai and in India, where Star reaches around 75% of the country's 12m satellite and cable households. Its Indian offering consists of the entertainment channel Star Plus, Star Sports, music-based Channel [V], and Star Movies, the only pay channel. Star's other channel is Chinese. The channels brought in revenues of $17.5m in 1995, according to ad agency Hindustan Thompson Associates, Bombay. Across Asia, Star is expected to report losses of $80m-$100m, Murdoch recently told The New York Times.

A Star TV spokesman in India confirmed the imminent expansion but would reveal no further details of programming, promotion or technology systems ahead of the official launch in mid-September.

News Corp. also holds a 50.1% interest in Zee Network, a Bombay-based satellite broadcaster consisting of three channels, including Asia's most popular Zee TV Hindustani-language channel. The Zee channels' revenue was $66m last year, second only to India's state-run broadcaster Doordarshan's $232m. R.K.Swamy/ BBDO Advertising, Bombay, handles Star, while Ambience Advertising, Bombay, handles Zee.

Copyright July 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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