Rival sport channels ESPN, Star TV team up together

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HONG KONG -- Rival sports channels, ESPN and Rupert Murdoch's Star TV, have joined forces to create a 50-50 joint venture that will manage and program the two loss-making networks in Asia.

David Zucker, senior vice president and managing director of ESPN International, says the venture is an attempt to create a "sound business".

He says the networks' separate brands will be maintained under the new venture. Existing rights and sponsorship deals will also remain in place. The new company, which is still to be named, will be run by Sandy Brown, the current managing director of ESPN Asia. The operation will be located in Singapore, ESPN's current home, or in Hong Kong, where Star TV is based. Five channels will be managed by the new venture: ESPN India, Star Sports India, Star Greater China, ESPN Asia, and ESPN Taiwan. Additional channels are also in the pipeline.

Excluded from the deal are channels in Japan, Australia and New Zealand, where both Star TV and ESPN Asia have pre-existing, separate ventures.

ESPN and Star Sports (formerly Prime Sports) have been slugging it out for audiences and sports rights since the early 1990s. Star Sports' line-up includes a 10-year exclusive deal with the International Badminton Federation, a 10-year contract with the Indian Football Federation, and India's cricket matches against the West Indies in 1997.

Some of ESPN's highlights in the next 12 months include the Calcutta Super League football, the Australian and South African Cricket Tours of India, the Davis Cup tennis, Malaysia vs India five test hockey series, and American National Basketball Association (NBA).

Zucker says no programming changes will be made in the short term, and denies that the venture is an attempt at driving rights prices down. He claims strong rivalry for sports events is expected to continue, with competition emerging from local channels.

One of the major differences between the two networks is in their delivery; Star Sports is free to air, ESPN is encrypted. Zucker says the aim eventually is to encrypt all channels.

Copyright October 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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