STAR TV STARTS THINKING LOCAL WITH NEW CHANNELS IN ASIA

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HONG KONG-Rupert Murdoch's Star TV satellite service in Asia is getting ready to add six new channels targeted by language, retrenching from the pan-Asian approach it pioneered.

The channels will start up in the next three years on a subscriber-supported basis, offered in tongues native to India, Thailand, Indonesia and China. Star TV's new channels are a switch from its primarily existing English-language programming, which targets an affluent and elite audience.

Star's new channels will be patterned after the Taiwan subscription channel Star started three months ago-culturally specific with programming in Mandarin.

These moves come after Mr. Murdoch's News Corp. purchased 64% of Star parent HutchVision a year ago, and as international players crowd into Asia.

Other programmers making forays into the region include Turner Broadcasting System, ESPN, Discovery Channel and Country Music Television, MTV Networks and NBC.

Star expects the more niche-oriented pay TV services to help re-coup losses suffered since its start- up three years ago, relying solely on advertising for revenue.

Although Star claims it could reach more than 200 million people in 53 countries across Asia, India and the Middle East with its Channel V, Chinese Channel, Prime Sports, Star Plus movies, BBC World Service Television and Zee TV, advertisers have not flocked to Star as was expected.

With the new format, Star hopes to draw more viewers to attract advertisers. Since the first channels were free, there were no reliable numbers on actual viewers. The pay service will enable Star to more accurately pinpoint viewers.

Star is encouraged by its performance in Taiwan. According to Survey Research Taiwan, Taipei, Star TV's total audience share increased from 7.3% to 10.7% from July 4 to July 31, Star said. The gain came without viewing loss on its free channels.

"There is a major push into pay TV," said a Star spokesman. "But advertising-supported free-to-air television will continue to flourish."

Star is now set to introduce its second pay channel, due in India by October. While there are no plans for advertising on the pay channels at present, Star does not rule out this option for the future.

"If they have advertising on pay channels, we would welcome that," said Deryk Tang, media director, McCann-Erickson.

The shop handles Coca-Cola Co., Levi Strauss & Co., Cathay Pacific Airways and San Miguel beer, all Star advertisers.

Although pay TV might have a higher cost per thousand than the free-to-air channels, it would offer advertisers a highly targeted audience, Mr. Tang said.

Joe Mandese coordinates MediaWorks.

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