Michelle Guthrie

By Published on .

[Hong Kong] Under Michelle Guthrie's leadership, Star Group has grown to 58 channels telecast in eight languages. It's viewed by 100 million Asians daily, mostly in India, with a total potential viewership of 300 million in 53 countries, and the News Corp. division recently posted its third year of profitability.

Ms. Guthrie, 40, has solidified Star's position in India. In the past two years, the Hong Kong-based satellite broadcaster has launched hot channels there like Star One and Star Utsav. Star Plus, India's No. 1 cable channel for the past five years, airs 44 out of the top 50 shows, including a Hindi version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

Now, Ms. Guthrie, who's Chinese-Australian and one of the few high-level female executives in Asia's media, is on a mission to advance Star's channels in Asia's other giant market: China.

Since Ms. Guthrie succeeded James Murdoch, who now runs News Corp.'s BSkyB TV division in the U.K., as Star's CEO in late 2003, Star has strengthened its position in China. Xing Kong Wei Shi, a Mandarin-language entertainment channel, has become the leading regional channel in Guangdong, a wealthy province just over the border from Hong Kong. Star's music-focused Channel [V] has daypart syndication on some local cable channels.

But 24-hour distribution in China for Xing Kong and other Star channels, beyond upscale hotels and ex-pat housing compounds, remains closed to Star as well as other Western companies like Turner Broadcasting System and Viacom. It also isn't financially viable.

"China doesn't have a proper pay-TV market, because average monthly fees are 8-10 renminbi [$1-$1.20], so none of the channels are being paid and they are not put together specifically for cable. But it's inevitable that the market will develop in a country where you see people paying 25 renminbi [$3] for a cup of coffee at Starbucks," says Ms. Guthrie, who spent three years in business development at Star before she became CEO.

Earlier, she spent 10 years with pay-TV broadcasters including Foxtel in Australia and BSkyB. Before that, as a lawyer in Sydney and Singapore, Ms. Guthrie specialized in the media and technology sectors.

"She's got a strong business background, so she understands the regulations and legal issues necessary to run a media company in markets like China and India. Plus, she has a lot of patience," says Marcel Fenez, who leads PricewaterhouseCoopers's entertainment and media practice in Asia/Pacific.

"It's certainly important for Star to have a strategy for each market, because each country is different," Ms. Guthrie says. "India's pay-TV market is further along [than China's], but its ad market is way behind, considering the size of the country. We've still got a long way to go."

Most Popular