Television Asia's Executive News
22 January 2007

Aiello named STAR CEO as Guthrie 'resigns'

Hong Kong – Paul Aiello succeeds Michelle Guthrie as Chief Executive Officer of STAR, effective March 1 2007.

Although announced as a resignation "for personal reasons", sources say Guthrie was forced to quit due to emerging problems in India – traditionally STAR's most successful market and, at its peak, source of up to 80 percent of revenues.

COO Steve Askew, injured in an accident last year, is officially on medical leave but believed to be leaving the company and other staff departures are expected.

With the competition gaining ground on STAR's channels in India, sources say the company has failed to compensate in other supposed growth markets like Indonesia and China. "I think you have to look at the macro environment first – given the complexity of the regulatory environment, competition in the market, we are happy with what we can achieve," says a STAR spokesperson.

New CEO Aiello joined STAR in June 2006 in a newly-created role, and was formerly Managing Director and Head of the Telecom, Media and Technology Investment Banking team for Morgan Stanley in the Asia Pacific region. His background in Mergers & Acquisitions is leading to analyst speculation that more M&A activity lies ahead for STAR. "STAR has always been and will continue to engage in M&A activities which will take STAR to a new level of growth," the spokesperson adds.

Star India's CEO Nair's exit nigh

Mumbai – Amidst all the restructuring of Star's operations in Hong Kong, the future association of Sameer Nair, chief executive officer, Star Entertainment in India, is in question.

Though sources have confirmed that Nair is currently evaluating options, he hasn't "technically" quit or put in his papers.

"Nair is very much with Star as of now. As far as the shooting of Kaun Banega Crorepati – III or KBC III (the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire) is concerned, he has been part of the shoot on daily basis," said a source, closely associated with KBC-III, which features Hindi movie industry Shah Rukh Khan. "A valid reason resulting in Nair staying with the company for a while might be the fact that there is so much at stake with KBC. Not only advertisers have pumped in over US$29 million for the show, but also Nair is the one who is coordinating the entire association with Shah Rukh Khan."

The show, to be aired four times a week, is scheduled to run for three months starting from January 22.

The source added: "His future move is going to be dependent on what the company has in store for him. Nair has adopted a wait and watch policy, expecting a new role in the US."

In March 2006, Nair was promoted to his current role, overseeing all day-to-day operations including programming, marketing, advertising sales and distribution while pursuing growth opportunities in new media including wireless and internet. He was reporting to Steve Askew.

Regarding Peter Mukerjea, who leads Star Group in India as its chief executive officer, it is being said that he hasn't quit as yet. Even though its been reported that Mukerjea is contemplating his own venture, a source says he has a contract with Star till 2008.

StarHub's launches commercial HDTV service

Singapore – National Geographic Channel HD and Discovery HD are the debut channels on StarHub's commercially launched HDTV service.

Having trialled HD with the FIFA World Cup soccer and recently secured the three-year rights to English Premier League (EPL) football from the start of the 2007, it is expected that sports will be a key driver of the new service.

With rival telco SingTel having previously announced its new IPTV service would be driven by both sports and High Definition content, StarHub HDTV launch is seen as a move to pre-empt the proposed competition – having already beaten SingTel to the EPL with an estimated US$96 million bid.

Detractors point out that StarHub's service requires a new set-top box – and Smart TV subscribers will have to use two set-top boxes if they wish to continue that service as well as the new HDTV service.

A new content group HD Plus, costs S$15 per month for the two channels. Consumers must subscribe to a minimum of three Basic Groups and HD Plus, and own StarHub's HD set-top box and a HD-ready TV set to get the new HDTV service. The HD set-top box is available for purchase at $285. Those who sign on a 12-month StarHub Digital Cable contract can own a HD set-top box for $95.

"Discovery is once again happy to be pioneering HD. We were the first international HD channel to launch in Japan in 2005, and with this launch in Singapore, Discovery HD is now available in 15 international markets and over nine million households," said Tom Keaveny, Managing Director and Executive Vice President, Discovery Networks Asia.

Ward Platt, Executive Vice President and Group Managing Director – Asia Pacific, National Geographic Channels International said, "We congratulate Singapore and StarHub for being the most innovative country and the first operator in Southeast Asia to launch a commercial high-definition television service,"

SingTel pre-empts rival with HD announcement

Singapore – SingTel has made its first IPTV announcement since losing out on the EPL soccer rights to incumbent pay-TV operator StarHub.

Pre-empting the January 18 launch of StarHub's HDTV service, SingTel announced a deal with Mega Media for a comprehensive suite of High Definition (HD) channels for the telco's IPTV service slated to launch commercially later this year.

The proposed HD offering includes a number of channels in partnership with Rainbow Media's VOOM HD Networks which broadcasts15 full HD channels in the United States.

Channels will include VOOM HD and the first Made-by-Singapore HD channel – Sling HD. Mega Media and Voom's HD content is currently available on SingTel's IPTV technical trial, which began in November 2006.

Quek Peck Leng, SingTel's Executive Vice President of Consumer, said, "HD is set to be the next wave for consumers and SingTel wants to shape the Singapore market with the most HD programming and the best HD content. For example, new local content channels like Sling HD will offer a quality programming alternative that can resonate with the Singapore viewers."

HDTV deployment in Singapore kicked off in June last year, making Singapore the first in Southeast Asia to start public HDTV trials. MDA has issued a nationwide IPTV licence to SingTel's wholly-owned subsidiary SingNet.

AXN banned in India for two months

New DelhiThe Indian Government has imposed a nation-wide ban of the transmission and re-transmission of SPE Networks – Asia Pte Ltd.'s AXN channel from January 17 to March 15.

As stipulated by the sub-section (2) of Section 20 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, the government exercised its right to impose the 2-month ban on satellite channel AXN for having telecasted programs such as World's Sexiest Advertisements, which were judged to be "against good taste or decency" and were "likely to adversely affect public morality".

Ricky Ow, general manager of SPE Networks – Asia, said, "We were shocked to receive the notice from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on the ban of AXN in India. Our people in India are working on getting a better understanding of the issues before deciding on our next step."

Temasek in talks with Tata for a stake in Tata Sky DTH service

New Delhi – Singapore-based private equity fund Temasek Holdings is in talks with Tata Group for strategic investment in DTH service Tata Sky, an 80:20 joint venture between Tata and Star.

"Yes, Tata and Temasek have been in discussion for a while," confirmed a senior official with Star India. "But if there is going to be dilution of stake, it will be done by our partner Tata, not by us," said the official, declining to comment on whether the talks have been on for 10% stake, costing US$55.5 million.

On Temasek's part, Lim Siow Joo, associate director – Corporate Affairs, Temasek Holdings (Pte) Ltd said: "We do not comment on market speculation."

The service was launched across 300 cities in India in August last year.

In March last year, Temasek Holdings, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Aranda Investments (Mauritius) Pte. Ltd., had taken a 9.9% stake in Tata Group's telecom company Tata Teleservices Limited.

STAR to take up stakes in Radio City

Mumbai / Hong Kong – STAR has agreed in principle to acquire a 20% stake from India Value Fund (IVF) in Music Broadcast Pvt Ltd (MBPL), with the deal subject to approval by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board.

As the promoter of Radio City, MBPL is currently owned by IVF – 75% and Radiovani -25%. MBPL's ownership structure will become IVF – 55%, STAR – 20% and Radiovani – 25% upon conclusion of the deal.

Radio City is a pop music FM radio station available in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Chennai.

STAR's indya.com offers Indian content on "download-to-own" model

Hong Kong / Mumbai – STAR-owned internet portal indya.com launched on January 17 its digital entertainment store to provide popular Indian content for download. The service is available worldwide at http://broadband.indya.com and is targeted at broadband-enabled South Asians in the North America, UK, and South East Asia.

Built on Fox Interactive Media's Direct2Drive platform, the new service operates on a "download-to-own" model. Under this model, content can be downloaded to a user's terminal for use on two Windows Media compatible devices including portable players.

STAR entertainment content including drama Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii, The Great Indian Laughter Challenge and Koffee With Karan were available for download at launch. News and current affairs updates, Indian documentaries, film and music will also be made available by partner content providers in the near future.

Single episodes are currently free for sampling by users. Additional episodes cost from US$0.99, with discounts for bundle purchases. Special 45-minute recap episodes are also available to sum up drama developments for the week.

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