STAR-TV

Asian Satellite Delivery Service

Star-TV is one of the most prominent regional satellite and cable television operations in the world. Its coverage footprint reaches from the Arab world to South Asia to East Asia. It carries global U.S. and British channels as well as channels in Mandarin and Hindi targeted at regional audiences defined by language and culture, and in so doing has helped define a new type of geo-cultural or geo-linguistic television market that stands between the U.S. dominated global market and national television markets. Fully acquired by Rupert Murdoch by the end of 1995 Star now forms a central part of his global media empire. In both news and culture, Star-TV is as challenging to some governments as United States imported programs and news have been. In 1995, Star-TV reached 53.7 million television households in 53 countries in English, Mandarin, and Hindi.

In April 1990, China's Long March III rocket launched a C-band satellite called AsiaSat-1. China International Trust and Investment Corp. (CITIC), Cable & Wireless of Britain and Hong-Kong's Hutchison Whampoa, jointly owned AsiaSat, making it Asia's first privately owned satellite. By picking up signals on parabolic dishes on the ground in an area under the satellite's footprint, regional broadcasting in Asia became possible.

In December 1990, Hong Kong granted a license to Hutchison Whampoa's satellite broadcasting arm, HutchVision, to begin a Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) service via AsiaSat. In a $300 million venture, the Satellite Television Asia Region operation, (Star-TV), began transmissions in August 1991. In July 1993, News Corp.'s Chairman Rupert Murdoch, already a power in Australia, Britain and America, bought into Star for $525 million (a 63.6% stake), forming a partnership with business tycoon Li Ka-shing, whose family owned the company. With the purchase, Murdoch's FOX studio and network had access to a successful Asian window in which to distribute programming. In July 1995, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. paid $346 million to buy the remaining 36.4% of Star-TV.

Using AsiaSat for Star-TV created a problem, however, because the satellite was never meant to be used for broadcasting. Under the jurisdiction of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), it was begun as a telecommunications satellite only. Little has been done about this situation, but criticism has developed in the scholarly community. In a 1992 paper for the International Communication Association, Seema Shrikhande asserted that, "Using telecommunications satellites for broadcasting goes against the ruling that national sovereignty includes the state's control over television within its borders and that satellite footprints should be tailored to national boundaries as far as possible." Following these assumptions, several countries have attempted to place restrictions on reception of Star-TV but have found them difficult to enforce.

Working with the idea of providing regionally-focused niche or genre-focused programming, Star-TV originally transmitted five channels 24-hours a day. These included MTV Asia (Viacom), British Broadcasting Corporation's World Service Television (WSTV), Prime Time Sports (a joint venture with the Denver-based Prime Network), entertainment and cultural programs through Star Plus, and a Mandarin Chinese-language channel. Subsequently MTV has withdrawn to offer its own wholly owned channels via satellite. Star-TV has replaced it with Channel V. More focused on Asian videos, Channel V has become quite popular and now competes favorably with MTV in the region.

In 1994, Murdoch removed the BBC World Service news from the northern part of Star's coverage area over China because its content offended news-sensitive China. In an earlier speech, Murdoch had said, "Advances in the technology of communications have proved an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes: Fax machines enable dissidents to bypass state-controlled print media; direct-dial telephone makes it difficult for a state to control interpersonal voice communication; and satellite broadcasting makes it possible for information-hungry residents of many closed societies to bypass state-controlled television channels." Despite this view, China subsequently demanded and received the removal of the BBC in order to permit reception of Star-TV in China.

Star-TV represents a very direct challenge to several Asian governments that have tended to restrict the inflow of information. Burma, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have made reception of Star essentially illegal. China requires a restrictive license for satellite reception dishes, although many individuals and cable systems continue to receive Star's offerings. India and Taiwan supposedly require licenses but permit both individuals and cable systems to receive it openly. Most other countries regulate redistribution via cable TV or apartment building antenna systems (SMATV) but are essentially open to Star and other satellite channels.

After its initial phase with five channels, Star has begun to target audiences more narrowly in terms of genres, language, and culture. For example, Star-TV is half owner of its sixth channel, Zee TV, which offers Indian-produced Hindi-language programs. Zee reaches more than 25% of the total TV households in India and a significant viewership in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Another example of channel targeting by audience and culture comes as Star-TV has begun to refine several versions of its Channel V music channel for different regions of Asia.

In early 1996, Star-TV had 14 channels targeting various genres, languages and cultures, particularly in Hindi-speaking India and Mandarin Chinese-speaking areas. It expected to have a total of 30 channels in operation before the end of 1996, with most of the new ones concentrating on Japan, Indonesia, and other smaller markets. Its pattern as of 1996 in Japan and Indonesia is to start with one country-focused channel, including movies, sports, music and general entertainment, then to expand these into separate genre-based channels focused at that country.

 

Star's audience was originally concentrated in Taiwan, China and India, but has been steadily growing as its programming begins to target other cultures and languages, as well. All of Star's channels are advertiser-driven, thus they are free to viewers. This tends to give Star-TV a much larger audience than pay-TV operations. Star-TV takes programming from a number of sources, principally the United States, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, India and Japan. It has tended to reduce non-Asian programming somewhat over time, responding to an apparent audience preference for what it calls "localized" programming. Star and similar regional operations add a new layer of complexity to discussions of concepts such as media imperialism, the globalization of culture, and the international flow of television. The system's emphasis on intra-regional cultural flows--across national borders but within language and cultural boundaries--assumes that audiences will respond to the cultural similarity or proximity of the programming. Given further satellite developments in other regions, Star-TV may be an example of one form of future television.

-Joseph Straubhaar

FURTHER READING

Beng, Y. S. "The Emergence of an Asian-Centred Perspective: Singapore's Media Regionalization Strategies." Media Asia (Singapore), 1994.

Bhatia, B. "Multi-channel Television Delivery Opportunities in the South Asia Region." Media Asia (Singapore), 1993.

Brauchelli, M. W. "Star Struck--A Satellite TV System Is Quickly Moving Asia Into The Global Village." Wall Street Journal (New York), 10 May 1993.

Chan, J. M. "National Responses and Accessibility to Star TV in Asia." Journal of Communication (New York) 1994.

Fawthrop, T. "Chinese Shadows." Index on Censorship (London), 1994. Greenwald, J. "Dish-Wallahs." Wired (San Francisco, California), May-June 1993.

Karp, J. "Cast Of Thousands." Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong), 27 January 1994.

Khushu, O. P. "Satellite Communications In Asia: An Overview." Media Asia (Singapore), 1993.

Lau, T.-Y. "From Cable Television To Direct-Broadcast Satellite." Telecommunication Policy. September-October 1992.

Lull, J. China Turned On: Television, Reform, And Resistance. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Menon, V. "Regionalization: Cultural Enrichment or Erosion." Media Asia (Singapore), 1994.

Michaels, J. W., and N. Rotenier. "There Are More Patels Out There Than Smiths." Forbes (New York), 14 March 1994.

Nugent, P. "Down With The Dish." Index on Censorship (London), 1994.

jagopal, A. "The Rise Of National Programming: The Case Of Indian Television." Media, Culture and Society (London), 1993.

Scott, M. "News From Nowhere." Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong), November 1991.

Thomas, P. "Informatization And Change In India--Cultural Politics In A Postmodern Era." Asian Journal of Communication (Singapore), 1993.

Wang, G. "Satellite Television and the Future of Broadcast Television in the Asia-Pacific." Media Asia (Singapore), 1993.

Waterman, D., and E. Rogers. "The Economics Of Television Program Production In Far East Asia." Journal of Communication (New York), 1994.

 

See also Hong Kong; Murdoch, Rupert; News Corporation, Ltd.; Satellite