News Corp restructures Asian TV interests

Rose Major

As expected, News Corporation is changing its Asian focus, with Star TV no longer the key unit for the company. And neither will Paul Aiello remain as CEO, leaving at the end of the year to “pursue other interests”.

Star is being split up to create units focusing on Asia’s key growth markets – Star India and Star Greater China. All of Star’s other channels will be subsumed into Fox International Channels (FIC).

FIC will combine the English-language channels previously managed by Star with the Fox and National Geographic brands for distribution in the rest of Asia. News Corp said that the move would create “Asia’s largest international TV channel network, operating 37 channels under 17 channel brands and reaching more than 426 million cumulative households.”

The unit will also focus on expanding News Corp’s high definition output in the region, with FIC expecting to expand its HDTV portfolio from 4 brands to 8 or more next year.

In a statement, News Corp said the changes were “designed to support continued growth of each unit and will result in a reduction in the size of its regional operations in Hong Kong by deploying resources into local markets.”

A new News Corp office will open in Hong Kong comprising a small group of current Star executives, although not Laureen Ong, Star’s COO who stepped down from her post this month, nor Paul Aiello, Star's now-outgoing CEO. Aiello said: “I feel privileged to have worked at News Corp and STAR and I would like to thank all of my colleagues and partners. I am confident that, under James’s leadership, the reorganization will enable the businesses to take advantage of new opportunities for growth as they enter this new stage in their development.”

The new Hong Kong office will only "support" News Corp’s interests across the region and manage joint ventures including key business ESPN Star Sports. The office will carry out business development, legal, government affairs and communications functions, reporting directly to the corresponding functional heads in London.

James Murdoch, Chairman and CEO for News Corp’s European and Asian businesses, said: “Since launching with only five channels in 1991, STAR has grown in scale and made a valuable contribution to broadcasting in Asia. We are now reshaping a big, regional organization into three highly focused business units, each of which will be intensely competitive in its target marketplace. While it was once natural to have a larger, regional headquarters, the Company has now reached a scale in its key local markets where we are ready to empower the teams on the ground and move a number of functions to be closer to viewers.”

Star India will manage all sales and distribution for News Corp’s 19 channels in India, as well as News Corp’s interests in seven other ventures. These include DTH operator Tata Sky, cable MSO Hathway, channel distribution jv Star Den and film producer Fox Star Studios India.

Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India since April 2007 will now report directly to Murdoch. He also takes on responsibility for all Fox-branded channels in India as well as Star’s sales and distribution offices in the Middle East, the UK and the US.

Star Greater China will oversee a bouquet of 5 Chinese-language channels as well as the Fortune Star movie library and joint ventures Phoenix Television and Fox Star Studios Chinese.

John Lau, president of Star in China and Taiwan will report directly to Murdoch, with Star’s China and Taiwan CEOs continuing their operational leadership roles in their respective markets.

FIC will combine Star World, Star Movies and Channel [V] International with Fox and Nat Geo channels operating elsewhere in Asia. The unit will also be responsible for distribution of Star India and Star Greater China channels outside of their home markets and continue to distribute its channels in the Middle East.

Ward Platt will be President and Zubin Gandevla COO of the new unit. Platt will report to David Haslingden, CEO of Fox International Channels and Nat Geo Channels Worldwide.

“The combination of STAR and FOX International Channels will create a streamlined structure, resulting in a more efficient cost base for the operation of regional channel distribution in the consolidated business,” the company statement said. “It also provides a platform for FIC to expand its high-definition portfolio in Asia from the current four brands to eight or more next year.”