China turns off two US channels

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A joint venture between News Corp and Disney has had two of its sports channels cut from China’s list of foreign broadcasters that may be distributed to hotels and upscale housing compounds.

The removal of the channels, run by Singapore- based ESPN Star Sports, is the latest setback for the two companies, which, like other international media groups, have struggled to establish a presence in the fast-growing Chinese TV market.

Star Sports and ESPN were not included in the 31 channels approved by Sarft – the state administration of radio, film and TV – for broadcast to hotels and compounds in 2007.

China International Television Corp, the state company that handles such distribution for foreign broadcasters, has blocked broadcasts of the two channels in at least one province, though they continue to air in key markets such as Beijing.

Sarft and the CITVC on Thursday declined to comment.

But the Hollywood Reporter quoted a CITVC official as saying the move followed ESPN Star Sports’ failure to attend a licensing meeting with Chinese regulators last year concerning extension of its landing rights.

The licence needs annual renewal at the end of the year and ESS failed to get it done in the right period, when they were asked to, the US trade publication quoted the unidentified official as saying.

ESS said on Thursday it was still in the renewal process of its landing rights and was working to conclude arrangements.

News Corp and ESPN both have 50 per cent stakes in ESS. ESPN is
80 per cent owned by Disney’s ABC Inc.

A CITVC official in Anhui province said it had ceased distributing the two channels but in other provinces they were still available to subscribing hotels and compounds, officials of those provinces said. They could also be viewed in Beijing on Thursday.

Even a partial ejection from ESS’s toehold in China, although unlikely
to have a significant financial effect on Disney or News Corp, would be a symbolic blow.

The two companies hope to build their TV brands in what is perhaps the world’s greatest untapped media market.
Additional reporting by Jack Burton in Singapore

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