HBO Asia adds Taiwan

HBO Asia will have a total of 300,000 subscribers by year’s end after adding Taiwan to its universe.

The 17-month-old satellite service, a co-venture between Home Box Office and Paramount Communications, expects to move into Indonesia in the first quarter and is keen to beam into Hong Kong.

“We’re dead-on with our business plan,” says HBO Asia managing director William Hooks. “We always assumed it would take three to five years to break even, and that’s still realistic.”

Problems to be solved

Hooks points to a thicket of political and legal problems in markets like Taiwan, where an estimated 620 cable systems, previously illegal, now have to seek government approval.

Carried initially on 10 cable systems in Taiwan, the English-language entertainment channel will reach 100,000 subscribers.

The channel already beams into Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Brunei, where it has just one VIP subscriber — the Sultan.

Hooks is excited by the imminent move into Indonesia via DBS, which offers a potential 750,000 households.

The channel also wants to enter Hong Kong as soon as the protracted argument between Wharf Cable and Rupert Murdoch’s Star TV is resolved.

Star started supplying four premium services — a mix of Western and Chinese movies, kidvid and Asian business news — to Wharf Oct. 31, but never went to air due to a contractual wrangle.

Star m.d. James Griffiths said Friday he expects negotiations with Wharf to be concluded soon.

Griffiths stresses Star has an exclusive contract to supply Western product to Wharf and doesn’t see any loophole allowing HBO Asia into the colony.

The Star chief says he hopes to beam the services throughout Asia within 18 months, if not sooner.

China up next

HBO Asia’s footprint will expand into China via the Apstar-1 satellite, which launches in June. Hooks is mulling how and when to address that giant market.

Despite the Chinese government’s recent clampdown on home satellite dishes, widely interpreted as an attempt to shut out Star and its Western-style news and entertainment, Star is still seen by millions of Chinese via cable.

HBO is part of the consortium of seven programmers, including Turner Broadcasting, ESPN and Discovery, that recently leased transponders on Apstar-2, due to fly late next year.

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