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Pay TV Competitors Heavily Courting Australis Media

A battle royal is being waged in Australia among the three pay TV rivals.

The Optus Vision cable org and the News/Telstra pay TV co-venture are assiduously wooing Australis Media.

Australis has one of the two commercial satellite licenses and it bought virtually all the microwave licenses, giving it a fast and early entry into the pay TV business.

Along with the other sat operator, XYZ Entertainment, Australis is marketing eight webs under the banner Galaxy.

Both Optus Vision and News/Telstra (whose services will be carried on Telstra’s fledgling cable system) are keen to jointly market their services with Australis.

There would be a clear competitive advantage for the group which allies itself with Australis, and Australis itself would benefit from being part of a cable network. Some observers think it’s more critical for News/Telstra to tie up with Australis/Galaxy because without that programming, News/Telstra will be hard-pressed to build a pay TV business.

All three pay groups are also courting the Australian Broadcasting Corp., which is prepping two pay channels, and the BBC, which is thought to be formulating plans to launch the BBC World Service or a combination of that and an entertainment channel in league with its global partner Pearson.

Last week Optus Vision announced a restructuring and reaffirmed its commitment to build a $A3 billion ($2.3 billion) broadband network. It said construction would start later this month and it will launch more than 20 channels in the third quarter of this year.

Optus Communications and U.S. cabler Continental Cablevision have raised their stakes to 47.5% each, leaving Kerry Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting Limited with 5%. Originally Packer intended to take 20% and the Seven web (which subequently pulled out) was in for 15%.

However PBL has an option, exercisable up to July 1997, to move up to 20%, and his partners are confident it will do so.

Peter Press, the former Viacom Intl. VP and managing director for the U.K. and Europe, has signed on as managing director of Australis’ general entertainment channel.

Press, who relocated to Sydney from London late last year, will program the channel, TV1, which is part owned by its major suppliers, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Paramount. It’s due to start in March. In his long industry career, Press has served with United Artists Television and Australia’s Ten web.

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