Fuji eyes stake in JSkyB

TOKYO — Fuji Television Network (Fuji TV) is set to buy a stake in Rupert Murdoch’s JSkyB and become the first Japanese terrestrial broadcaster to team up with the media baron’s digital satellite platform, Japanese media reports said Friday.

Details of the agreement are likely to be disclosed when Murdoch makes a two- or three-day trip to Japan next week, but the nationwide daily Asahi Shimbun reported Fuji TV president Hisashi Hieda and Murdoch have been in discussions about the deal.

Fuji TV is seeking to become an equal partner in the JSkyB venture, along with Murdoch’s News Corp. and Japanese software house Softbank, the paper reported, citing industry sources. Sony Corp. has also said it intends to invest in JSkyB, and sources close to the companies have said Sony wants to buy into the satellite broadcasting company as an equal partner.

Murdoch is scheduled to have a news conference Wednesday in Tokyo. During his last news conference in Tokyo on March 3, Murdoch and Softbank president Masayoshi Son announced they were selling their shares in a different Japanese network, TV Asahi.

Plans scuttled

Their plans to have the network as a content provider partner were scuttled by dissension in TV Asahi’s top ranks and among TV Asahi shareholders, including the Asahi Shimbun, about having Murdoch in a position of control in the network.

In March’s hastily arranged Tokyo press conference, Murdoch, Son and Asahi Shimbun president Muneyuki Matsushita announced the terms of the exit deal. News Corp. and Softbank will sell their 21.4% stake in the company to the Asahi Shimbun for 41.75 billion yen ($345 million). The amount is the price at which News Corp. and Softbank bought the shares in June 1996.

JSkyB officials were cited as saying the talks with Fuji TV are in line with Murdoch’s policy of providing local-language programming on his satellite platforms.

Fuji TV has recently moved into a news headquarters facility on the Tokyo bayfront and is undergoing construction of digital studios. The company will go public in the fall.

JSkyB was attracted to Fuji because of its ample software library of dramas, sports and movies, the Asahi reported. Disney considering stake

The Asahi Shimbun and other sources reported that Walt Disney Co. is considering buying into JSkyB as well.

JSkyB is one of three direct digital satellite broadcasters operating in the Japanese marketplace. It will start service with 150 channels in the spring of 1998.

PerfecTV, which started service last year, is the only satellite broadcaster providing full-scale service in Japan. DirecTV is set to start service around December of this year.

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