SONY, FUJI TO FLY SKY

Rupert draws more local partners for JSkyB

TOKYO – Sony Corp. and Fuji Television Network (Fuji TV) have joined Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Softbank Corp. as equal partners in the JSkyB direct digital satellite broadcasting venture.

Murdoch lined up with Sony’s president Nobuyuki Idei, Fuji TV prexy Hisashi Hieda and Masayoshi Son, the president of Softbank Corp., to announce the deal at a press conference in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Also taking part in the deal as lesser partners are trading house Marubeni Corp., advertising giant Dentsu Inc., leasing company Orix Corp. and telecommunications company Hikari Tsushin.

Murdoch will step down from his chairman’s post at JSkyB, with the top slot to be filled by Aiwa Co. Ltd. chairman Hajime Unoki. Aiwa, an electronics conglom, is not a partner in JSkyB, but Unoki is a well-respected exec who would be another local figure in the mix. Son will keep his post as JSkyB president.

The breakdown of shares to be held by the new partners was not released at the press conference. Sony and Fuji TV would buy their shares from the original partners News Corp. and Softbank. The four companies would have an equal say in management decisions, and JSkyB’s capital would remain at about $168 million.

Walt Disney Co. was thought to be one of the partners with a lesser stake in JSkyB, but it was conspicuously absent from the press conference.

Murdoch answered the speculation about Disney by saying there have been discussions with Disney and other Hollywood studios, but nothing has been decided.

PerfectTV is the only up-and-running direct digital satellite broadcasting platform in Japan. At last count, it had 236,000 subscribers from among Japan’s 42 million households.

DirecTV is scheduled to go into service at the end of 1997, and JSkyB will begin full service with 150 channels in April 1998.

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