Phoenix flies into broadcast fight

Taiwan one of Asia's most competitive cable markets

HONG KONG — Phoenix Satellite Television got the go-ahead to broadcast in Taiwan last week after the island’s authorities reversed last year’s decision.

Phoenix’s earlier application for a license was approved, then rejected, after politicians and rival stations in Taiwan objected to the broadcaster’s pro-Beijing slant on its Mandarin-lingo InfoNews channel.

China considers Taiwan a renegade province, but Taiwan considers itself a sovereign nation, and media in both places tends to reflect these biases. Chen Shui-bian is known in Taiwan as its president, a title you won’t hear used for him on mainland channels.

With Phoenix’s entry into Taiwan, negotiations on how to traverse the minefield of sensitive editorial content undoubtedly are taking place.

A yen for cash

As one of three foreign broadcasters granted the sought-after right to air programs in China last year, the Hong Kong-based company targets mainland Chinese viewers and ad dollars.

But Phoenix is flying into one of the most competitive cable television markets in Asia. Taiwan recently lifted its ban on advertising China’s products and services, but analysts say this is unlikely to translate into a big boost for the broadcaster’s coffers.

“It’s not particularly significant at this stage,” says Vivek Couto, an analyst with Media Partners Asia. “While at 82% penetration, Taiwan is the leading cable TV market in Asia, the cable TV advertising market is dominated by TVBS, Star and ETTV. Few other broadcasters get a look in and a generalist news channel like InfoNews won’t really change the trend.”

Star Group, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Liu Changle, Phoenix’s chairman and the largest shareholder in Hong Kong terrestrial broadcaster Asia Television, each own 37.6% of Phoenix.

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