Biz’s Eastern outposts

News Corp., Fox front-runners in countries

The studio congloms have different levels of involvement in China and India.

Championed by Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. and Fox are front-runners in both countries — possibly too aggressive in China.

In July 2005, China reversed its policy and banned local companies from forming partnerships with foreign firms to operate local TV channels. The industry was convinced that this targeted News Corp., which had been pursuing creative ad sales strategies.

News Corp. interests also include STAR, a Hong Kong-based operator that carries a number of channels (some of which it produces) with activities in Hong Kong and India.

News Corp.’s Chinese-language movie production is now picking up speed, notably through the Fortune Star rights and production finance arm.

Star co-produces two shows with state-owned CCTV and another with private sector Shanghai Media Group.

Sony represented the advance brigade in terms of local movie production in Asia and established a production office in Hong Kong nearly a decade ago.

But with hindsight, success with 2000’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” may have come too early, since they’ve had a hard time matching it — the unit has not made a pic in the past two years.

On the other hand its Sony Entertainment Television is an established player in India and the operation is now building on its role from a movie buyer and expanding into production.

Viacom‘s Sumner Redstone has been a regular visitor to China, but his focus seems predominantly on TV interests — which, like those of the other western congloms, are restricted to foreigners’ compounds, hotels and the southern province of Guangzhou.

Paramount appointed a local rep 15 months ago to deliver movie co-prods. Several now seem to be bubbling, but the studio would be forgiven for having second thoughts after “Mission: Impossible III,” which lensed in China as an assisted co-production, but was delayed over a silly censorship issue. Much of pic’s B.O. potential was lost to piracy.

Time Warner, which has China-aimed interests that range from publishing to TV broadcasting, has become the most embedded movie company in China. Two years ago it established a production joint venture with state body China Film Group and private sector studio operator Hengdian that entitles it to act like a local producer and distributor.

It set up local video distribution in China, effective last year. Warner Bros.’ film interests have yet to get that far in India.

Disney‘s major relations with China are on TV channels, consumer goods and theme parks, more than in feature film, though it is now in production on its first, “The Magic Brush,” a low-budget pic based on a Chinese folktale with Disney-like family values.

Its Indian operations are more skewed to TV, where it last year bought kids channel Hungama from UTV. It is now in production on locally made shows including “Dhoom machaao dhoom” and “Vikram aur vetaal.”

Universal is not yet ready to unveil an India strategy. The policy for China is to ally its Focus Features division closely to Hong Kong-based Edko Films, whose Bill Kong is Asia’s top producer. Kong, whose unrivalled production credits include “Crouching Tiger,” “Hero” and “Curse of The Golden Flower,” recently took over handling of U movies from UIP in the mainland.

MGM topper Harry Sloan has argued that greater value growth will come from launch of new channels than from making more movies. That suggests his group’s focus will be on India, where it launched MGM Channel on the Zee Dish TV satellite last spring, rather than China where access is limited.

DreamWorks sees its films handled in China through its Korean partner CJ Entertainment and through UIP in India.

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