Star unlikely to shine as Wharf Cable bows

HONG KONG — The long-awaited launch of Hong Kong’s first cable television network this weekend has been marred by a row with Rupert Murdoch’s Star TV, which was supposed to be part of the initial cable service.

As a result, Star is highly unlikely to be carried when Wharf Cable Ltd. flicks the switch Sunday, said Max Ho, group marketing communications manager for Wharf.

The two companies are holding 11th-hour discussions over the plan for Wharf to rebroadcast immediately three of Star’s five free channels, plus four pay channels starting up next year.

But Ho told Reuters he was not confident they could agree in time for the launch.

Meanwhile, Star says it is ready to go, has spent a lot of time, money and effort on the service, and hopes it will all smooth over by the weekend. “We will go ahead thinking positively,” said Douglas Gautier, director of corporate relations at Star. “Our position is, we are prepared.”

When broadcasts start, Wharf’s service will include news, movies, sports, children’s and youth channels.

A memorandum of understanding between Star and Wharf Cable was signed in June , just before Murdoch’s News Corp. Ltd. bought his 64% stake in Star in July from Hutchison Whampoa and its chairman, Li Ka-shing, for $ 525 million.

Wharf was supposed to start with eight of its own channels and three Star channels — MTV rock videos, sports and the British Broadcasting Corp.’s BBC World Service news.

Ho said the details, and agreement on the service, were needed from Wharf to market the service properly to customers.