TW AOL orders Mandarin

Nation, conglom seal landmark cable deal

NEW YORK — As U.S. media congloms continue to court China, AOL Time Warner got a big leg up Monday, announcing its CETV Mandarin lingo channel has become the first foreign-owned network granted cable carriage rights in mainland China.

The 24-hour information and entertainment net, currently available on satellite only, will be distributed to cable subs in the Southern region of the People’s Republic of China starting in January — with official consent.

Now, most Chinese receive Western channels only illegally via satellite.

Company said the deal is unusual in its reciprocity, calling for CCTV-9, the English-language service of national broadcaster China Central Television, to be carried on select Time Warner Cable systems in the U.S.

The agreement, in the works for months, came on heels of a much-heralded meeting of APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, in China — the first face-to-face meeting between President Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin. A host of industry players, including AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin, also attended, as U.S. companies look for inroads into the giant Chinese market.

Financial terms weren’t announced, but U.S. media execs clearly see a lucrative payday down the line from China’s hundreds of million of TV viewers.

Politicos in China hope a channel Stateside will help shape more favorable U.S. attitudes toward that nation.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has been angling for a similar agreement in China for some time, but hadn’t yet received approval.

Last June, AOL inked a joint venture deal with Chinese computer and tech company Legend to develop interactive services.

The TV deal, signed by AOL Time Warner’s Asia Pacific unit and China Central Television, “is the first Sino-U.S. cooperative agreement signed after APEC,” said Xu Guang Chun, director of China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. It serves as a starting point toward developing further cooperation,” he added.

CETV will be distributed via systems of Guangdong Cable TV Networks Co., the largest state-owned cable networks in southern China.

After AOL’s announcement, Liberty Media’s Intl. Channel Networks and Encore Intl. noted Monday that ICN carries CCTV-4, another CCTV network, 24 hours a day through a tier of single foreign-language channels.AOL Time Warner shares rose 1.54% to $31.65 as media stocks rallied in an overall upbeat market.

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