Sat TV checking in

China allows more hotels to get foreign fare

BEIJING — China is expanding access for foreign satellite broadcasts, extending permission from four- and five-star hotels (which already carry the channels) to three-star establishments.

This will more than double the potential official audience for the broadcasters, which include CNN, HBO, Cinemax and CNBC Asia-Pacific.

Tourism authorities estimate there are more than 700 four-star-plus hotels in the country, but more than 2,000 three-star locations, a market that is expanding rapidly with the entrance of foreign hoteliers including Days Inn and Cendant Corp.’s Super 8.

The announcement was made Tuesday on the Web site of regulator the State Administration of Radio, Film & Television.

The new edict permits hotels to apply to offer up to 31 foreign channels.

Landing rights have already been granted to a limited number of broadcasters, including Viacom’s MTV, in the prosperous southern province of Guangdong. But, for the most part, foreign channels officially broadcast only to hotels and housing complexes built and operated for foreigners and wealthy Chinese.

However, channels such as HBO and Hong Kong-based Phoenix InfoNews, are downlinked illegally and offered as feevees in more upscale urban housing complexes. Many city residents also defy municipal broadcast authorities by installing dishes to receive foreign channels.