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MTV launches China channel

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BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- MTV Networks said on Wednesday it will launch a 24-hour music cable channel in China's southern province of Guangdong in a deal that finally eases open a vast but tightly protected market.

The channel, due to begin broadcasting within days, would reach an estimated one million households in Guangdong, one of China's richest provinces, William Roedy, president of MTV Networks International, told reporters.

"Guangdong is great. It has 20 percent of China's GDP, some 20 million people in the Pearl River delta, it has the Hong Kong link, it's probably one of the premier markets in China, particularly as it relates to advertising," Roedy said.

The distribution deal was signed in Beijing on Wednesday with Guangdong Cable Networks, the major cable player in the province, Roedy said.

MTV was interested in expanding the channel to other parts of China, but had no timetable for doing so, Roedy said.

MTV, a unit of media giant Viacom Inc (VIA), has piped the network via satellite to a limited audience of luxury hotels and residences catering to foreigners.

It has also syndicated hourly blocks to stations in about 45 cities and regions, reaching a potential 60 million households.

Viacom chief Sumner Redstone has lobbied hard in China for the big prize -- rights to start 24-hour cable broadcasts. Such deals have been granted only to a handful of foreign firms eager to beam their shows to China's estimated 100 million cable viewers.

Advertising strong

AOL Time Warner's (AOL) CETV, News Corp's Star TV and Phoenix Satellite TV -- 38 percent owned by News Corp -- have rights to broadcast via cable operators in Guangdong.

MTV has been in China for eight years. It produces a number of shows for MTV China, has hosted awards ceremonies and sponsored Chinese musicians peforming abroad.

But China is still a tiny slice of MTV's business.

"It's in the millions" of dollars, Roedy said of MTV revenue in China. "But it's small so the growth rates are fairly high, among the highest in the world."

Roedy said MTV did not have specific financial goals for the channel, but said there was already huge demand from advertisers. Multinational firms would dominate advertising at first, but more Chinese companies were expected to buy airtime, Roedy said.

"Our inventory has been sold out for some time. There has been an exceeding of expectations on the advertising side and there's optimism that will continue," Roedy said.

MTV, known in the United States for its sex-fuelled videos and controversial programmes such as "Jackass," is taking a milder approach in China, where popular tastes -- and official Communist sensibilities -- frown on such fare.

But executives insisted neither they nor Chinese officials censored MTV content, saying the network aimed to play what was popular, and that what was hot in urban New York may not cross over to Guangdong.

"We still give the heads up on the kinds of artists we intend to play, give examples of the videos that will be coming up in the coming weeks and months," said Frank Brown, president of MTV Networks Asia Pacific. "But there is no minute-by-minute screening."

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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