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Posted: Wed., Feb. 26, 1997


China Ent. TV founder buys out Robertson

HONG KONG --- Robert Chua has completed what he told Daily Variety is a "friendly buyout" of his former partners in China Entertainment Television Broadcast Ltd. (CETV).

Chua, the founder and chairman of the satellite broadcaster, said he has found new backers to replace Pat Robertson's Intl. Family Entertainment, the Lippo Group and Malayan United Industries.

Chua would not reveal the names of his new partners, but said they are all Asians. He said they may go public "when CETV is successful." He estimated that could take several more years.

"Ads have not sold well at all," he acknowledged.

Chua launched CETV Family Channel, which offers 24 hours of Mandarin-language programming primarily in China, two years ago. He linked up with his Malaysian, Indonesian and U.S. partners in December 1995 in a deal valued at $15 million, according to sources.

Chua had retained 20% of the company, and the partners shared the remaining 80%. He continues to hold 20% with an option to increase his stake.

Paul Newton, senior VP of international business development for IFE, said the agreement "was less an equity partnership than a loan." But when Chua came in with a demand for a new, much higher level of funding,the agreement fell apart. IFE, Lippo and MUI got their money back when Chua landed his new Asian partners, Newton said.

Chua and Newton both said that one of the sticking points to the deal was CETV's desire to add sports to its schedule, beginning with professional volleyball. "Once you get involved in sports, it's like feeding a monster," Newton said. "Sports rights fees always skyrocket."

Chua said China was unhappy with Christian evangelist Pat Robertson's involvement in the partnership. "It's going to help Robert Chua to have new Chinese partners," said Newton. "It's difficult being an outsider in China."

Following the change in ownership, CETV completed a deal to co-produce non-political documentaries with China's powerful state-owned news agency, Xinhua.

CETV follows a strict "no sex, no violence, no news" format with the focus on light entertainment and shows with a moral, though strictly non-religious, message.

There are no reliable statistics available on Chinese viewership, but Chua estimates his audience at 33 million throughout Asia.

Since finding new backing, Chua has opened sales offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. He said he is also in the process of headhunting a chief operating officer and a sales manager.

"As a result of the restructuring," he said, "CETV Family Channel is ideally positioned to build on its remarkable record of growth through the direct representation of company marketing executives who are home-grown and understand the very specific needs of the Asian marketplace."

(John Dempsey contributed to this report.)

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