Star TV, Rupert Murdoch's pan-Asian satellite broadcast group, is making a major play to become a theatrical film distribution and production player across Asia.

Under the management of the former Media Asia deputy general manager Peter Poon and production head group Michael Mak, the outfit has launched Fortune Star Pictures Limited.

Stressing the quality of distribution ahead of a production imperative, the offshoot aims to replicate the network of direct distribution operations and international distribution alliances around South East Asia that Poon built at Media Asia.

Although local releasing ahead of a broadcast by the parent channel has historically conflicted with other News Corp operations that have ventured into film-making, notably the UK'S BSkyB and its Sky Pictures unit, the pan-regional reach of Star makes that less problematic.

"In territories where a theatrical release is not available or not appropriate we will release on DVD or to local television," said Poon. Star's broadcast capacity, which has a 38-country footprint, will be used to give the films promotional support.

Fortune Star will benefit from an arm's length relationship with the parent channel. "We are expected to recoup our costs from distribution," said Poon, who at MA built up a network of releasing outfits around South East Asia.

The outfit has put a number of projects into development and will move the first ones into production by the end of the year. In the early years it expects to produce four to five local pictures a year. Budgets for these are set at about $1.5m. It will also produce a couple of larger pictures structured as co-productions for wider international consumption.

The company already has relationships with Raintree Pictures in Singapore and is developing links in mainland China that will allow its pictures to be considered as local productions.

Fortune's remit will also cover made-for TV productions including documentaries, infotainment and library material. The label, which has been largely inactive, has one feature credits I Do and with leading Singapore broadcaster MediaCorp co-produced the 30-part drama series Devil Blues.