Free-to-air TV broadcasters face challenges

Updated: 2010-07-10 06:35

By Michelle Fei(HK Edition)

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Free-to-air TV broadcasters face challenges

Two of the city's venerable broadcasters, Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) and Asia Television Limited (ATV) can expect to see their slices of the pie get smaller, as new channels are added to Hong Kong's free-to-air TV program market.Three local companies have applied for licences to join the fray and compete for prominence in Hong Kong's small market.

City Telecom (HK) Limited (CTI), Fantastic Television Limited (Fantastic TV) and HK Television and Entertainment Company Limited (HKTVE) handed in the applications to the Broadcasting Authority (BA) on December 31 2009; January 15, 2010; and March 31, 2010, respectively. Detailed information on finances, estimates of investments, program content and a long list of other criteria were required of all applicants, a spokesman for the BA said Friday.

Public consultation on the applications opened Friday and will continue to August 8. The BA will consider the applications, take into account the public's views and submit recommendations to the Chief Executive in Council.

Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan, secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, told local media recently that the SAR government has set no limits on the number of free television program service licenses. She said she "is glad to see more free-to-air TV in Hong Kong".

Fantastic TV, currently a wholly-owned subsidiary of i-CABLE Communications Limited (i-CABLE), threw down the gauntlet earlier this year, promising to bring changes to Hong Kong's free-to-air programing. TVB and ATV responded that they welcomed the challenge.

The first applicant, CTI, is a publicly listed company in Hong Kong under the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and in the US it's listed on NASDAQ. Although CTI has only 943,000 customers and 34 coverage areas, the company declared its intention to extend its signal all across the SAR before 2016, if its application is approved.

The third applicant, HKTVE, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of PCCW Interactive Media Holdings Limited (PCCW Interactive), which in turn is a subsidiary of the listed PCCW Limited (PCCW). HKTVE promised to emphasize local news and have its Cantonese channel up and running within 24 hours after getting its license. Meanwhile, HKTVE already has a HK$600 million budget for operating expenses and capital expenditures for the first 3 years, local media reported.

Alex Arena, group managing director of PCCW, expressed his confidence in HKTVE, saying "with strong financial support of PCCW and its own reach experience media operation, HKTVE has the confidence to create a great brand for the Hong Kong audience."

Meanwhile, the increased competition is being viewed by many as a chance to crank up the quality of the often dreary local programming.

According to research conducted by the Hong Kong Research Association last July, among 1,000 respondents, 47 percent called the quality of free-to-air programming as "just so-so." 21 percent called the program quality disappointing or very disappointing.

Another study conducted by the Department of Journalism, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), revealed that the ratio of market share possessed by free-to-air broadcaster compared with other Cantonese broadcasters increased from 7:3 (1994) to 8:2 and finally reached 9:1 in 2007.

"The unbalanced situation left little choice for local audiences; it's almost like they have been forced to watch the programs offered by certain free TV channels," the survey conductor To Yiu-ming, associate professor of the Department of Journalism, HKBU, told local media.

"Hong Kong free-to-air TV program barely gave a satisfying performance in recent years because of a lack of competition," said Chan Chun-ling, deputy research director of One Country Two Systems Research Institute.

"Though it's hard to say how many licenses will be awarded by the government at this moment, I hope that the government will take citizen's needs into account, along with the quality of the programming and the coverage area," added Chen.

China Daily

(HK Edition 07/10/2010 page1)