Open pay TV market could reverse slump

HONG KONG — Four years after the Asian financial crisis struck the region, Hong Kong stations are still feeling the pinch — and the prices they are paying for overseas product have remained depressed.

But they may not stay that way. The long-awaited deregulation of Hong Kong’s pay TV market will see four services swing into business sometime in the next year, putting upward pressure prices. But for now, things remain stagnant.

“Ad revenue has gone down so drastically we can’t afford to pay what we used to,” says Cecilia Tan, assistant controller of the program division at TVB, Hong Kong’s dominant terrestrial channel.

Tan and her boss, Stephen Chan, may not be forking out the money they used to, but Hollywood action movies are still pulling in the ratings for the company’s English-language channel. Last year’s primetime screening of “The Rock” grabbed a 97% audience share.

These days, TVB is getting such hits at a discount.

“Overall in Asia, prices for foreign TV product have gone down very significantly,” Tan says.

The slump may not last long.

“With the opening up of the pay TV market, more people are trying to find good shows,” says Hung Shuen-shuen, controller of terrestrial network Asia Television’s (ATV) English-language channel.

The channel markets itself as an infotainment experience, which means it has opted out of purchasing expensive movies in favor of current affairs shows like “60 Minutes” and dramedies such as “Ally McBeal.”

Hung notes CBS’ “Survivor: The Australian Outback” has traveled well to Hong Kong, nabbing a 60% audience share. (Episodes lag a week behind U.S. to allow for Chinese subtitling.) She’s hoping that the impending expansion of the market doesn’t price hits like that out of her reach.

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