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‘Link’ vs. ‘Millionaire’

TVB and ATV battle for auds with gameshows

HONG KONG — Where’s the weakest link? Hong Kong’s dueling terrestrial channels are about to find out.

On July 29, more than 2,000 people queued up in 95-degree heat outside the headquarters of TVB, the city’s dominant terrestrial operator, in the hope of securing a place in the local version of gameshow “The Weakest Link,” which hits screens Aug. 20.

TVB had stoked enthusiasm with the promise of stacks of cash, including a top nightly prize of almost $400,000. But by that sultry afternoon the besieged network was broadcasting pleas begging eager “Link” fans to stay away from the studio.

It’s encouraging stuff for TVB, whose comfortable ratings-topping position went unchallenged for decades until rival ATV started screening its version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in May.

Last month, “Millionaire,” which screens three times a week, trumped TVB’s Miss Hong Kong pageant broadcast, its first ratings defeat in 28 years.

Playing ratings game

TVB is hoping “Link” — which will screen five nights a week at 8:30 p.m., half an hour later than “Millionaire” — will catapult it back to its former dominance. Sharp-tongued local actress and celebrity Dodo Cheng will host “Link,” which has been hosted in its native U.K. and the U.S. by likewise take-no-prisoners Anne Robinson.

There’s much at stake: ATV claims advertising attracted by “Millionaire” has boosted the company’s revenue by 40%. But “Millionaire” fans have yet to catch on to other ATV shows in the same numbers. TVB still commands a 71% share of the primetime audience, with “Millionaire” grabbing a 50% share on the nights it screens.

It isn’t clear how deep-pocketed TVB missed out on the rights to “Millionaire” in the first place — the network won’t comment, although some say TVB turned it down.

Whatever the case, TVB wasn’t about to make the same mistake with “Link.” Some reports suggest it more than doubled ATV’s bid.

Together, the success of “Millionaire” and the “Link” hype represent a remarkable shift away from fluffy celebrity-based gameshows that have dominated Hong Kong television for years.

Hot on wasabi

“For the last 10 years we all believed in celebrities and visual entertainment,” says ATV program controller Danny Leung. “We’d have people eating sushi with lots of wasabi and attract lots of viewers in the 10-14 age group.”

It isn’t the first time gameshow concepts have been imported to Hong Kong. TVB program controller Stephen Chan has used formats from Brazil and Japan. Chan says audiences have “gone off celebrity formats; these things change in the same way as fashion.”

The big question now is how long the fashion for quizshows will last. Chan estimates “Link’s” five-nights-a-week screening could limit its lifespan to nine months.

ATV hopes “Millionaire” will last longer and that it holds off TVB’s dominance of the ratings for some time yet.

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