Hong Kong

Establishment plays it safe as Ricky Wong and Hong Kong Television Network are shut out

HONG KONG — New free-TV broadcast licenses were Tuesday awarded to Hong Kong’s two pay-TV platform operators. But Hong Kong Television Network, the company which has been doing the most to break into the territory’s broadcasting sector, was denied a permit.

The HK government made approvals in principle to Fantastic Television (Fantastic TV) backed by cable TV operator I-Cable, and to Hong Kong Television Entertainment (HKTVE), backed by PCCW, the telecoms and IPTV group.

“[The decision] introduce[s] competition and increase[s] program choice and diversity, but at the same time minimizes the risk of any possible adverse impact on the free TV market as a whole,” said Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Gregory So.

Both groups are expected to have one new channel up and running within a year of the licenses being granted formally. Both plan further channel launches in the following year. Fantastic TV is committed to investing over $129 million (HK$1 billion) in the initial six years from launch. HKTVE will invest over $77.4 million (HK$600 million) in the initial three years from launch.

“We believe that Fantastic TV and HKTVE, will facilitate the bringing in of additional investments into local program production. This will not only provide more program choices for the audience, but also create more job opportunities in the creative industries,” So said.

Hong Kong currently has two ad-supported free TV groups, the dominant Television Broadcasts (TVB) and perennially struggling Asia Television (ATV), which both opposed the grant of new licenses. Digital terrestrial broadcasting was also launched the territory in late 2007.
While only two out of three free TV license applications were approved, So stressed that the government may allow other free TV operators later. The government statement gave no explanation of the reasons for rejecting City Telecom’s bid.

Its list of conditions for license approval included observations from the Communications Authority, “an assessment of the relative competitiveness of each applicant, public views received, the government’s prevailing broadcasting policy, and the public interest.”

Hong Kong Television Network, and its colorful founder and CEO Ricky Wong have been agitating for several years about an expansion of Hong Kong’s broadcast scene beyond the politically-correct incumbents. Wong has headed City Telecom, one of the largest internet service providers and one of the largest IDD suppliers in the territory, he and his companies have communications industry experience and infrastructure to lean on.

Wong managed to become head of ATV in December 2008, but his tenure lasted just 12 days, and included a scandal over the Miss Hong Kong pageant, the threat of management interference in news, and a statement from Wong that the channel should not act as if it belonged to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

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