Shareholders controlling majority interests in Asia Television (ATV), Hong Kong’s nearly bankrupt second free-to-air TV broadcaster have agreed to sell their shares to telecoms tycoon Ricky Wong, according to reports.
The stakes were reportedly sold by mainland Chinese businessman Wong Ching and Wong Ben-koon. Wong Ching controlled 52% of ATV through Wong Ben-koon, a relative of his wife.
In February the High Court ordered the sale of a 10.75% stake in ATV, but outside bidders were hesitant, without the sale of a further 40% stake from Wong Ching.
The stake news has yet to be confirmed by the companies and financial details are unclear.
If confirmed, the news is a victory for persistence by Ricky Wong. He was very briefly chief executive of ATV in 2008, but exited after 12 days, having being caught in a dispute with then chairman Linus Cheung over restructuring plans. And in 2013 Wong was rebuffed in a bid to get a free to air license for his specially formed HKTV company.
With ATV perilously close to financial ruin, any deal will need the approval of the High Court, which had previously appointed administrators to sell a share stake. A change of ownership will also need the approval of the Communications Authority, which on Tuesday evening said that it had not yet been notified.
The Executive Council, roughly equivalent to a cabinet of ministers, said that it would hold a special meeting tomorrow (April 1) to discuss the matter.
ATV has endured a highly public meltdown over the past several months, following a dispute between shareholders and a succession of financial losses. In recent months staff have not been paid, which prompted news room staff to threaten to quit. If the company were unable to comply with its obligations on news reporting that would in turn mean that ATV is in breach of the terms of its operating license and could be closed down by government.
In addition to staff wages, the company needed to raise cash to pay its license fee and a penalty imposed by the government, amounting to a combined US$1.32 million (HK$10.2 million), that was payable in two instalments, in February and earlier this month.