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Hong Kong’s new webs bring variety to TV

Five new pay operators to enter field within two years

HONG KONG Competition between the terrestrial networks TVB and ATV, until quite recently, meant having almost identical primetime programming schedules. Not anymore.

With five new pay TV operators — Hong Kong Network TV, Britain’s pay TV operator Elmsdale, Star’s DTV, the Taiwanese-owned Pacific Digital Media (HK). and TVB’s satellite broadcasting arm — entering the market within the next two years, variety is the latest buzzword.

For the two free-to-air TV operators, it’s time for a reality check. Taking the lead is ATV’s English-lingo World channel, which last year replaced its long-time primetime movie slot with alternative shows.

“The movies became so expensive our advertising revenue was not covering the cost,” controller Hung Shuen Shuen recalls. “Also, with the availability of HBO (on cable TV), VCDs and DVDs, by the time we got around to showing our feature, it looked really dated.”

Along with popular drama series such as “Ally McBeal,” “The Practice” and “Chicago Hope,” ATV favors documentaries from Discovery and National Geographic, and infotainment programs from the U.K. such as Channel 4’s “Snoop” and Brite’s “Pets From Hell.”

The network also piloted “Survivor,” which hit Hong Kong earlier this month, to see whether reality shows will go down locally as well as they have in the West.

“Not all reality shows will suit local taste,” Hung warns. “The European show ‘Big Brother,’ for instance, will not be popular here because a lot of us will find the whole exercise quite pointless. But we are certainly on the look out for these kinds of alternative programs.”

TVB’s Pearl, with its greater financial muscles, will continue to buy Hollywood blockbusters and high rating shows like “The X-Files,” “The West Wing,” “ER,” “NYPD Blue” and “Friends”. But it is considering purchasing lifestyle programs and, possibly, an overseas version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”.

Controller, program and external affairs divisions, Stephen Chan stresses it is local audience demand, not world trends that dictates the channel’s programming schedule.

“What we want to achieve is variety and balanced programming. Apart from movies, we also want to offer shows like BBC’s “Walking With Dinosaurs,” which was a huge success here,” he says.

For their Cantonese channels, TVB’s Jade will continue to focus on producing its own content such as drama series while ATV’s Home is setting up almost all of its primetime shows to independent production houses like Star East and Emperor Movie Group.

With a new broadcasting ordinance now in effect with a clause on anti-competitive conduct, local artists will be free to appear on more than one TV network. MTV is first to welcome this change as the network has, until now, been having difficulties in featuring a majority of Canto-pop singers who are signed to TVB.

“What it does is that it will free up the musicvideos of the artists that are created by the record companies but are not bound by this exclusivity (to TV) any more,” says Harry Hui, managing director of MTV North Asia. “The artists will also be allowed to appear on other channels and so we feel this is a very good opportunity for us to promote Hong Kong artists not only in Hong Kong but also throughout Asia.”

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