Battered in its home market in Hong Kong, the once dominant free-to-air TV broadcaster Television Broadcasts (TVB) is eyeing further expansion of its international OTT platform through the co-production of drama series. It also wants a piece of the Asian e-commerce market.
The company was once one of the leading broadcasters in Asia and owns perhaps the largest library of Chinese-language content. But it has often been criticized for not doing enough to exploit that content or the leverage it provides. Things may now be changing.
Desmond Chan, TVB’s deputy GM, who oversees the broadcaster’s legal and international operations, told Variety that the company is planning to co-produce drama series with local partners in Thailand and Vietnam to boost the proportion of new original content on TVB Anywhere, TVB’s global OTT platform.
TVB Anywhere currently carries the broadcaster’s own productions dubbed in local languages. To freshen things up it needs original and local content. Co-production explorations in Thailand and Vietnam have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
TVB group income from new media, including local OTT platform myTV SUPER and Big Big Channel businesses, was up by 17% year-on-year in 2019. TVB Anywhere, which relies on paying subscriptions, had a registered user base of more than 13.7 million worldwide at the end of last year.
TVB has used its digital platforms to grow e-commerce within Hong Kong. Now it sees room to duplicate that in Southeast Asia, though it has not locked in partner companies.
Despite the weakness of its Hong Kong FTA competitors, TVB has also had a rough time. Group revenue fell by 18% in 2019 to $465 million (HK$3.65 billion), with ad revenue dropping by 22%. It blamed Hong Kong’s economic contraction and the social unrest that dogged the city since June 2019. It also had to write off $42 million after a bond investment in SMI Holdings went sour.
In December it laid off 350 staff, or 10% of its workforce. Former chairman Charles Chan stepped down in February and company directors Raymond Or and Cheong Shin Keong resigned in January.
Its woes may not be over. Pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong allege that TVB’s news coverage has become biased in favor of pro-Beijing factions, and have called for brands to take their advertising elsewhere. Group CEO Mark Lee insists that the boycott had “limited impact” and that TVB retains an 85% share of the local free TV advertising market.