ATV Officially Shuts Down
On March 3, a Hong Kong court ruled liquidators to immediately pull the plug on ATV, the world’s oldest Chinese-language television station. The accounting firm Deloitte, ATV’s appointed liquidator, will be formally handing out termination letters to ATV employees on the morning of Friday, March 4. This announcement marks the official end of ATV, which has been running for 58 years and 280 days.
Precarious financial situations has haunted ATV for many years. In October 2011, the beleaguered Hong Kong station officially filed for bankruptcy, and in the early months of 2015, ATV was repeatedly penalized by the government for failing to pay both their staff and their broadcast license fee, a move that subsequently cost ATV to lose their free-to-air permit. ATV’s digital broadcast spectrum will be replaced by the new free station ViuTV on April 2. ViuTV will officially hit airwaves on April 6.
Days ago, ATV’s major creditor, Wong Ching (王征), sought for the broadcaster’s liquidation. As ATV’s provisional liquidator, Deloitte terminated ATV’s employment contracts on Monday, February 29, and requested for the broadcaster’s closing. This decision was initially met with protest by ATV investors. The court then asked ATV’s major mainland investor, Si Rongbin (司榮彬), to enter a dialogue with Deloitte to discuss about the station’s future and funds, but the two parties failed to come to an agreement, prompting the court to give Deloitte the green-light to dismiss ATV’s remaining 400 staff members and liquidation.
Though all 400 staff members would be officially laid off on Friday, Deloitte clarified on Thursday evening that they would retain some of ATV’s technical, security, and accountant staff to figure out how to shut down ATV’s broadcasting transmissions. Although they are unsure when ATV would be off air, it would definitely be before April 1, when ATV’s free-to-air license officially expires.
Derek Lai (黎嘉恩), Deloitte’s managing partner which is in charge of ATV’s liquidation, said he was not expecting ATV’s ending to come to this. Nonetheless, Lai said the dismissed staff can claim compensation from the assets left behind the liquidation, and can apply for the Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund to retrieve owed wages.
ATV: Six Decades of History
ATV’s former name, Rediffusion Television (RTV, 麗的呼聲), officially launched on May 29, 1957 by its English parent company, Rediffusion. As Hong Kong’s first wired television station, users needed to pay a $25 HKD installation fee and a $10 HKD monthly fee to watch RTV programs.
RTV’s first rival station, TVB (無綫電視), officially commenced broadcasting on November 19, 1967. To compete against TVB, which was Hong Kong’s first free-to-air broadcaster, RTV underwent a name change (麗的電視) and launched its own free-to-air station on December 1, 1973. Two years later, another free-to-air broadcaster, Commercial Television (佳藝電視) was launched, but it ended in bankruptcy in 1978. RTV and TVB ruled as Hong Kong’s two only free-to-air broadcasters for the next few decades.
In June 1982, businessman Deacon Chiu (邱德根) bought RTV and renamed it to Asia Television (ATV). ATV’s first artiste training class was established in 1983; among the first class of graduates included Anthony Wong (黃秋生).
ATV went through a series of ownership changes for the next few decades. In 1989, businessman Lim Por-yen (林百欣) became the biggest shareholder of ATV, ending Deacon Chiu’s seven-year reign. ATV recruited many TVB artists over to their network during this time; the higher pay in ATV artist contracts successfully caught the attention of Eric Tsang (曾志偉), Felix Wong (黃日華), Sheren Tang (鄧萃雯), and Lawrence Ng (吳啟華), who said his salary at ATV was ten times more than at TVB.
Despite being known as the world’s first Chinese-language broadcaster, ATV failed to attract avid followers like TVB. While TVB continued to garner strong ratings, ATV’s viewership plummeted, and it further declined to the single digits in the late 2000’s. The numerous high-level management shifts in the last decade negatively impacted ATV’s business and stronghold in the industry. The turbulent political situation eventually forced ATV to cease in-house productions, leading to its demise.
ATV’s Past Glories
ATV (then still RTV) entered a period of great success following the inclusion of Wong Shek-chiu (黃錫照) as the broadcaster’s first ethnic Chinese general manager in 1975. Wong took the risk of using newcoming producers such as Johnny Mak (麥當雄) and Lee Siu-hung (李兆熊) to create television serial dramas for the network, and their productions such as Ten Cases <十大奇案>, Reincarnated <天蠶變>, Fatherland <大地恩情>, and Crocodile Tears <鱷魚淚> became instant classics in Hong Kong. 1979’s Reincarnated became such a big hit that TVB suffered a huge blow in viewership ratings on their part, prompting TVB to discontinue their own programs that were broadcasting around the same time. 1980’s Fatherland, which starred David Lau (劉志榮), Pat Poon (潘志文), and Elliot Ngok (岳華), grabbed 60 percent of total viewership ratings during its time slot, forcing TVB to cancel the weekday broadcast of serial drama Five Easy Pieces <輪流轉>, a show that featured superstars Adam Cheng (鄭少秋), Carol Cheng (鄭裕玲), and Louise Lee (李司棋). The Hong Kong television industry was at its most competitive and healthiest age during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
ATV was at its peak in numbers during the era of Lim Por-yen, who was ATV’s major stakeholder from 1989 to 1998. ATV had over 2,700 employees with over 400 contracted artistes at the time. The in-house dramas produced by ATV in the late 1990s to early 2000s, including Flaming Brothers <縱橫四海> and My Date with a Vampire <我和殭屍個約會>, got as popular as their TVB contemporaries. Flaming Brothers even managed an average rating of 25 points during its final week, defeating TVB’s ratings. ATV’s variety shows also found success around this time; among them was ATV’s most popular program Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? <百萬富翁>, which reached a peak of 39 points.
This article is written by Addy for JayneStars.com.