The Hong Kong government granted approval for two new free television broadcasting licenses to i-Cable’s Fantastic TV and PCCW’s HK Television Entertainment Company yesterday. In a surprise move, the government rejected the third license applicant, Ricky Wong’s (王維基) HKTV. Without clear explanation of why it approved only two out of the three license applications, the government’s decision quickly aroused public protest.
For years, TVB’s monopolistic position in the Hong Kong television broadcasting market remained unrivaled, with little competition from the flailing ATV. The 2009 Hong Kong Broadcasting Authority forum raised questions about the stations’ self-censorship practices, and later escalated into public outcry that the monopoly gave viewers little choice and low quality television programs. That same year, the Broadcasting Authority announced that it welcomed cable and satellite companies to apply for free broadcasting licenses to inject greater competition into the market.
Through 2011, the Broadcasting Authority received three free broadcasting licenses from HKTV, i-Cable’s Fantastic TV, and Richard Li’s (李泽楷) PCCW’s HK Television Entertainment Company. TVB challenged the license applications, citing that the Hong Kong market is too small to support additional free television stations as the universe of advertising revenue has fundamentally not grown. Although originally scheduled to make a decision by 2012, the government extended its license review process and delayed its decision by nearly a year.
Executive Council’s Decision is Final; No Appeals Will Be Heard
Secretary of the Commerce and Economic Development, Greg So (蘇錦樑), revealed that the Executive Council’s decision to approve only two of the license applications is final and there will not be any appeal mechanisms. The Executive Council took into account the consultant’s report, which advised that the local Hong Kong market can only sustain four free broadcasting television stations. Greg So said the review process was fair and based on the companies’ financial capacity, competitive assessment, public interest and programming options; he emphasized the decision was not motivated by any political factors.
Among the three license applications received, HKTV’s submission was cited to be the weakest, although it pledged to invest $1 billion HKD. In the next six years, i-Cable’s Fantastic TV will invest $1 billion HKD into its free broadcasting operations, and PCCW’s HK Television Entertainment Company will invest $600 million HKD. The government will conduct a mid-term review over its licensees six years later.
As for Ricky Wong pouring nearly $300 million HKD in HKTV operations to produce dramas in anticipation of the government’s approval, Greg So said that it was HKTV’s own investment decision. Asked about HKTV’s future chances in receiving a broadcasting license, Greg So replied that the government will continue to assess the local broadcasting market in future years.
Public Rallies Protest
Public outcry arose against the government’s rejection of HKTV’s license application. HKTV had pledged to produce high-quality dramas, and enticed viewers with preview clips of their completed projects. A Facebook page rallying support for HKTV attracted more than 248,000 people who protested the government’s decision. Netizens cried that the public has tolerated only two television stations for years and wished to choose a station of their own choice. The group plans to hold an online protest on Sunday.
This article is written by Jayne for JayneStars.com.