22 February 2019
I-Cable has pointed out the free-to-air TV business carries its own risks and challenges. Photo: Bloomberg
I-Cable has pointed out the free-to-air TV business carries its own risks and challenges. Photo: Bloomberg

Win-win solution in the air for new HK free-TV players

Hong Kong’s Communications Authority has sent over the document drafts for free-to-air television licensing to the Department of Justice, with a public consultation on the terms and conditions coming next, Commerce Secretary Gregory So said previously.

In October last year, the government granted initial approvals for awarding free-TV licenses to Fantastic Television Ltd., a unit of I-CABLE Communications Ltd. (01097.HK); and HK Television Entertainment Co., a PCCW Ltd. (00008.HK) subsidiary. However, it rejected an application from a third contender — Hong Kong Television Network Ltd. (01137.HK, HKTN).

The Hong Kong Economic Journal’s EJ Tactics column examines how HKTN can find a role to play in the current situation.

What’s worth noticing is that the two designated licensees have yet to make any move in hiring and investing for the new business. And it is not without reason.

I-Cable tried to boost its production team previously and soon decided to back down. Many talents once nourished by the company have joined other TV stations.

In the latest annual report, the company played down the positive impact of free-TV business and said the operation carries its own risks and challenges. The comments seem to suggest that the chances of successfully securing a final go-ahead in the coming six months are swiftly receding.

Have tried and met some tough hurdles, it seems I-Cable is not keen on investing to boost its production capability. HKTN, meanwhile, is desperately looking for ways to launch its channels as soon as possible, having already sunk in some serious money.

Judging from the fact that potential licensees are so reluctant to invest in production, while a station with not much hope of a license is putting all efforts to find a way for its debut, a win-win solution would be for HKTN to supply content to license holders through some sort of joint venture or outsourcing agreement.

Rumors of such an initiative are, in fact, already flying in the market. No wonder, I-Cable shares surged from 70 Hong Kong cents (9.02 US cents) to over HK$1 in recent sessions.

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