26 March 2019
TVB has drawn criticism over the 'Journey to the West' drama series, but can take comfort from the high ratings.
TVB has drawn criticism over the 'Journey to the West' drama series, but can take comfort from the high ratings.

TVB under fire over China drama series

Hong Kong people are spoilt for choice in terms of entertainment, with the options ranging from playing video games to watching Korean drama series through the Xiaomi Box at home. But even as the new media finds ready takers, television is still a major preoccupation for many, which explains a debate raging now about the programming choices of local station Television Broadcasts (00511.HK).

The company, one of the two existing terrestrial TV broadcasters in the city, has come under fire from a section of the public for a decision to air a mainland China produced drama series ‘The Journey to the West’ during prime time, with critics describing the move as not being in the interests of Hong Kong and local culture.

As the mainland drama series is occupying a key time slot that had originally been earmarked for a local production starring popular artist Wayne Lai, TVB’s decision has drawn sharp criticism from some people.

In online forums, netizens said the broadcaster’s selection of the China-produced drama series would mean exerting a subtle influence on locals to follow mainland China culture, rather than maintain the distinct Hong Kong style.

The Office of the Communications Authority, the city’s media regulator, received 27 complaints on the series, with people questioning various aspects including computer graphic effects and the make-up of the artists.

However, going by the ratings, TVB does not appear to have much cause for worry. The broadcaster said the first episode of The Journey to the West achieved an average 25 rating points on Monday, with the highest rating at 26 points. A rating point represents 65,000 people; so it means a total of 1.62 million Hong Kong people watched the first episode.

If the ratings figure is accurate, many people are still sticking with TVB for night-time entertainment, and the critics of the China-produced drama series are still in a minority compared to the vast mass of viewers.

The rating result, indeed, offers a vindication of TVB’s decision to air the series, which has been directed by well-known Chinese director Zhang Zhizhong. The series’ computer graphics were designed by the same team that was involved in the Lord of the Rings movie series. Total production cost is said to have been over 100 million yuan.

It’s not the first time that TVB has put foreign produced drama series into its prime time program line up. Many foreign titles have in fact received higher ratings than local Hong Kong productions. For example, Korean drama series ‘Jewel in the Palace’ starring Lee Young Ae achieved a record rating of 50 points for its last episode in 2005.

Given this track record, TVB’s management could consider airing ‘My Love from the Star’, one of the hottest South Korean drama series, on its free channel rather than put it on the pay TV channel. Broadcast on the regular free channel would mean higher ratings and more advertising dollars.

The criticism surrounding The Journey to the West may not be on the production itself, but directed rather from a political perspective, given the escalating cultural conflict between China and Hong Kong people in recent years following an influx of mainland tourists into the city.

There has been mounting tension in society, with Hongkongers having many grievances about mainlanders. Locals accuse the ‘locusts’ of sweeping up vital daily necessities from the city’s chain stores, causing shortages for Hong Kong people, and also blame the people from across the border for a rise in prices of property and other things.

Fingers are also pointed at the lack of manners and public hygiene of the tourists. The mainlanders, meanwhile, accuse Hong Kong people of having a discriminatory attitude. 

While the culture of Hong Kong and China is certainly not the same, observers point out that Hong Kong people have begun to slowly change their tastes to accept China style products, programs and culture. For example, more than 10,000 units of Xiaomi Technology’s smartphone were sold to Hong Kong people within minutes after an online sales launch.

A singing contest on the Hunan Satellite TV channel has also been the talk of the town earlier this month as a Hong Kong singer took the runner-up position. The event shows that Hong Kong people are beginning to accept Chinese style and culture, and that the integration between the two sides will continue.

– Contact HKEJ at [email protected]



EJ Insight writer

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