Most Hong Kong people believe Asia Television (ATV) has completed its “historical duty” as a free TV broadcaster and should make way for other players to bring in investment and innovation to rejuvenate a dull and uninspiring industry.
Over the past decade, the incumbent broadcaster has failed to meet the demand of viewers for high-quality programs owing to shareholder conflicts.
On Monday, speculation emerged that the Office of the Communications Authority, the city’s media regulator, may not renew ATV’s license, citing its poor corporate governance, lack of sufficient financial support as well as weak competitiveness in the local media market.
ATV on Monday night listed three points in response to the speculation.
1. ATV has full confidence in the license renewal. Hong Kong shouldn’t be without ATV. The broadcaster has almost achieved its capital investment commitment of HK$2.3 billion from 2010 to 2015, and it has committed to further invest HK$2.7 billion between 2016 and 2021.
2. ATV will continue to produce high-quality programs to be the witness of Hong Kong’s democratic development.
3. A series of entertainment shows including the Miss Asia and Mister Asia pageants, as well as infotainment programs such as 7 Million Voices and Outstanding Manufacturers in Hong Kong. ATV will also kick off joint-production drama series in the future to beef up its self-produced program line-up.
ATV has been losing its market position in the Hong Kong media industry in tandem with the merry-go-round among its shareholders in the past decade.
Its control has changed hands from garment tycoon Lim Por-yen to Phoenix TV boss Liu Changle to Mingly Corp’s Cha’s family to Taiwan snack food tycoon Tsai Eng-meng to China property tycoon Wang Zheng and now Prosperity International Holdings (H.K.) chairman Wong Ben-koon.
All these shareholders failed to improve the broadcaster’s performance to challenge the dominance of Television Broadcasts.
Some shareholders like Cha, Tsai and Wang were embroiled in several legal battles regarding funding ATV, which inevitably disrupted the broadcaster’s operation.
ATV’s clear political stance as a flagship TV medium for the pro-Beijing camp could be a problem, too, as its owners, consultants and advertisers have close links to Chinese political figures.
It is seen to be serving the interests of Chinese authorities rather than Hong Kong people.
For example, two out of its six channels are simulcasting China state-owned TV channels like China Central Television.
Such an arrangement is a waste of scarce spectrum resources. ATV should return its spare spectrum capacity to the government, so as to allow other broadcasters to enter into the market.
It doesn’t make sense for ATV to carry Chinese television channels for free unless it is for political reasons.
In 2012, an ATV commentary attracted a record of more than 10,000 complaints for claiming opponents of national education were manipulated by “destructive” politicians who had the backing of London and Washington in the Legislative Council elections.
Should ATV remain in the market, rival Television Broadcasts will continue to produce low-quality programs to fill in their time slots for advertisers but not to compete with ATV and other pay television operators.
That could further pull down Hong Kong’s position in the regional entertainment sector which has been dominated by Korean pop culture in recent years.
The time is ripe for the Hong Kong government not to renew ATV’s license when it expires next year.
Other investors should be given a shot in the free television market.
Ricky Wong’s Hong Kong Television Network is a keen candidate.
No matter whether the newcomers are pro-Beijing or pro-democrats, competition can only boost the industry.
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