Ricky Wong Wai-kay finally has something to really cheer about.
After being thwarted in his bid to secure a free-to-air television license in Hong Kong last year, the boss of Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) has now secured a crucial deal with Chinese internet giant Tencent that will allow him to spread his wings.
According to a statement late Wednesday, Tencent has acquired the rights to broadcast HKTV dramas and other content on the Chinese firm’s online video portal, which reaches millions of internet users in the mainland.
For Wong, the deal is significant as it not only allows HKTV — which will start broadcasting TV programs over the internet later this month — to boost its viewership, it also marks an important opening in relations with Chinese authorities.
When HKTV was denied a free-to-air license by the Hong Kong government in 2013, some observers had wondered whether the central government had played a part in the decision of the Leung Chun-ying administration.
But now, the partnership with Tencent — which could not have come without Chinese government blessing, will put to rest such speculation and will offer a chance for Wong to build stronger ties in China.
Given that all internet media, including Tencent, are closely monitored and controlled by the government regulator, the nod for the new partnership suggests that authorities have watched some of the HKTV productions and have had no problems with the content.
The China factor may also explain why Wong kept a low profile in the past few months even as Hong Kong was caught up in a fierce debate over the Occupy pro-democracy campaign.
The HKTV chief refused to give any public backing to the student protesters, saying that as the chairman of a listed company he cannot join any civil disobedience campaign.
HKTV was the most aggressive applicant in the Hong Kong TV license process last year, committing hundreds of millions of dollars to content production and capital investment. But the government rejected the bid, saying HKTV’s plan could harm the local television market.
It’s still not clear why Leung made the decision. But media reports have recently suggested that Leung’s close ties with the Cha family, which is a key shareholder in Asia Television — one of Hong Kong’s two terrestrial TV broadcasters, could be the reason. Leung may have chosen to protect the incumbents, rather than expanding the viewing choices for the public, critics say.
Now, coming back to the HKTV-Tencent partnership, some people worry whether HKTV will tailor the content to meet the tastes of mainland viewers, rather than catering to Hongkongers.
But such fears may not be warranted. The reality is that many Chinese viewers want to watch original Hong Kong style productions, a thing that is borne out by the popularity TVB’s programs.
Television Broadcasts Ltd. (TVB) is Hong Kong’s dominant terrestrial broadcaster and a rival of ATV.
The Tencent agreement marks the second deal secured by HKTV after it inked a similar partnership with Malaysian broadcaster Astro. Under the Malaysian deal, HKTV productions will go to Astro TV viewers from Nov. 18, one day before HKTV officially launches its internet broadcasts.
HKTV’s official Nov. 19 launch schedule coincides with TVB’s anniversary. By choosing that particular launch date, Wong has signaled that he hasn’t given up on his dream of breaking the virtual monopoly of the existing players in the TV broadcast market.
Riding on internet technology, HKTV will be broadcasting via fixed line and mobile broadband network to various devices such as PC screens, smart TVs, smartphones and tablet computers. As it will be using internet as the transmission channel, it doesn’t need to obtain a government license.
Wong may have the last laugh, after all.
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