TVB is celebrating its 47th birthday today.
HKTV chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay chose the same day to launch his new television service, making it clear to everyone that he is throwing down the gauntlet to TVB.
Is the startup ready to take on the city’s top broadcaster?
In a recent commentary, Vincent Wong Wing, a media veteran and former director of Commercial Radio 1, cited some of the difficulties that HKTV needs to overcome.
For HKTV, the main challenge is to break the TV viewing habits of Hong Kong people.
Because of virtual monopoly enjoyed by TVB, most of the city’s television viewers have got used to watching 30-episode dramas on weeknights.
On the other hand, HKTV intends to present drama serials with 15 to 20 episodes each, believing that the more compact format would be better to keep viewers engaged.
This is the normal practice overseas. Hero 2, a Japanese TV drama starring singer-actor Takuya Kimura, only has 11 episodes. In some productions of the BBC, the number of episodes has been shrunk to just three. Sherlock is one typical example.
TVB dramas have often been criticized for their lack of creativity. Some people call them “soap opera for housewives”.
HKTV aims to challenge the reigning TV broadcaster by bringing in more variety and adopting themes that are attuned to the pulse of the city. The Election, one of HKTV’s prime-time programs, is a political thriller, a first of its kind in the history of Hong Kong television.
Vincent Wong said Hong Kong’s highly-charged political atmosphere, brought about by the ongoing Occupy campaign, is expected to boost the show’s ratings.
But HKTV has to be quick in adjusting its programming to the fast-changing preferences of the TV audiences, he said.
Another key challenge is money: HKTV has to be profitable to sustain the business.
According to Ricky Wong, the company has so far earned tens of millions of Hong Kong dollars in advertising revenue, but the income is still far from enough to cover production costs.
For The Borderline, one of HKTV’s prime-time offerings, the production cost is HK$1 million to HK$1.2 million per episode. The total cost of making the 17-episode drama has already hit HK$20 million.
But Ricky Wong is prepared for the battle. “I am very much into the TV business,” he told Commercial Radio in an interview on Wednesday morning.
As his TV production operation will take time to generate enough cash, Wong has thought of many ways to make money in order to support his TV business. One income source would be an e-commerce platform running alongside the regular TV programs, and this could be rolled out as early as next month.
Wong said HKTV Mall, the e-commerce businesss, is an even bigger investment than his TV operation. He has already rented a warehouse in Kowloon Bay and set up a 300-strong courier team with a fleet of 120 vans.
Over 300 merchants have joined HKTV’s e-commerce platform, providing a wide range of goods from Japanese fashion to home accessories.
“We would collect big data from our customers, such as what programs they are watching and what products they’re browsing. This data could help us promote and push related goods and information to our customers,” Wong said.
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