21 August 2019
Actor Wong Cho-lam proposes to his girlfriend Leanne Li during TVB's anniversary celebrations on the same night newcomer HKTV launched its internet channel. Photo: TVB
Actor Wong Cho-lam proposes to his girlfriend Leanne Li during TVB's anniversary celebrations on the same night newcomer HKTV launched its internet channel. Photo: TVB

Why TVB should be made to fight for its money

Who cares about a marriage proposal made for television?

Apparently, a lot of Hong Kong people do.

So, when actor-comedian Wong Cho-lam went on bended knee to ask for his beauty queen girlfriend’s hand in marriage, they made the show one of the most watched television programs Wednesday night.

TVB Ltd., Hong Kong’s dominant television broadcaster, naturally got a ratings boost from the anniversary special, but the biggest impact might have been on its reputation — good or bad.

Some viewers accused the station of lacking creativity for using a tired commercial formula — famous people doing personal things on TV — but others were quick to see the significance of the whole episode.

It came on the same night newcomer Hong Kong Television Network launched its much vaunted internet TV channel.

We won’t get the full picture of this head-to-head prime time clash for a while but we can tell you how the Wong Cho-lam segment went down with TVB viewers: not so well.

For decades, TVB’s anniversary specials were big television events on which viewers would wait for months. These kinds of shows were years in the making, meaning ideas and concepts were developed far ahead of time.

TVB came to be known for the depth and quality of these shows and viewers here and abroad rewarded it with their abiding loyalty.

Contrast that to viewer disaffection in recent years.

Although TVB anniversary shows still enjoy the biggest viewership share on prime time, they’re not the kind viewers used to see.

The problem is not limited to special shows. It reflects the deteriorating quality of TVB productions across the board. 

Two of the biggest complaints of viewers are lack of innovative ideas and weak plots or story lines.

That said, TVB shows continue to draw audiences and advertisers. On average, they score more than 20 rating points during prime time on weekdays.

Does that say something about audiences being resigned to slipping quality or TVB simply getting away it?

The short answer to both is yes, and the spiral must stop.

This is where HKTV, with its innovative platform and programs, can help by introducing competition, forcing incumbents to up their game.

Early indications are that the launch was a success despite some bandwidth issues due to a surge in downstream traffic.

Some viewers who could not get the HKTV live feed directly used alternative platforms such as UStream to access the channel.

From 8 p.m. to 12 a.m., UStream recorded more than 300,000 online viewers on the HKTV live signal at the same time.

Assuming each rating point is equivalent to 68,000 viewers, HKTV hauled in more than four rating points on Wednesday, beating Asia Television, Hong Kong’s smaller free-to-air TV station.

If HKTV continues to attract more than 100,000 unique viewers — small for free-to-air-broadcasters such as TVB — it can convince advertisers and performers that it is something to reckon with.

In recent years, many well-known artists and production professionals have left TVB in search of new opportunities, many discouraged by a sense of stagnation from lack of competition.

The shortage of talent is a direct result of the poor quality of TVB productions, especially its drama series. Shows like Wong Cho-lam’s marriage proposal don’t help.

Still, TVB dominates the middle to older age group, a residual legacy of its 30 years in the business, but a new generation of viewers has since emerged.

These young people have no personal experience what it was like when TVB was the best you could find. They could end up settling for what they’re served, rather than what their market should be offered by a competitive TV industry.

TVB should compete again for its own good and for the good of consumers.

I’m glad there’s HKTV to give it a run for its money.

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EJ Insight writer

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