Date
19 November 2017
A netizen created ThisATV, an imitation of the famous adult website ThisAV, to mock the troubled pro-Beijing TV channel. Mainland tycoon Wong Ching (inset) owns a majority stake in ATV. Photo: Thisatv.com, Caixin
A netizen created ThisATV, an imitation of the famous adult website ThisAV, to mock the troubled pro-Beijing TV channel. Mainland tycoon Wong Ching (inset) owns a majority stake in ATV. Photo: Thisatv.com, Caixin

ATV may be just days away from final sign-off

Unless another white knight comes along, we could be seeing the last of ATV in a few days.

That’s straight out of Wong Chin, the mainland tycoon who owns a majority stake in the troubled broadcaster.

Wong confirmed that the latest talks on a potential acquisition have broken down, with the last of the white knights walking away on Saturday.

In a few days, the 58-year-old station which styles itself as a livelier alternative to dominant rival TVB will be history, according to Wong.

I have no reason to doubt him but it’s possible he is trying to buy some time. If there is anyone who would hold out hope to the last minute, it would be Wong, who stands to lose more than HK$1 billion (US$129 million) if ATV folds.

Time, unfortunately, is not on his side.

In an interview with Caixin, a China financial portal, he said two buyers walked away but did not say who.

Pressed for an answer, he said they’re neither Galaxy Entertainment chairman Lui Chee woo, Emperor Group chairman Albert Yeung nor HKTV founder Ricky Wong.

He did say that the first buyer was a family who used to run ATV.

The family offered to buy 90 percent of the broadcaster for HK$200 million while forgoing HK$1.6 billion in debt. The second buyer, representing a mainland tycoon, put forward a HK$300 million offer — HK$200 million in assumed debt and HK$100 million for the stock.

Wong described the offers as “totally unworkable”.

Wong said he is on the hook for HK$1.8 billion in advances to the cash-strapped broadcaster but will accept a 50 percent haircut, or HK$900 million. 

The figure was earlier challenged by a High Court-appointed auditor from Deloitte China who said it was too high for a company with no guarantee of license renewal after November when the permit was up.

November has come and gone but ATV continues to live on borrowed time.

Just how much will it take to buy ATV?

Former executive director James Shing estimates at least HK$1.3 billion. That would cover the HK$900 million owed to Wong, HK$230 million for the 52.4 per cent of the stock held by major shareholder Wong Ben-koon, a relative of Wong, and a first-year operating budget of HK$168 million.

Shing, Wong’s protege, said HK$200 million or HK$300 million would be a steal and many buyers would line up to buy ATV at those prices.

The station owns lucrative broadcasting rights in a 100 million-strong market in Guangdong, he said.

We are not sure how a deal can be struck with a HK$1 billion difference between the bid and offer prices.

But we know ATV has been struggling to cover its HK$14 million monthly payroll for its 700 employees and salaries are months behind.

ATV is critically ill but not dead yet.

Those who believe in Easter and resurrection could be forgiven for believing ATV will rise again.

Then again, everything hinges on whether Wong, who holds its fate in his hands, would want it to live or die.

– Contact us at [email protected]

BK/JP/RA

EJ Insight writer

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