21 September 2019
ATV has sold off 28 series it produced, including its popular vampire series. Photo: HKEJ, YouTube
ATV has sold off 28 series it produced, including its popular vampire series. Photo: HKEJ, YouTube

Last struggles of ailing ATV

Can anyone figure out what is happening at the ailing station Asia Television (ATV) Ltd.?

Its latest deal is to dispose of 28 TV series (including a vampire series and the famous drama I Have a Date With Spring, for a total of 840 hours) to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox International Channels in another move to wind down the business, which will come to an end next April when ATV is required to return its broadcasting license.

The deal came just in time to pay off the outstanding salaries for April of its 700 staff.

ATV has not been able to pay its staff on time in the past two years.

Interestingly, the continuing disposals did not cheer up the staff, who are worried that as the station sells off the titles it produced, it may not have enough left for its remaining time in business.

It is hard to know what ATV’s behind-the-scenes owner Wong Ching has for a survival plan.

He seems to be talking to many suitors, yet none of them have been serious.

This week, news emerged that a Shandong businessman may be willing to buy ATV and attempt to continue its operations by applying for a fresh free-to-air TV license.

But this seemed novel, given that there is no guarantee anyone will get a free-to-air TV license in Hong Kong.

Just ask Ricky Wong Wai-kay, who has been waiting for three years in the hope that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his Executive Council will reverse their decision and give him a license for his Hong Kong Television Network Ltd. (HKTV, 01137.HK).

Well, even at this crucial time, ATV, whose owner claimed in late March that Ricky Wong had agreed to buy the station – which was proven to be untrue — turned down a HK$5 million-a-month deal to broadcast drama series produced by HKTV.

Kelvin Wu King-shiu of AID Partners Capital Holdings Ltd. (08088.HK), who signed a conditional offer to buy ATV just before the Exco decision to take back its broadcasting license, has said there is no ongoing discussion with the station.

Now what about former ATV executive director James Shing Pan-yu, a relative of Wong Ching?

Shing, along with TV veteran Tsui Siu Ming, resigned from the board of China Trends Holdings Ltd. (08171.HK) Thursday after merely five weeks.

Their departure is a mystery but may not be a good sign for ATV, either.

What other choices does ATV really have?

One option is to work with the new consortium set up by David Chiu Tat-cheong of Far East Holdings International Ltd. (00036.HK) – son of ATV’s late founder Deacon Chiu Te-ken – who teamed up with his friend Pansy Ho Chiu-king of Shun Tak Holdings Ltd. (00242.HK) and two other partners, from Guangzhou and Beijing, to enter the local TV market.

The consortium, Forever Top (Asia), which appears to be a government-friendly group, showed a willingness to hire staff from ATV should its owner decide to pull the plug.

As with other dramas, ATV’s own will have an unpredictable ending.

Based on what we have seen in the past year, the station will only keep people guessing.

So grab a chair and watch the show.

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EJ Insight writer