26 October 2016
Does the government have a special agenda for TVB? Photo: HKEJ
Does the government have a special agenda for TVB? Photo: HKEJ

Is TVB turning into CCTVB?

It’s not surprising that the government renewed the free-to-air television license for Television Broadcasts Ltd. for another 12 years until 2027.

But it seems that the government has the agenda of incubating TVB as an “official” broadcaster, just like CCTV in mainland China.

Otherwise, why did it grant the station the right to use half the city’s television spectrum for free and without any bidding process?

The decision gave rise to concern among the public that the government is losing its neutrality, helping TVB to cement its dominant position in the free TV market after its smaller rival, Asia Television Ltd., has been forced to shut down by April next year by the government’s decision not to renew its license.

As TVB will be the only free TV broadcaster after ATV makes its exit, Hongkongers will have no choice but to watch TVB or to switch off the set if they do not subscribe to a pay-TV service.

TVB provides five channels to more than two million homes.

There are two traditional analog and digital simulcasting channels, the Chinese-language Jade channel and the English-language Pearl channel, as well as three digital-only channels: J2, iNews and HD Jade.

All these channels broadcast over the air, and audiences do not need additional equipment to receive them.

The government originally assigned the digital terrestrial TV broadcasting spectrum equally between ATV and TVB in 2007 in a push for the digitisation of free TV.

As ATV will be shut down by next year, the government has said the portion of the spectrum for digital broadcasting given up by ATV will be made available for application as soon as possible, and new free TV licensees like Hong Kong Television Entertainment will be qualified to apply.

ATV’s analog spectrum will be assigned to government-controlled Radio Television Hong Kong.

However, in renewing TVB’s license, the government has assigned the use of half the digital spectrum to TVB for free without any bidding process.

This indicates the government has changed its policy for the efficient use of scarce spectrum resources, creating unfair competition between the station and newcomers in the market.

The government argued that a free-to-air television service performs a unique social function and is related to the public interest, so it is not appropriate for the TV spectrum to be allocated by auction.

It’s fine for the government to protect the public interest in watching free TV, but the fact is that TVB has occupied too much spectrum, and the government is creating a relatively high entry barrier for the local television market, discouraging other investors from stepping into the underserved market.

In the past few years, the government has done many things to discourage the development of the city’s TV industry.

One of the most well-known cases is the rejection of the license application by Ricky Wong’s Hong Kong Television Network.

The decision sent hundreds of thousands of Honglongers into the streets to defend their right to choose a better free television service.

This time, the granting of half of the city’s digital TV spectrum for free TV exclusively for TVB’s use in the next 12 years means that newcomers will never catch up with TVB in channel offerings, since all of them can only share the remaining half of the spectrum.

TVB is no doubt in the best position to dominate the market, even though more people are turning to other channels for entertainment, such as online and mobile video.

From the perspective of the central and Hong Kong governments, free TV is not only a business.

It’s a propaganda tool to assist the government in implementing its policies.

Surveys show 65 percent of Hongkongers still watch TV while having their dinner, and they mostly watch TVB.

The government will try its best to occupy such an important platform to promote its policies to the public. That’s the reason why the government offered TVB such a sweet deal.

TVB is still an influential media platform in the local community, especially the grass roots with a limited choice of entertainment at home.

With the protection of government policy, as well as the recent participation of a pro-Beijing investor, it is quite clear that TVB has transformed itself into a government-friendly broadcaster, which deserves the name local internet users have given it: “CCTVB”.

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EJ Insight writer

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