Last week we noted that as local free-to-air television channels are getting increasingly reluctant to bid for the broadcast rights for major international sports events due to their soaring prices, there have been mounting calls for the cash-flush government to buy these rights using public money.
So far, however, the government’s response has been lukewarm.
But it is understood that the administration has actually seriously studied the feasibility of this suggestion and has even informally consulted local private TV networks about it.
Quite to the administration’s surprise, not all the broadcasters welcomed the idea. Some were pretty much against any form of government intervention on the grounds that it might prevent them from getting more viewers and hamper their brand-building efforts.
Besides, according to government sources, there are also concerns that the government might draw accusations of transferring benefits to the most-watched TV station, which has a lopsided advantage over competitors in terms of viewership ratings.
Meanwhile, if the government considers buying TV rights for major international sports tournaments through RTHK, it might also be accused of competing with the private sector for profit.
Another concern is that once the government starts bringing live coverage of, say, the Olympics, the World Cup or the Asian Games, it could simply boost public appetite for more free broadcasts, thereby opening the floodgates to other popular sports tournaments and games such as the English Premier League and the NBA.
Given all the above concerns, the government has finally decided not to intervene on the issue of TV rights.
Luckily, local free-to-air TV stations have already bought the broadcast rights to two large sporting events this year, the recently concluded FIFA World Cup and the upcoming Asian Games.
Thanks to that, the government might be very thankful that it can shelve the idea of buying TV rights at least temporarily in order to avoid stirring up further controversies.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 31
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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