As prices have soared for broadcast rights of major international sporting events in recent years, privately owned free-to-air TV networks in Hong Kong have become increasingly reluctant to spend money on such programming.
As a result, on many occasions, local viewers can only watch those events on subscription TV.
Hongkongers would probably not have been able to enjoy free live coverage of the Asian Games 2018, which will kick off in Indonesia on Aug. 18, if Fantastic TV hadn’t stepped in and bought the broadcast rights at the last minute.
Over the years there have been calls among society for the government, or the city’s public broadcaster RTHK, to acquire TV rights of major international sport tournaments, like Beijing does, so that TV viewers can watch them for free.
Yet the government has reiterated that it has no intention whatsoever to change the existing market practice of the local broadcasting industry.
It is undeniable that Hong Kong has been following the free-market principle for many decades. That said, authorities had suggested multiple times in the past that they could intervene when necessary to restore equilibrium in the market and ensure healthy its development.
Over the years, our government has, on numerous occasions, indeed intervened in the market.
For instance, in order to cool down the overheated property market, the administration introduced some so-called “spicy measures”, which are still in force today.
And to deter investors and property developers from hoarding up vacant homes, the government is now planning to impose vacant property tax, even if the overall property vacancy rate in Hong Kong is not really that high.
Another good example of active government intervention in the free market is electricity subsidies provided for local households in order to compensate them for the extra costs of buying clean energy from private electric power companies.
Given all that, I don’t see any reason why the government cannot, or should not, adopt the same approach when it comes to buying TV rights of major international sport events.
In my opinion, the government can focus on several key international tournaments such as the Olympics, the Asian Games and the World Cup, and ensure free live TV coverage of these games.
For other smaller but equally electrifying sport events, like what we witnessed in the gold medal match in men’s soccer in the East Asian Games 2009, the government can also step in and acquire the broadcast rights depending on the situation and public enthusiasm for the contests at the time.
Allowing citizens to enjoy free TV coverage of high-profile international games can not only help enhance social cohesion and harmony, it can also promote a sense of pride and patriotism.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 4
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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