Can ATV make a successful return with OTT service?

December 14, 2017 13:07
After being off the air for more than one and half years, Hong Kong's oldest TV broadcaster ATV wants to step back into the game through an internet-based video service.

There's life yet in Asia Television (ATV), or so it seems.

More than a year and half after going off air amid various problems, the Hong Kong-based media company is planning a second coming through the launch of an internet-based broadcasting service.

On Tuesday, a local court approved a restructuring plan proposed by the firm's current owner, Co-Prosperity Holdings, under which ATV will complete debt repayment in the second quarter of 2018.

The High Court nod for the plan will help the broadcaster put behind liquidation claims filed by creditors.

With creditors expected to get their money back and withdraw cases, will that be the happy ending that many had envisaged for ATV, helping it get a decent burial?

Well, apparently not. 

Rather than call it quits, ATV is planning an aggressive and radical comeback to the Hong Kong media market with a mobile app and a so-called over-the-top (OTT) service that would see video content streamed online.

The company had sent out media invitations recently for a launch ceremony of an entity named Asia Television Digital Media Ltd. and a new mobile app, according to reports.

The event is scheduled for December 18. 

Ng Yu, ATV Digital Media CEO, has been quoted as saying that the ATV OTT service will be launched by the end of January with wide range of programs.

One of the eye-catching programs will reportedly feature former TVB general manager Stephen Chan as the host of a new series of “Who wants to be a millionaire?”, the same game show that had helped ATV win good prime time ratings back in the early 2000s.

Chip Tso, a popular columnist and radio program host, will host a program to talk about world history. In addition, several artists from TVB and ATV would also join the new ATV and help in content production, according to reports.

Some former LeEco staff are said to have already joined ATV to support its OTT platform.

It appears the management team led by Ng is working quite hard to build up the new ATV OTT platform. However, it needs to bear in mind that the main factor for success of such platform is not how many well-known artists join the entity, but actually the content quality and marketing.

The new management would do well to remind itself that the failure of previous ATV in the past decade was due to poor content and poor management, the two factors that prompted the government not to renew the company's free-to-air TV license.

Also, the former ATV management adopted a pro-Beijing approach in programming, a strategy that failed as Hong Kong locals turned their backs on a TV station which they felt didn't speak for them.

So, under the leadership of Ng, a former CEO of Emperor Entertainment Group and former TVB senior executive, ATV needs to acquire outstanding content to enhance its program library, as well as expand the target market to overseas Chinese rather than just focusing on Hong Kong residents.

The task won't be easy. Ng's success during his stint at TVB was due to the support he received in terms of the organization culture and funding. But at ATV, he is operating in a startup-like environment, with many challenges.

The success of an OTT service will depend on the uniqueness of content and whether it will manage to hook the younger generation in sufficient numbers.

The old ATV library could have been a good selling point to lure some viewers to try the service, but unfortunately the library has been depleted as content had been sold to TVB and other media firms as ATV sought to raise funds and settle debts.

As Hong Kong people love looking back at the "good old days" under British rule, it will be a wise move if ATV consolidates its library and selects some best programs as a welcome gift to viewers.

Then, the company should partner with third-party production houses in the Greater China region or overseas to bring in high-quality programs to keep viewers hooked, just like what Viu has done after it partnered with Korean TV broadcasters to supply their drama series.

From business perspective, OTT service is quite crowded at the moment in Hong Kong and all of the players have built up their uniqueness and market position. MyTV super has benefited from TVB, while Viu has focused on offering the latest Korean drama series.

Both those services also have the support of mobile operators. MyTV super has partnered with Hong Kong Broadband and Hutchison Telecom's 3HK for a long time. That helped MyTV super achieve more than a million users in just one year of launch. Viu, meanwhile, also benefits from PCCW’s group services.

ATV needs to think outside the box in terms of business partnerships to boost its coverage. If the company simply introduces its service on Apple's App Store or Google Play Store for smartphone users download without sealing any cooperation deals with other parties such as telecoms operators, it can be quite a risky proposition.

If the OTT service gets its content and marketing strategy right, Hong Kong people might well give ATV, in its new avatar, a fresh chance. 

Viewers, after all, are always on the lookout for more and better personal entertainment options.

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EJ Insight writer