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Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 00:42

Pay-TV fails to pay for struggling broadcasters

By Shadow Li

Pay-TV fails to pay for struggling broadcasters
A woman is seen in front of a television screen displaying a broadcast of local channel TVB at a restaurant in Hong Kong on February 25, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez)

HONG KONG - The city’s television industry is facing a difficult and uncertain time following major shakeups in broadcasting over the past year – with more upheavals expected to come.

The Chief Executive in Council on Tuesday decided to approve two separate applications from the city’s two major pay-TV broadcasters, TVB Network Vision (TVBNV) and Cable TV Hong Kong.

TVBNV had asked to terminate the pay-TV license eight years ahead of its expiry date because of significant losses.

The other, Cable TV, is on the verge of being shut down. It has sought to have its license renewal confirmation deadline extended after securing a cash injection from an investor only days before its license was due to expire.

On Jan 10, TVB submitted a request to the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) seeking to surrender its pay-TV license, owned through TVBNV, following reported losses of HK$2.2 billion. The pay-TV license, which was to expire on Feb 22, 2025, had been renewed in 2012. The license will now expire at the end of next month.

Meanwhile, beleaguered broadcaster Cable TV, owned by property giant The Wharf (Holdings),has applied for an extension of the confirmation of its pay-TV license renewal from April 26 to May 31. This is in anticipation of the outcome of a shareholder meeting to be held on about May 31, which is expected to vote on an equity injection of about HK$1 billion. Mother company Wharf has decided to stop investing in the broadcaster.

“We are of the view that the current situation of Cable TV is exceptional,” explained a CEDB spokesperson.

“As far as we know, i-Cable’s equity injection proposal has a critical bearing on whether or not Cable TV will continue operation after the expiry of its current license,” the spokesperson added.

As far as we know, i-Cable’s equity injection proposal has a critical bearing on whether or not Cable TV will continue operation after the expiry of its current license

CEDB spokesperson

The pay-TV license, renewed in December last year, was set to expire in June 2029. Wharf announced its decision to suspend investment after it failed to sell the broadcaster. The city’s first and oldest pay-TV broadcaster is reported to have recorded a loss of HK$313 million last year.

On April 21, the financially strapped broadcaster received an equity injection led by property tycoon David Chiu Tat-cheong, together with New World Development Chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun and others.

The city’s TV industry has been experiencing a turbulent time with both pay-TV and free-TV broadcasters struggling with financial problems.

In April last year Viu TV, owned by broadband services provider PCCW, entered the free-TV market after obtaining a license from the government. The same month, Hong Kong’s oldest Chinese-language broadcaster Asia Television (ATV) closed down its free-to-air services.

In May last year the government granted a free-TV license to Fantastic Television owned by i-Cable. The fate of Fantastic TV – expected to launch next month – is also uncertain amid fierce competition.

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