Sad end to free-TV dream

Top News | Amy Nip 28 Mar 2018

Hong Kong Television Network has withdrawn its free-to-air television license application, ending its eight-year battle to join the TV market.

The board decided not to wait any more after eight years, chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay said.

As a listed company, HKTV must take the interests of shareholders into consideration, Wong added. It will focus its time and capital on online commerce, in which it has more confidence.

The decision put an end to Wong's turbulent TV journey, which involved a multiday mass protest, fiery exchanges with the telecom watchdog Communications Authority and a court battle.

The company made the announcement yesterday, saying its application submitted to the authority on April 11, 2014 - its second after the first was rejected by the government - would be withdrawn.

The company will also surrender its unified carrier license together with the radio spectrum of 678 - 686 MHz to the authority, and stop providing mobile TV services on March 31.

Wong said he has no plans to change the company's name. The TV dream has been a good memory, and some HKTV productions will be released on free TV stations, he added.

With Hong Kong having three free-TV stations - TVB, Viu TV and Fantastic TV - Wong said he would no longer cast an eye on the market.

He did not answer how much the company put into the endeavor, only saying it did not earn or lose much over the past five years since it sold its telecom business for HK$5 billion.

The TV battle also attracted public support for the company's online shopping, Wong said.

Announcing its annual results ending December 2017, HKTV reported a 160 percent growth in turnover to HK$487 million from a year ago. Net loss narrowed to HK$205 million from HK$257 million over the year.

HKTV is still suffering "a loss for every single transaction" on HKTVmall, but it hopes to secure a turnaround by increasing the profit margin.

It will also reduce costs and increase capacity of handing orders by automation.

Former HKTV actor Gregory Wong Chung-yiu was shocked by the pullout, adding it would disappoint fans.

"I think the way in which people perceive watching television programs has changed vastly over the past few years the way forward is maybe Hong Kong's version of Netflix," he said.

Anthony Fung Ying-him, former head of Chinese University's school of journalism and communication, said the TV scene has changed dramatically over the past eight years.

"ViuTV and Fantastic TV did not change the TV landscape. The audience of TVB is very loyal, and young people don't watch TV," he said.

The market is very competitive, and it is difficult for the stations to break even, he added.

With local internet platforms attracting limited ads, stations may consider enlarging their market by more cooperation with overseas or mainland sites, he suggested.

HKTV applied for a free-TV license in 2010, along with Cable TV and PCCW. Its application was rejected in 2013, while the other two were approved - which led to the establishment of Viu TV and Fantastic TV.

Nearly 120,000 people took to the streets against the decision, which the government attributed to market sustainability.

A court fight followed, which HKTV eventually lost in 2016. The Court of Appeal decided that the government did not have to reconsider HKTV's application.

HKTV also acquired China Mobile Hong Kong, which held a unified carrier license for operating mobile TV. But the Communications Authority banned HKTV from using the license to run a de facto free-TV station.

The authority confirmed the withdrawal and said it would handle the surrendering of the mobile TV license according to procedures.

amy.nip@singtaonewscorp.com

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