Ask public if they want more free TV, says station
Vivienne Chow and Amy Nip
A company bidding to run a new free-to-air television station has waded into a row over the future of the free television market by urging the government to launch a consultation on whether the public really wants more free channels.
Dominant player TVB and its main rival ATV have both cast doubt on long-delayed plans for more stations. Fantastic TV, a subsidiary of Cable TV operator i-Cable Communications said yesterday a new round of consultation would be better than an endless wait for a licence.
The company submitted its application 21/2 years ago and had hoped to show this summer's Olympic Games, for which it holds sole rights, on the new channel.
The Broadcasting Authority - since renamed the Communications Authority - recommended exactly a year ago that the government approve the bid, along with two others, but the government has not yet given its decision.
Fantastic Television called the delay frustrating and embarrassing and said the Executive Council should order the Communications Authority to conduct a consultation on whether the public really wanted more free television and whether the city could support five free stations.
A spokesman for the company said the fact that its application had been approved by the regulator showed that it was not 'problematic'. Rather 'the concern seems to be more of a policy issue, rather than our submissions'.
ATV saw its legal challenge to licences for Fantastic and fellow bidders City Telecom and PCCW's HK Television Entertainment blocked by the Court of First Instance in March. It had argued that the new players would have a significant and unfair advantage over the existing stations.
TVB joined the war of words last week, when its executive director Mark Lee Po-on said he would not rule out legal action to stop new licences and said the new stations could push existing players out of the market as the overall value of television advertising sales had remained flat for the past 15 years.
But City Telecom chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay hit back at Lee's argument yesterday, saying advertising had grown in other media in the same period.
'Is it the fact that programmes on free to air television stations are not good enough the cause behind stagnant advertising sales?' he asked.
City Telecom said it believed the government would live up to its 1998 promise of opening up the market and was confident it would secure a new licence.
A PCCW spokesman said: 'We have provided all necessary information for our application for the licence and we look forward to hearing the government's decision soon.'
A Communications Authority spokesman said a public consultation on the granting of new free-to-air television licences had taken place in 2010. It had taken public opinion into consideration when it recommended that the government grant the licences, he added.