Olympic TV deal still up in the air
Amy Nip and Adrian Wan
Discussion over free-to-air broadcasting of the Olympics is now almost back to the starting blocks, with ATV saying it has yet to reach an agreement with i-Cable on a plan to televise the Games on ATV World.
Sports fans have been on an emotional roller coaster over the past few months. Cable TV, which secured broadcasting rights for the London Olympics, suggested at the end of May that talks with free-to-air stations TVB and had ATV failed. In little more than a week, the pay-TV station changed its mind and sent an ultimatum to the two broadcasters, making what it called a final offer over rights to broadcast the Games.
Under its proposal, ATV and TVB would have to pay US$1 for the rights to show the Games on their four channels. But they would only be allowed to show 400 minutes of their own commercials during the 250 hours of broadcasting, with i-Cable advertising shown the rest of the time. TVB rejected i-Cable's offer, while ATV came up with a counter-offer to broadcast the programmes only on its English language channel, ATV World, which i-Cable accepted.
ATV said its counter-offer was only a 'proposal', which offered directions for further talks, not a final agreement. Details - including the sharing of advertising time - had yet to be worked out, a spokesman said.
'We proposed to broadcast the Games on ATV World, and i-Cable agreed we can start discussions based on that,' he said.
I-Cable refused to comment yesterday.
Under the International Olympic Committee's terms, at least 200 hours of Olympic coverage should be broadcast on free-to-air television channels. Rule 51 of the Olympic Charter says: 'The IOC takes all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world for the Olympic Games.'
The organisation's president, Dr Jacques Rogge, said shortly after the rights were awarded that the IOC would be prepared to strip i-Cable of the broadcast rights if its reach was inadequate.
If ATV backtracked, i-Cable would fall short of the requirement and be liable to a penalty.
A free-to-air licence application was filed by the pay-TV station two years ago, but has not yet been ruled on. Some 80 per cent of Hong Kong's households are technically capable of receiving its services, but just 1.1 million of the city's 2.3 million households subscribe to its channels.
For its part, a TVB spokesman said it was still open to discussions. It had described i-Cable's earlier offer as 'unfair, unreasonable and against the Olympic spirit'.
For now, it said it would broadcast none of the sporting events. Only still images would be included in its news broadcasts of the Olympics.
Such an arrangement would be a first in local broadcasting of the Games but has been adopted for other sports such as the English Premier League. In the last World Cup, TVB created computer-generated animation to replace playbacks.
Sports sector legislator Timothy Fok Tsun-ting said an IOC representative came to Hong Kong and discussed the issue with the television stations.
'I hope all stations will work for the benefit of society,' he said.
It is not the first time that stations have been in deadlock over broadcasting rights, but it is unusual not to reach a consensus at least a month before an event.
In late April 2010, TVB and ATV announced they would screen live four matches of soccer's World Cup - which began on June 11 that year - and screen highlights from others, but only on their digital channels. i-Cable was the rights holder.
Under i-Cable's initial proposal, ATV and TVB would have paid this much (in US dollars) for the rights to show the Games