Time wasted in race for Olympics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 July, 2012, 12:00am


The uncertainty about whether everyone in Hong Kong will get to see the London Olympic Games has been resolved. Just 10 days before the opening ceremony, a deal was struck between the official broadcaster, iCable, and the two free-to-air television stations. There should never have been doubts about the widest possible coverage of so important an event, but circumstances pointing to a measure of fault by all involved necessitated last-minute negotiations with government mediation. However, resolution is no assurance against a repeat. In an ever-changing media environment, there has always to be an open mind and adaptability. Neither element was fully present five years ago when the International Olympic Committee awarded the broadcasting rights for Hong Kong to the pay-per-view cable company. The firm, part of Wharf (Holdings), fitted the committee's criterion of providing coverage on a wide variety of multimedia platforms bar one - a free terrestrial television channel. But with an application for an operating licence pending and the Games years away, that seemed only a formality. Not envisaged was the government's inexplicable lack of approval for the licence and the wrangling that subsequently ensued with free channel operators ATV and TVB over a mandated 200 hours of shared viewing.

Broadcasting rights are the IOC's biggest source of revenue. Holding a bidding process ensures the maximum income and iCable won the rights with an amount believed to have exceeded HK$100 million. The committee well knew when it made the award that the cable company did not have a free-to-air terrestrial channel and that advertising and subscriptions were the most viable ways for the firm to recoup its outlay. Anticipating and expecting should not have any part in meeting the Olympic charter requirements of taking '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'.

Why the government has taken so long to consider iCable's free-to-air operating licence application and those of two other firms is equally baffling. It has no difficulty approving licences for new mobile phone companies, as the burgeoning number in recent years has plainly shown. What is clear, though, is that its broadcasting policy is outdated and barely accounts for technological advancements involving the internet. In a free market economy amid a fast-changing media environment, authorities have to deal with applications promptly.

There is no bigger sporting and cultural event than the Olympics. They pit the finest of our athletes against the best from other nations, ensuring inspiration and motivation. In times where politics, race and religion so often divide, they bring people together and foster friendship and co-operation. Everyone should be able to view them.