Pay-TV operators use free channels to promote set-top box

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2008, 12:00am

Although only half of Hong Kong's households are able to enjoy the newly launched digital terrestrial television broadcasting service, two pay-television operators are taking advantage of the free channels to promote their own service.

Both PCCW and Hong Kong Broadband Network yesterday launched an 'all-in-one' set-top box that allows their subscribers to view free HD TV, on top of the subscribed programmes.

'Our all-in-one set-top box is designed for the convenience of our subscribers,' said Dominic Leung, PCCW's managing director for television and content business.

Acknowledging that terrestrial television players such as Television Broadcasts 'has long been a market leader', he said the move was not meant to challenge free television's market position.

Mr Leung emphasised that the new all-in-one box did not breach the free channels' copyright, even though under the legal framework, pay-TV operators must negotiate with free television stations to carry the latter's programmes.

In response, TVB general manager Cheong Shin-keong said: 'TVB welcomes Now and other pay TV operators to offer such all-in-one set-top boxes.'

But the box should have a button to let users switch between free TV and pay TV to avoid confusion in channel numbering, he said.

New Now TV subscribers can get a set-top box at HK$990, while current subscribers can get one at HK$1,390, or pay a monthly rent of HK$58.

Hong Kong Broadband even gives away the box to those subscribing to the 100 megabits broadband service at a monthly tariff of HK$248 for two years. Existing subscribers can buy the box at HK$980.

PCCW pushes Now TV HD service

Taking the free ride a bit further, pay-TV operators are promoting their premium HD TV channels.

PCCW is pushing its Now TV HD service, offering four channels that are richer in picture resolution at a premium price to boost its customer base and revenue.

'The competition between the two fixed-line players contributes to the digitisation of free TV in Hong Kong, as many viewers are debating whether to pay more than HK$1,000 for a single function set-top box,' a source told Media Eye.

Media Eye also believes that the pay TV's set-top box is another revenue source for the operators.

As another market watcher put it, they also 'can explore advertising revenue as the box [generates] figures on viewers' habits'.

Providers vie for attention

In their eagerness to launch their 'all-in-one' set-top boxes, the two pay TV providers - who happen to be fixed-line providers - were hot on our tail.

PCCW informed Media Eye last week of yesterday's launch, complete with a live demo at its Chai Wan studio.

Knowing about this move, Hong Kong Broadband Network called Media Eye late on Monday evening to call its own media conference scheduled for 4pm yesterday afternoon, right after Now's event. It even arranged a shuttle bus to pick up journalists at PCCW's doorstep..

'We wish to catch up with PCCW to create a bigger market impact,' the Broadband spokesperson said.

It surely is a tough marketplace for telecoms operators.

CSL eyes iPhone deal

Media Eye has learned that CSL New World Mobility, Hong Kong's largest mobile operator, is joining Telstra, its Australian parent, in order to get an exclusive deal to sell Apple's iPhone in Hong Kong later this year.

Sources said that CSL will leverage on Telstra's market positioning in Australia to secure the deal, given that Hong Kong is too small a market.

'Telstra's headquarters appear to be leading the negotiations with Apple, while our new chief executive will take the leading role to seek a deal in Hong Kong,' an insider said.

Market watchers believe that the iPhone sold in Asia later this year will be 3G compatible, offering a faster speed for internet browsing.

Equipped with a multi-touch screen handy for internet browsing, the iPhone is popular with young people. However, telecoms operators are not eager to sell it under a revenue-sharing model with Apple, in which Apple retains a portion of revenue from its mobile partner per subscriber.