The World Cup is heating up and a lot of young football fans are not happy because they cannot watch the action at home. Some of them have set up webpages to express their frustration since they cannot watch the games on Hong Kong's free-to-air TV stations.
Pay television operator Cable TV bought the exclusive rights to broadcast all the 64 matches of the month-long soccer showpiece in South Africa.
Only four matches were to be broadcast live on TVB and ATV - the opening game, the semi-finals and the final. Highlights of the 64 matches will also be broadcast. But, in a blow to many people, they will all be shown only on the stations' digital channels.
'In many other places like the mainland and Britain, people can watch all the games on free-to-air television. I am disappointed Hong Kong doesn't do it this way,' says one soccer fan, Edmond Chu Wai-man, 16.
For many young football fans, signing up with iCable is too expensive. Some of them go to the nearest shopping mall, restaurant or cafe showing the football games, while others watch via the internet. However, many internet users complain about frequent disruptions to the broadcasts and poor picture quality.
Cable TV is offering three World Cup packages but they are not cheap and subscribers have to sign a contract.
The packages are: a two-year contract at a monthly fee of HK$298; a two-month contract at a monthly fee of HK$528, plus a one-off HK$600 installation fee; and an eight-month contract at a monthly fee of HK$328, plus a one-off HK$600 installation fee.
'We are only students without any income. How can we afford to pay a few hundred dollars a month?' says Edmond. 'We cannot afford to see every match in restaurants either. The government should do something to ensure everyone can see the games for free, like in many other countries.'
In a Legislative Council meeting early this month, labour unionist Ip Wai-ming asked if the government would step in to make sure all Hong Kong people could watch large-scale international tournaments, such as the World Cup, in the future.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan said the broadcasting rights of sport events were business decisions taken by television companies and officials would not intervene. 'Since the broadcasting rights of events involve commercial decisions, it would be most desirable for the broadcasting arrangements to be decided through commercial negotiations,' she said.
Some people do not mind skipping a few matches, but there are die-hard fans who do not want to miss any of the action, like Cheung Bing-yin. The Year Three university student goes to the Diamond Hill mall near his home every day.
'Every one of the games is supposed to be exciting. I don't want to miss any of them. I don't have Cable TV, so I have to come here early every evening to beat the crowd and get a seat. I stay until the last game finishes around 4am,' says Cheung.
The city's restaurants are cashing in on the football mania. Some of them are charging up to double their usual rates on match days but still report a huge demand.
TVB has adopted a creative approach to satisfying the demands of local soccer fans. The broadcaster cannot screen original footage from Cable TV in its late-night highlights programme. Instead, it is using digital animation to show the key moments in games, such as how the goals were scored.
But serious soccer fans say the video game-like scenes cannot be compared with the live pictures and lack the tension and atmosphere of a real match.
Additional reporting by Young Post intern Chitra Karamchandani