Next Media was founded by high profile businessman Jimmy Lai, known for his support for democracy and criticism of China. It introduced tabloid-style journalism into Hong Kong and Taiwan, with the hugely successful Apple Daily. The group made a rare misstep by entering Taiwan’s saturated broadcasting market. In October 2012 it agreed to sell its loss-making Taiwan TV unit and to terminate its video-on-demand (VOD) services, but the deal fell through in March 2013.
Next exit from Taiwan TV after licence failure
Next Media will sell its loss-making Taiwan television business after failing to obtain a cable television licence from the island's increasingly Beijing-friendly government.
Next, whose chairman Jimmy Lai Chee-ying is known for his anti-Beijing stance, yesterday signed an agreement with Lien Tai-sheng, chairman of Taiwan's Era Television, for the Hong Kong-listed firm to sell its Taiwan television unit to Era, according to Lai's assistant, Mark Simon.
According to one source, Next ploughed roughly US$250 million into its Taiwan television business, and some analysts said the sale, at an undisclosed price, could ease finances for Lai's media empire.
Depending on the buyer, there could be 200 to 300 lay-offs in the business's set-top box division, but there would be no lay-offs in Next's other businesses, Simon said, adding that Taiwan media reports of 500-odd lay-offs were too high.
He said the main reason for the sale was Next's failure to obtain approval for a cable television business from the Taiwan government.
"The Taiwan government won't let Jimmy Lai into cable," he said.
"Jimmy crossed every stream and climbed every mountain to get a licence. It's pretty obvious the answer is no. The sale will turn the business over to someone who can do more with it."
Simon claimed Next was unable to get a Taiwan cable television licence because Taiwan's Beijing-friendly Kuomintang government "don't like us".
"It's got the black hand of China all over it. The black hand of China has extended to Taiwan," he said.
"The KMT is not a friend of Next Media. We're seen as a media that's not controllable."
Next has no television business in Hong Kong, but its print publications in the city include Apple Daily and Next Magazine.
Next reported a loss of HK$1.17 billion in its Taiwan television and multimedia division for the fiscal year to March 31, more than double the loss of HK$459 million the previous year.
The company's total net loss for the year was HK$231.31 million, compared to a net profit of HK$90.87 million a year earlier.
Next's revenue was HK$3.63 billion in the period, of which HK$32 million came from television, according to its 2012 annual report.
In 2009, Era executive vice-president Jeffrey Yen said Next had proposed to acquire Era but the talks stopped, according to media reports.
Speculation about Next trying to sell its Taiwan television business drove its share price from 47 HK cents on August 23 to 76 HK cents on Friday.