Ricky Wong and HKTV must play by the rules

Robert Chua backs the decision requiring HKTV to comply with mobile TV licensing regulations, as no business can run on passion alone

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 12:42pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 2014, 2:22am

Why do some people believe Ricky Wong Wai-kay's failure to get a free-to-air television licence and the derailment of his mobile TV ambitions are politically motivated and that the government is trying to thwart Hong Kong Television Network?

Such people should first look at the facts and the Communications Authority's rules and regulations, rather than making emotional comments based solely on Wong's passion and seemingly large funds.

Wong deserves credit for revolutionising the Hong Kong telecoms industry. Unfortunately, this time he is merely disrupting the TV industry - by breaking rules to try to achieve his goal.

Under its carrier licence, a mobile TV operator can provide coverage at moving locations, not to "households" or at "specified premises". HKTV feels it has the right to change the rules and use set-top boxes to allow households to watch mobile TV programmes at home, thus avoiding the tight regulations to which free-to-air TV is subject.

It is interesting to read Office of the Communications Authority's minutes of its meeting with HKTV on January 24 that clearly confirmed Wong was aware of the possible breach. The watchdog said Wong would need a free-to-air or pay TV licence if his mobile service was made available to more than 5,000 households.

So why did he give the impression he was taken by surprise? Why did he not inform his shareholders as soon as he knew about the possible breach? Did such a delay violate the listing rules? Clearly, this would have affected the price of HKTV shares, following the announcement of its acquisition of China Mobile Hong Kong's unified carrier licence.

Wong's record of a very short time in management at ATV and his HK Broadband Network television operation - which has failed to make a mark after years of operation - is not encouraging. This may well have been one of the many legitimate government concerns in its decision not to grant him a free-to-air licence.

Three things are needed for a successful TV station. First, large funds to prepare for massive losses in the first three to five years; second, good content; and third, a professional team. All the passion in the world will count for nothing without these elements.

Also, the skills needed to operate a telecoms company are totally different than those needed for a TV station. In telecoms, one needs a good sales team, to provide a good service, maintain and upgrade technology and offer the lowest price in the market to win consumers' support. However, a TV station demands much more - above all, the ability to produce on a daily basis good, original content. TV stations live and die by their content; it determines whether viewers tune in and that in turn dictates where advertisers buy air time.

It is crucial for a TV station to be managed by a TV professional and for investors to stay away from management decisions. The general manager must be given absolute power and in turn delegate such power down the chain of command. Sadly, HKTV does not appear to have all these elements in place.

Veteran broadcaster Robert Chua was the founding production manager and creator/executive producer of Enjoy Yourself Tonight at TVB, Hong Kong's first terrestrial TV station, and founder of satellite TV station CETV