Dolce Vita or Daredevil: With options like Netflix, does Hong Kong really need traditional TV?

Yonden Lhatoo says the arrival of multimedia entertainment over the internet makes it easy to give up on local fare, especially the English-language services

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 April, 2016, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 April, 2016, 5:38pm

I am having a blast these days with Netflix, the US-based film and television streaming service that is finally available, along with options from other such providers, to long-suffering Hong Kong audiences starved for quality home entertainment.

Just the other night, I was watching the hilarious An Idiot Abroad, British comedian Ricky Gervais’ irreverent travel series featuring his inimitable whipping boy, Karl Pilkington. The show’s third season was released several years ago, so it’s nothing new, but who’s complaining when you get to simultaneously cringe and laugh all over again at classic Karl moments, such as his observation that the Great Wall of China “just goes for miles and miles ... but so does the M6” and his conclusion that maybe it should be called the “All Right Wall of China”.

The Netflix library offers a mix of old and new films and TV shows, but there’s no shortage of critically acclaimed, original content, such as last year’s excellent Making a Murderer, a documentary filmed over 10 years.

I’ve also been receiving an education catching up on important documentaries I’ve missed, such as The Culture High, a thought-provoking indictment of marijuana prohibition and America’s so-called war on drugs, and Food Matters, which questions conventional cancer treatment and raises awareness about the effectiveness of nutritional therapy.

If you’ve missed some of the best TV shows ever made, like Breaking Bad, it’s all there for a subscription fee of less than HK$100 a month. And there are plenty of other sources of multimedia entertainment over the internet, known in technical jargon as over-the-top or OTT content, to try out.

Incidentally, I tried watching the new free-to-air licencee, ViuTV, which launched this month after the plug was pulled on Asia Television. PCCW’s terrestrial broadcasting operation has nothing at all for non-Chinese-speaking viewers for now. There is still a two-year grace period before it needs to start English-language programming.

So far, ViuTV isn’t showing much apart from a travel series featuring opposing politicians, Korean dramas dubbed in Cantonese and newscasts borrowed from Now TV, PCCW’s pay television arm.

I’m not sure how this is the answer to ATV and its poor programming, let alone a taste of the solution to Hong Kong’s long-running shortage of quality television entertainment.

It makes me wonder how much easier the playing field has been made for the new free-TV licencees coming in.

PCCW has promised to invest HK$2.7 billion in ViuTV for the first 10 years of its operation, and we don’t know much about Cable TV’s Fantastic Television yet.

I remember poor old ATV and dominant broadcaster TVB had much tougher licensing conditions to fulfil, starting with the basic requirement that they be whole and separate entities as TV stations, not a few spin-off channels from already-established pay services.

Anyway, at the rate they’re going, I’m already expecting English-language services to be treated as a licence-mandated inconvenience by the new stations. The advertising pie is very, very limited, as it is, and the Chinese channels bring in the cash.

For English viewers, there’s no doubt this town lacks properly funded, dedicated news programming focusing on Hong Kong and greater China. The Cantonese-language channels do a decent job of local coverage, but hundreds of thousands of non-Chinese-speaking residents would welcome equivalent English-language choices.

Other than that, they could be spoiled for choice, like me. Here are the options as I sink into my sofa and switch on the idiot box: Dolce Vita or Daredevil. Duh-uh.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post