ATV - Asia Television Limited

Miss Hong Kong votes debacle sparks calls for more free-to-air competition

Miss Hong Kong debacle shows it is time for fresh blood in free-to-air market, expert says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2012, 3:14am

The epic failure of TVB's first public vote for its Miss Hong Kong pageant has brought a call for speedier introduction of competitors into the free-to-air television market.

Director of Baptist University's film academy Dr Cheuk Pak-tong said that the chaos on Sunday night - when the online voting system was brought down by 14 million hits - exposed TVB's inadequate technical know-how of new media.

The broadcaster has said the debacle was due to hacking, but Cheuk said it happened largely because TVB had not faced any real competition for decades.

"How can you avoid making the same mistake? There's no better way to monitor broadcasters' service than by introducing new players," he said.

TVB has long dominated the market over its lone, much weaker competitor ATV. There had been hopes that the duopoly would be broken when City Telecom and subsidiaries of i-Cable Communications and PCCW applied for a new free-to-air licence more than two and a half years ago. The Broadcasting Authority, now the Communications Authority, made recommendations last May but there has been no progress since then.

Since Sunday, TVB's broadcasting general manager Cheong Shin-keong is understood to have had meetings with technology company Cherrypicks, which programmed the voting system, and internet server supporter Microsoft.

An internet expert said that while hacking might have occurred, it had also been an organisation failure.

"On top of possible deliberate attacks, they might have underestimated the access attempts that the server would have to support," Hong Kong Wireless Technology Industry Association chairman Cheung To said.

TVB also might not have invested enough in the system.

The broadcaster said it would appoint an independent agent to investigate the incident but details had yet to be decided.

By yesterday, the Communications Authority had received 647 complaints about the online voting for Miss Hong Kong.

While that made it one of the most complained-of programmes, it did not rival the 1,445 received about a charity show that featured singer Gillian Chung Yan-tung when she was embroiled in a sex-pictures scandal.

At Sunday night's Miss Hong Kong pageant, TVB had planned to hold the first public voting for the champion through the internet and a smartphone application.

But the system crashed after more than 14 million attempts during the 10-minute window.

As a result, winners were picked by a panel of judges. A HK$480,000 car lucky draw was also scrapped.

The broadcaster plans to hold the lucky draw through another Miss Hong Kong-related internet voting game within the next couple of weeks.

"We have learnt the lesson and we won't surrender to technology," a TVB spokesman said.

A City Telecom spokeswoman said the voting failure would provide an important reference for its future free TV plan.