TVB calls for release of report on free-TV licences
Director criticises government for slow work on awarding licence for new channel
Amy Nip and Jennifer Ngo
TVB has called for a government-commissioned consultancy report on the feasibility of granting new free-television licences to be made public.
The station's executive director, Mark Lee Po-on, expressed concern that advertising revenue might not cover production costs if more operators vied for the same market. Lee proposed that instead of launching new stations, TVB could allow for more diverse programming by airing more RTHK shows before the public broadcaster's digital channels were ready.
It is understood that the former Broadcasting Authority recommended to the government last year that it approve all three licence applications, made between 2009 and 2010. A key document backing that recommendation was a consultancy report on the advertising sector and profitability of the television business.
"Those consultants never approached ATV and TVB," Lee said. "There are only two [free-television] stations. How could they [get a full picture of] the industry without asking us?"
The Executive Council is considering the licence applications.
Lee criticised the government for "working behind closed doors" during recent debate on its licensing delay. According to Lee, television advertising revenue is about HK$3 billion a year. TVB spends more than HK$1 billion to produce programmes on its mainstay channel, Jade.
If the city had five stations, advertising revenue would fall short of total production costs and some operators might have to close, he said.
Stations could also fire staff members and produce shows of poorer quality, he warned.
Further, if the government maintained its tight grip on the industry, restricting the advertising airtime and types of ads stations could accept, they would not be able to do everything in their power to survive, he said.
Unless all the restrictions were removed, Lee deemed it unfair to existing players to let newcomers into the market before 2015, when the licences of TVB and ATV would expire.
He said that to allow viewers more choice before 2015, the government could let RTHK run more shows on TVB's J2 channel before its three digital television channels started up.
Meanwhile, Ricky Wong Wai-kay, chairman of licence applicant City Telecom, said he would not back down until he achieved his goal.
His company had expected certain television operators would ask for a judicial review to challenge the issuance of new licences, he said. Wong said he would wait till the end of the year before deciding whether to take further business and legal action.
He said a licence application should normally take only four months to process, according to a government website, but his application was lodged 35 months ago.
Meanwhile, the Communications Authority received five complaints yesterday against ATV programme Blog The World, a week-long series targeting Wong which began on Monday.