China media baron Thomas Shao launches two cultural titles

Mainland publisher is about to launch two high-profile publications that will help to raise the quality of cultural issues in the city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 May, 2013, 7:42am

Mainland media mogul and avid art collector Thomas Shao is on a mission to meld the two great loves of his life and take media coverage of Hong Kong's booming cultural sector to a new level.

Shao is set to launch two international titles devoted to culture and arts in the city and says he believes culture is its future.

"Besides finance, Hong Kong has no other industry. Culture is Hong Kong's future, and to achieve this, it needs good media," says Shao, the chairman of Modern Media Group, the largest mainland private media company listed in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's arts and culture scene has grown tremendously in the past five years with art fairs, auctions and the West Kowloon arts hub project, but Shao said the media was falling behind.

"The development of cultural media is not healthy. It doesn't correspond to the city's cultural development," Shao says.

He says it was this that prompted him to license two international titles - The Art Newspaper and Businessweek - and launch Hong Kong editions in addition to mainland versions.

He says the Hong Kong editions contain local as well as mainland, Taiwanese and international content to satisfy the needs of a broad and international audience. "It's not a direct translation of the mainland edition," he says.

Shao says the group will publish the first bilingual fair daily during Art Basel's debut in Hong Kong. He will throw a party on Wednesday, the fair's opening day, with the K11 Art Foundation, founded by Adrian Cheng.

Shao, a former Guangzhou city government official, founded Modern Media Group in 1993. The group now publishes three weeklies and eight monthlies, including Hong Kong culture and lifestyle magazine City Magazine. It was listed in Hong Kong in 2009.

This year, Italian publishing giant Umberto Allemandi's The Art Newspaper licensed its title to Modern Media Group to launch The Art Newspaper China. Two months ago, the group launched a Hong Kong edition using traditional Chinese characters as an insert in City Magazine.

Shao's ambition to expand his media business in Hong Kong doesn't stop there. Next month, the Hong Kong Chinese edition of Bloomberg's Businessweek will be launched; his group already publishes its mainland edition.

"It's not just the title that we want to bring over. We want to bring in the international standard to shock the local media scene," says Shao. "It is the global values and the ethics, which aren't very common on the mainland."

Hong Kong's media industry is a major component of the city's cultural and creative industries.

According to government statistics released this month, the total value added from cultural and creative industries in 2011 was more than HK$89.5 billion, equivalent to 4.7 per cent of the city's gross domestic product. Publishing - including books, newspapers and periodicals, news agencies and other information service activities - generated added value of HK$13.3 billion, or 14.9 per cent of the total value added, making it the second-biggest contributor among 11 categories of the cultural and creative industry.

However, that was down on the publishing industry's recent peak value added of HK$17.4 billion, achieved in 2007.

Despite this not-so-rosy picture, Shao still has confidence in Hong Kong. "Hong Kong is an international city. It needs media of international standard," he says. "We think Hong Kong has a chance. The problem with Hong Kong is that few [media owners] have real passion for the media. Media [is a business] that needs passion."