Soccer fans in Hong Kong will be able to watch 22 matches of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil free of charge after TVB won broadcasting rights for the tournament for the first time in 16 years.
Pay station Cable TV won the rights for the 2002, 2006 and 2010 competitions - which meant fans who wanted to watch games legally had to pay. In 2010, Cable only allowed free stations to screen four matches live.
Still, it will not be as satisfying for soccer fans as in 1998, when TVB and ATV got the rights and showed all 64 World Cup final matches free of charge.
Mark Lee Po-on, executive director and group general manager of TVB, said yesterday it cost the station about HK$400 million to secure the rights and programme production. The station declined to give exact figures.
The 22 matches to be broadcast on TVB's five free channels - Jade, Pearl, J2, iNews and HD Jade - are the opening match, 16 group stage matches, two quarter-finals, the two semi-finals and the final. The opening and closing ceremonies will also be shown.
Matches will also be accessible via the internet and on mobile phones. An additional "time shift" function will be available, so viewers who have missed the beginning of a match can catch up on a delayed-live basis.
To watch the remaining 42 matches between June 12 and July 13, one will have to subscribe to TVB's pay service, TVB Network Vision, for HK$128 a month. It now has 200,000 subscribers.
General manager Cheong Shin-keong said stations around the world landing similar deals typically showed 22 free games.
"It's not cheap to get broadcasting rights. We have to strike a balance between free and pay television," he said, adding the station was prepared to lose "a bit of" money on the games.
TVB on Monday appealed against a court's dismissal of its application for a judicial review of a decision to recommend the granting of new free-television licences. It would continue to "act on the basis of reason", Lee said, but would not say whether the station would go to the Court of Final Appeal if its current appeal was again dismissed.
Asked if the station was investing heavily on the tournament to win public support, general manager Cheong Shin-keong said TVB would invest in the public interest as long as there was a stable TV market.
But its "painful" experiences dealing with Cable TV could be a bigger reason. "Over the last two World Cups we've encountered a lot of difficulties and frustrations," he said. During the last World Cup, TVB was required to broadcast the commentary and advertisements of Cable TV when airing the matches.