PCCW gets tuned in to free-to-air TV tug of war

Broadcaster insists it's the strongest of three stations seeking new licences and says they should be granted to all, not just the 'winners'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 June, 2013, 7:50am

The publicity battle between three television stations hoping to start broadcasting on free-to-air channels is heating up amid talk that the government may grant new licences only to "winning" bidders.

One of the applicants, PCCW, broke its silence on the matter yesterday - insisting it was the best of the three candidates.

Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) and i-Cable Communications have also applied for terrestrial television licences.

PCCW also urged the government to give new licences to all three applicants, rather than "winners". "Market forces and ability should ultimately determine success in any competitive business environment. It's unnecessary and undesirable to pick winners and losers," Janice Lee Hoi-yee, managing director of television and new media with PCCW, said yesterday. PCCW is seen by some in the industry as the least qualified of the three.

The comments came after reports that the Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) had sent letters to the three applicants, asking them to submit further information. Lee would not say whether PCCW had received such a letter, saying any communication with the government was confidential. She added that the Broadcasting Authority, OFCA's predecessor, recommended granting licences to all three applicants. But she said PCCW was in a strong position for a licence.

"PCCW's media business recorded HK$2.8 billion in revenue … in 2012.

"It has overtaken the incumbent to become the largest pay-TV service in Hong Kong in terms of subscriber numbers, revenue and profitability," she said.

PCCW's pay-TV service has the broadcasting rights for top sporting events such as the Premier League. But Lee would not say whether they would be shown on any free-to-air channel if PCCW secured a licence.

In a bid to glean public support, PCCW has made three of its channels - Now Hong Kong, Now Prime Sports and Now News - available on the internet for free.

Lee also backed a call from i-Cable Communications chief Stephen Ng Tin-hoi that any competition for new licences - and renewing the existing ones held by TVB and ATV - should be decided through a market-based approach, such as an auction.

Ng has said the matter should be resolved by 2015, when the ATV and TVB licences expire.

HKTV has said the licences should be handed out as soon as possible. In a statement yesterday, HKTV asked that the renewal of TVB and ATV's licences be considered separately from the new applications.

And it agreed the new licences should be given to all three broadcasters.