The battle between Hong Kong Television Network and its rival Television Broadcasts Ltd intensified on Tuesday after TVB launched a pay-to-watch internet service that allows subscribers to watch dramas it has produced since it was founded in 1967.
The launch came as HKTV was preparing for the July launch of its mobile TV service, which viewers will also be able to watch through internet-connected devices.
But TVB general manager Cheong Shin-keong said its new service GOTV, was not started deliberately to steal business from Ricky Wong Wai-kay’s service, which he is launching after being denied a free-to-air licence.
“We have been planning this for two years…and we are launching pay-to-watch services, not free TV. The timing of the matter may give you this idea, but the truth is that it is not,” Cheong said yesterday.
But he admitted GOTV would be in “indirect competition” with HKTV.
TVB is charging subscribers HK$59 a month, or HK$499 a year.
Initially, the subscriptions will give audiences access to about 341 dramas –10,000 episodes in total – on their smartphones, tablets, or computers.
TVB plans to put more dramas into the service gradually.
Cheong said he hoped 100,000 people would have subscribed to the service by the end of the year. He did not reveal how much had been invested, but he believed it would take only one to two years to break even.
He said about a million Hongkongers had subscribed to pay TV channels such as i-Cable and Now TV and he hoped that the number of GOTV subscribers “will not be embarrassing” in a few years’ time.
“We are not competing against (HKTV) directly. But we are competing indirectly in the way that we are all fighting for the audience’s time,” Cheong said.
TVB said earlier that it would terminate the leasing of six transmission stations to China Mobile Hong Kong, which HKTV bought last month to air its programmes.
The broadcaster has cited legal uncertainties arising from China Mobile’s ongoing checks into the acquisition of its subsidiary to see if it violated mainland rules.
Cheong said yesterday that TVB had already sent a letter to HKTV to request a meeting on this matter, but had not received a reply.
The government rejected HKTV’s application for a free-to-air television licence several months ago. Then last month, it announced that it would be launching TV services through the internet from July 1.
It will be offering content on three to five channels. At least one of the channels to be offered from July will be a 24-hour news channel. The content of the rest is yet to be decided, but most will be free, except video-on-demand services.
Francis Fong Po-kiu, president of the Information Technology Federation, said that GOTV would pose a challenge to HKTV. The extent of the impact would be determined by the quality of the programmes offered.
“It depends on whether HKTV can keep the quality of its programmes in the future,” he said.
Fong also said that GOTV’s subscription price was reasonable. It should be able to attract a group of people who could not afford the time to watch television when the dramas were broadcast, but wanted to watch them when they had the time.