HKTV makes fresh bid for licence, offering fewer channels and more investment
Vivienne Chow and Amy Nip
Hong Kong Television Network has gone into battle again for a free-to-air television licence, with a new plan costing six times as much as its previous one but providing just a quarter as many channels.
Meanwhile, HKTV is continuing its fight to launch a mobile TV service on two fronts. It is taking the government to court for a "contradictory" stance on its earlier blocked proposal and seeking approval to use a transmission standard billed as the world's most advanced for the service.
The company chaired by Ricky Wong Wai-kay also said it was axing 207 jobs in the face of a legal battle that could last up to two years.
The latest moves by the mercurial entrepreneur come after he was controversially denied a free-to-air licence last year and then was told his proposed mobile TV service would fall foul of the regulators.
HKTV has put up a new free-to-air proposal with just three channels - Cantonese, English and 24-hour news - compared to the previous 12, with an investment of HK3.4 billion over six years, six times the earlier figure.
It said it had submitted the new application "in order to provide TV service in the regime that government deems to be legal".
It is also seeking a judicial review of the government's response to its proposal for a mobile service. This was stymied when the government said its use of the same format as that of the two existing free-to-air broadcasters, TVB and ATV - terrestrial multimedia broadcast - could breach the Broadcasting Ordinance.
Out of court, the station is seeking permission from the Communications Authority to use the DVB-T2 format for the mobile service, using the licence it acquired with its purchase of China Mobile Hong Kong.
The format, which supports standard definition, high definition and mobile TV, targets "not just rooftop and set-top antennas, but also PCs, laptops, in-car receivers, radios, smartphones, dongles, and a whole range of other innovative receiving devices", according to the global Digital Video Broadcasting Project, the consortium behind DVB-T2.
HKTV said the government had recently changed its policy to say that if the station's signal could be received in more than 5,000 specified premises it would breach the Broadcasting Ordinance. HKTV was repeatedly told by the watchdog that it could fall into a legal trap by using the standard used by ATV and TVB.
Francis Fong Po-kiu, the honorary president of the Information Technology Federation, said HKTV was still susceptible to legal uncertainties even with the new standard.
"If public antennas of more than 5,000 premises can pick up transmission signals [of the new standard], must HKTV apply for a free-to-air TV licence?" he asked. "The Communications Authority must answer this question."
HKTV still employs 385 artistes and support staff.