Free-to-air broadcaster Fantastic Television stalls its over-the-air plans, Hong Kong authority says

Communications watchdog to consult the public on advertising and product placement

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 8:29pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 9:55pm

In yet another blow for the city’s free-to-air television market, the communications watchdog yesterday revealed that Fantastic Television had suspended its application for terrestrial broadcast spectrum.

Fantastic Television – owned by i-Cable Communications – applied to the Communications Authority for the over-the-air spectrum in June 2016 after it had been granted a fixed network broadcast licence in May.

However, after “rounds of exchanges” between the station and the authority, Fantastic Television last month notified the authority that it wanted to focus on launching its fixed network broadcast first, and would then “resume discussions” with the authority over the terrestrial spectrum.

The fixed network licence requires Fantastic Television to launch a Chinese channel by May 30 this year, and an English channel one year later.

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“That’s another investment – they would have to set up all those transmitters,” head of the department of journalism and communication at Shue Yan University, professor Leung Tin-wai said, referring to the establishment of a terrestrial network.

“They are quite reluctant to do that,” he added.

The station’s decision to put the brakes on its application follows a string of bad news for the local free-to-air industry.

In April last year, following years of financial difficulties, Asia Television went off air after the government refused to renew its licence.

Forever Top, a consortium led by property tycoon David Chiu Tat-cheong and MGM China co-chairman Pansy Ho Chiu-king, also suspended its free-to-air application in September. The company said it needed to reorganise its corporate structure before it could continue with the licensing process.

Additionally, television giant TVB last year reported a 30 per cent decline in operating profit due to lower advertising spending. Earlier this year, the company also quit the pay television market after years of losses.

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“TVB can only survive if it cuts down its costs,” Leung said, warning the industry of more uncertain times ahead.

“Young people are not watching TV nowadays. They use the internet [to watch their programmes], that’s the reason why,” he said, adding that traditional television stations would need to move their programmes online.

“[Free-to-air] Hong Kong television is almost dead, like the traditional newspaper, maybe because the market is shrinking.”

Leung dismissed suggestions that the city’s elderly would be deprived of television services if there were no free-to-air channels, because smart TVs now made it very easy to “plug-and-watch”.

Meanwhile, Ambrose Ho, chairman of the Communications Authority, said it would consult the public this month on whether there is a need to tighten rules governing indirect advertising and product placements on free TV channels.

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“We need to be fair to the audience,” Ho said.

“For example, the logos may go with the plot (of the television show). The advertisements should not hurt people’s viewing pleasure.”

TVB was fined HK$150,000 in May last year for indirectly advertising a fried chicken restaurant chain during its annual awards show in December 2015. The firm was then fined a further HK$200,000 last November for promoting its own paid TV services during a live variety show.

TVB is in the process of seeking a judicial review of the authority’s May 2016 ruling.

Additional reporting by Viola Zhou.