RTHK axes Hong Kong’s digital channels as they fail to attract sizeable audience

Programmes from five remaining digital channels to be reassigned to FM channels

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 September, 2017, 11:45am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 September, 2017, 8:53pm

The short-lived era of digital radio in Hong Kong has come to an end, with public broadcaster RTHK closing its remaining channels from midnight after it failed to attract a significant audience.

With the five remaining digital channels – DAB 31 to 35 – taken off air, some affected programmes were slated to move to FM channels in a reshuffle.

No longer realistic: digital radio in Hong Kong gets the axe because of weak market

The move was announced weeks ahead of a six-month deadline laid down by the Executive Council in late March to end all digital radio services, which struggled for six years to find a sizeable audience.

As part of the reshuffle, the reduction of the BBC World Service broadcast, after a run that began in 1978, has raised concern in some circles. Critics have cited the decision to move it to an 11pm-to-7am slot on Radio 4, and its replacement by news bulletins in Putonghua from state-controlled China National News, as evidence of declining press freedom in Hong Kong.

In an online petition to retain the broadcast on RTHK and host China National News on an FM channel, they wrote: “We are not against the service provided by China National News. We just don’t want RTHK to broadcast China National News at the expense of the BBC programming which many Hong Kong people rely on for news from far-flung places.”

In a written response to the petition, RTHK head of corporate communications Amen Ng Man-yee said the public broadcaster was “bound to make new programming arrangement after the government’s decision to terminate digital broadcasting services”.

“RTHK strives to provide a vast variety of programmes to serve a broad spectrum of audiences, as well as to cater to the needs of minority interest groups,” she said. “Taking into consideration the limited radio frequencies of RTHK, this would be the best decision to come up with.”

The BBC broadcast is to remain available on RTHK’s analogue channel, and a link has been provided for listeners to access the 24-hour service.

Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen first announced digital radio services for Hong Kong in 2009, following the successful roll-out of digital television in 2007. At its height, there were 17 such radio channels, but the government concluded that the services had failed to attract sizeable audiences.

About HK$63.9 million in taxpayers’ money has been spent on promoting the technology, including installing transmission systems and publicity, according to a Legislative Council document.