Hongkongers are unlikely to catch the London Olympic Games on free-to-air channels from July as three television stations have failed to agree on broadcast arrangements.
People without a subscription to pay television provider i-Cable's channels will to watch the Games free of charge only via the web and on their smartphones. The station has secured the broadcasting rights for the first time, but has not won approval for the free-to-air licence it applied for in 2010.
Company chairman Stephen Ng Tin-hoi said yesterday that i-Cable could not reach a consensus with TVB or ATV on showing the Games.
He said 'chances were given' to the free stations to air the games, but i-Cable had 'stopped discussions'.
Both TVB and ATV, however, stressed they were still open to discussions. None of the parties specified the problems stalling the talks.
Ng also urged the government to set a definite timetable for the issuing of three new free-to-air licences.
The stations are already in the middle of a fight over the government's plan to grant those licences, which i-Cable said would allow its subsidiary, Fantastic TV, to bring the Olympics - which start on July 27 - to the masses. TVB and ATV object to the free licences and say they do not rule out taking the government to court.
By last week, it had become apparent that the licences could not be granted in time.
Ng said: 'All we are asking for is a definitive process and a definitive timetable, by which the views of all interested parties can be taken into account.'
He said the public could view certain matches for free on the company's website or using smartphone applications. The station has 1.1 million subscribers in the city.
Winnie Ho Wai-sheung, TVB's senior manager of corporate and community relations, said: 'We are gentlemen. [The debate over new licences] should not affect discussions on the Olympics broadcasts.'
Peter Lam Yuk-wah, vice-president of the Televisioners Association, said commercial interests would always come first. The biggest issue was whether the free stations would be free to place their own advertisements between broadcasts, he said.
During the 2010 Fifa World Cup, i-Cable allowed TVB and ATV to broadcast four matches on their digital channels after the pair promised to play i-Cable's ads.
Gregory So Kam-leung, secretary for commerce and economic development, said the Executive Council would decide if more public consultation on the licences was needed.
A spokesman for the bureau said it would encourage the parties involved to take public interest into consideration before making a final decision on the broadcasts.