Hongkongers will be able to watch the London Olympics for free after a last-ditch agreement was reached between rights holder iCable and free-to-air broadcasters ATV and TVB, with the help of government mediation.
After seven hours of talks, iCable agreed to sell the rights to 200 hours of action for free-to-air broadcast, including the opening ceremony a week on Friday and the closing ceremony.
Free-to-air coverage of the event had been in doubt for months after iCable's application for a free channel of its own was scuppered as the government failed to make a decision on its licence, and talks with the free broadcasters stalled.
iCable had come under pressure from the Games organiser, the International Olympic Committee, to ensure the Games were available to the widest possible audience, in line with its agreement when it bought the rights. TVB last week approached the IOC with a direct offer to show the Games.
No more talks with the IOC would be needed, TVB said last night, and all three parties had agreed that the price was reasonable.
TVB group general manager Mark Lee Po-on said: 'We will pay a reasonable fee to iCable so that we could have 200 hours of programmes of our own choice, and they would be broadcast evenly on TVB and ATV. This is the commercial arrangement made today.'
Describing the agreement as a 'win' for everyone, including the public, Lee said TVB and ATV would jointly produce Games programming.
'Firstly, iCable can charge a reasonable fee. Secondly, both two free-to-air stations can now broadcast the Games evenly; and thirdly, the public can watch the Games. This is the best result. All the disputes before are now resolved,' Lee said.
Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Greg So Kam-leung, who took part in the talks, said: 'The negotiation was filled with difficulties. But I'm happy to see that the three television stations acted on the basis of the public's expectations. Today, an agreement was reached.'
iCable had originally offered 200 hours of coverage to the two free-to-air rivals but had insisted on broadcasting its own advertising during most of the shows.
Later, an apparent deal with ATV to show the Games on its ATV World Channel fell through amid concerns about rights on the mainland. The channel is available in much of Guangdong province, where state broadcaster CCTV holds exclusive rights to the Games.
The precise arrangements will be announced by the three stations later, and they are expected to meet for further talks.
Live coverage is expected to be shown on ATV World and TVB Pearl, while two Cantonese language channels, TVB Jade and ATV Home, will show highlights.