City Telecom's new free-to-air television channel will give veteran rivals TVB and ATV a run for their money and improve the industry in the city, says the company's chairman, dismissing the threat of a legal challenge to the channel's licence application by ATV.
Ricky Wong Wai-kay yesterday pledged to spend HK$1 billion on programme production for the initial years of City's free-to air channel and to film 10 new series this year - starting with a musical drama.
Filming would begin as soon as next month, Wong said, even as ATV makes a last-ditch attempt to block three free-to-air licences expected to be issued to City and subsidiaries of Cable TV and PCCW.
'I'm not worried about ATV's judicial review,' Wong said. 'The government had always planned to issue more television licences, and we have fulfilled every criteria for getting the licence.'
He was speaking at a groundbreaking event for City's HK$600 million television and multimedia production centre in Tseung Kwan O.
The government has yet to formally announce that it will issue new licences, although the Broadcasting Authority submitted recommendations to the government last May. ATV announced earlier this month that it would seek a judicial review.
Cable TV has urged the government to speed up the granting of the licences so it can offer Olympic Games coverage to non-subscribers in July.
Wong is not concerned by ATV's move and says City is pressing ahead with the production of series.
'The first series to be filmed will be a musical. I don't want every drama to be about a family feud,' he said, hinting that repeating the formula that made TVB's Heart of Greed a huge hit in 2008 was not on his agenda.
Wong said television production in the city had not kept up with international trends. Mainland broadcasters now bought more dramas from Thailand than from Hong Kong.
He hopes to redress the balance with more on-location filming and tight, twisting plots such as those seen in US hits.
The company's efforts would be aimed at improving the city's share of the regional television market rather than harming established players.
City has recruited 140 artists, including former TVB stars Maggie Cheung Ho-yee, Bernice Jan Liu, Felix Wong Yat-wah and Frankie Lam Man-lung. Wong would like to increase the number to 250 by the end of this year.
The stars would work locally, in Taiwan and on the mainland.
Felix Wong is expected to start filming a science-based detective story around July. While he was coy on how much his new employer paid to lure him away from TVB, he hinted that he had more than doubled his previous salary. Better pay and working conditions would attract more talent to the industry, he said.
'Everyone knows one station [TVB] has monopolised the market for years,' Felix Wong said. 'Improvement only comes when there is competition.'
The number of hours of programming that City Telecom says it will have ready to go to air by October