Hongkongers' chances of watching the London Olympic Games live look increasingly slim, as pay television operator Cable TV has yet to get approval for a free-to-air licence after a wait of more than two years.
The new Fantastic TV, a subsidiary of i-Cable Communications, was to be the only free-to-air station in the city to run live broadcasts of the games, after Cable TV secured sole broadcasting rights five years ago.
The games will run from July 27 to August 12. But i-Cable has yet to hear from the Executive Council the outcome of its licence application.
Even if the council gave its approval now, discussion over licensing details would take another few months, said William Kwan Jut-ho, director and chief financial officer of Cable TV. 'If the government worked according to its usual practice, it would be impossible to get a licence before the Olympics,' he said.
But he held out hope that the authorities would fast-track the licence, should Exco give consent.
The broadcaster applied for a domestic free-to-air licence in January 2010, around the same time City Telecom and PCCW did. The Broadcasting Authority reportedly advised Exco to approve all three.
If Fantastic TV fails to launch in time, Cable TV, which has 1.1 million subscribers, will air the Games on six pay channels - four on various sports and two focused on soccer.
Its Cable Number One channel, accessible to a million households, will also broadcast some matches live. Non-subscribers can watch two of the channels on the internet for free.
The most important events, including those in which the China or Hong Kong teams could win medals, would be screened on the channels available online, Kwan said.
TVB and ATV had not approached Cable TV to discuss Olympics broadcasting, he said.
However, a TVB spokesman said the station had approached Cable TV, but that the two had not engaged in detailed discussions. 'We hope to produce Olympic programmes with different characteristics to provide more choices to the audience, under reasonable and affordable commercial conditions,' he said.
An ATV spokesman said it needed time to look into the situation and would not comment at this stage.
The two free-to-air broadcasters have long had grudges with Cable TV over broadcasts of major sports events. In 2010, they initially refused to screen any World Cup matches as Cable TV demanded they run advertisements the pay station had signed up. It also banned TVB and ATV from editing the live video streams or using their own hosts in the programmes.
It is understood Cable TV may impose similar terms on the two stations for the Olympics.
Sze Lai-shan, of the Society for Community Organisation, called for the issuing of the free licences soon to make the Games accessible to all. 'Many grass-roots residents cannot visit the internet, especially those who do not have children and are therefore ineligible for the government's internet access subsidy,' she said, calling on the government to mediate between the stations.