The Communications Authority was wrong to recommend awarding three new free-to-air television licences; the government was right to reject such advice. While it is good to have more choice, what good is it when that means choosing between "bad" and "worse" programmes?
Five TV stations will water down the quality of Hong Kong's television programmes further, as more bad programmes will be made because of the smaller budgets available to all.
The government was right when it said its decision should be based on "the sustainability of the free-to-air TV market in the broad sense of the impact of the grant of additional free-to-air TV licences on the broadcasting industry in Hong Kong".
For one thing, the authority set the bar far too low for these stations in terms of programming: 30 minutes of news and an hour of children's programmes daily; an hour each of documentary, current affairs, arts and culture, and programmes for senior citizens, plus 30 minutes for young people every week.
There was no requirement for drama and light entertainment programmes. If the new licensees produce only the required programmes, nothing more, how can they compete with TVB? And without local drama and music shows, how can we foster home-grown actors and singers? The authority also failed to mandate that only locally produced programmes should be aired during prime time. How can that promote local talent?
The current advertising revenue is insufficient to support five free-to-air stations in Hong Kong. To increase their share of the ad spending, television stations would have to take away business from other media sources, such as radio, newspapers, magazines, outdoor signage and the internet. TV's share is currently about 35 per cent, with newspapers taking 31 per cent, outdoor 12 per cent, radio 4 per cent and the rest split by the others.
By how much can Hong Kong's advertising expenditure grow? Five per cent, possibly 10 per cent at the most, I'd say. If TV takes away a large share of the revenue from other media (which is unlikely anyway), thousands of jobs would go as the losers will be forced to downsize or even close.
The free market is fine in principle, but it should not apply in the free-to-air TV industry. There's just not enough ad revenue to support five TV stations and allow the market to decide who would succeed and who would fail. What if all five do a great job and produce good shows but all fail to make a profit because of the lack of ad revenue? Is it right to allow them to fail?
I do not see how the two new licensees will ever be able to compete with TVB if they only produce the programmes required by the Communications Authority.
TV is a powerful medium that can, under the right conditions, inform, educate and entertain. But that is happening less and less as more degrading programmes appear. The situation will only get worse with five TV stations competing fiercely for advertising dollars.
Veteran broadcaster Robert Chua was the founding production manager and creator/executive producer of Enjoy Yourself Tonight at TVB, Hong Kong's first terrestrial TV station, and founder of satellite TV station CETV