Tycoon Ricky Wong Wai-kay raised a glass to former employer ATV last night as he made a shock appearance on the station - his first since his 12-day stint as its boss in 2008 - and set tongues wagging about his next move.
The Hong Kong Television Network boss, who this week put on hold plans for a mobile television channel, appeared on ATV's News Bar Talk for an unannounced interview with ATV news chief Lau Lan-cheong.
When Lau asked whether Wong had plans to buy or work with the troubled free-to-air broadcaster, Wong said: "This is not a question you should ask me. You'll have to ask your boss … what better point ATV should be brought to."
Lau pressed Wong, mentioning a meeting between him and controversial ATV investor Wong Ching in December. Ricky Wong smiled, raised a glass and said: "Let's toast."
Rumours linking Wong to a takeover of ATV or a deal to show HKTV programmes on its channels have swirled since the government denied HKTV a free-to-air licence in October. Wong then bought a mobile television licence and announced plans for a digital channel. But the Office of the Communications Authority told him he would need a free-to-air or pay-television licence if HKTV's broadcast signals could be shown on sets in more than 5,000 households.
He pilloried seemingly contradictory licensing requirements in his interview, saying: "As a matter of fact, how can there be fewer than 5,000 households ... receiving [mobile TV] when at the same time you have to ensure reception by half of the population, 3.6 million?"
ATV's future has also been the subject of speculation. Its licence is up for renewal next year and the station has frequently been in trouble with regulators, seen its audience share collapse and been accused of bias.
Meanwhile, HKTV last night announced to the stock exchange that there was no technical solution available that would allow it to run mobile television services in the long run.
In the announcement, made after markets closed, the company said it would continue its discussions with OFCA and take other appropriate measures, including court action and exploring online television opportunities. Its share price slid 3.32 per cent to HK$2.33 yesterday.
Wong met about 150 HKTV creative and production staff yesterday. He said it would take him a month to work out a new direction for the company. Sources said Wong told staff they could quit without penalty, but only when they had finished whatever project they were working on.