RTHK lays out plan for four digital TV channels

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 September, 2009, 12:00am

RTHK has outlined draft plans to carry four digital television channels, including one for high-definition programmes, after its planned move to a new headquarters in 2015.

The new channels would mean a drastic increase in productions, but critics fear the broadcaster may struggle to retain audiences who currently watch its programmes through commercial broadcasters.

An RTHK official familiar with the situation said an additional spectrum allocated to the broadcaster could bring new programming opportunities, but also said it would pose big challenges to staff.

The government pledged this week to give RTHK fresh 'staffing, financial and spectrum resources' to boost its operations. One initiative was to allocate a group of digital channels broadcast on the ultra-high-frequency band - capable of providing both high-definition and standard definition services - to RTHK for digital broadcasting.

As the broadcaster's existing headquarters in Kowloon Tong could not house fully fledged digital broadcasting, the test run for new channels would only begin after the scheduled move to a new headquarters in Tseung Kwan O in five years.

The official said RTHK could run a 24-hour dedicated high-definition channel for its own public affairs programmes, in addition to three channels in standard definition.

One standard definition channel could relay the mainland's CCTV channels, while another could carry community group productions. The remaining channel might carry educational programmes or co-productions with overseas broadcasters.

'The future RTHK can dedicate air time for programmes of limited commercial interest, such as those targeted at kids, as well as education, publicity and ceremonial shows,' the official said.

For the current financial year, RTHK was budgeted to produce only 570 hours of public affairs programmes, with an average hourly cost of HK$419,000. Running a high-definition channel around the clock would mean an increase in the quantity and cost of productions.

The official said it was unlikely the new channels would carry commercials, but they would be in fierce competition with commercial broadcasters. Working groups would be set up soon to study staffing and resources requirements for digital broadcasting. 'Programme productions will be driven by public demand instead of ratings ... the only aim is to produce quality programmes,' the official said.

About a million TVB viewers and 240,000 watching ATV viewed RTHK programmes in prime time last year.

The government had said these programmes would return to RTHK's own channels in the future.

A TVB spokeswoman welcomed the public broadcaster running its own television channels, saying that audience targets for commercial stations and the public broadcaster were different.

Professor Leung Tin-wai, head of Shue Yan University's journalism department and a member of a government-appointed committee to review public broadcasting policy, said RTHK staff would be under pressure to attract audiences to its programmes, which were funded by taxpayers' money.

RTHK programme staff union chairwoman Janet Mak Lai-ching said: 'Running a channel could mean four or five times the production hours ... I wonder if the government will pump in the resources proportionally.'