Hong Kong officially has a free-TV duopoly enjoyed by TVB and ATV. But, judging by market share and advertising revenue, TVB effectively dominates the airwaves. The station has long been the predominant free-to-air broadcaster and the only one that consistently makes a profit. But a lack of competition doesn't help quality and content. Besides news, local game shows and formulaic soap operas have been the order of the day, or rather night. Few locally produced programmes genuinely appeal to the heart or mind. One solution that has often been proffered by critics is to introduce more competition. This will soon be put to the test as two companies aim to set up their own free-to-air stations. City Telecom has already applied to the government for a licence, and Cable TV is preparing an application. These are moves in the right direction, but we should not entertain high hopes. Huge hurdles exist for any new entrants to break the stranglehold TVB has on the entertainment industry and local culture at large. The two companies may also end up producing poor imitations of TVB's popular but formulaic programmes. For their enterprise to be worthwhile, they need at least to attempt to produce more innovative programmes. But, given the financial constraints, it may be asking too much. City Telecom may be the first in the race, as it has no media cross-ownership issues. Its subsidiary, Hongkong Broadband, has an extensive fibre optic network that can quickly help City Telecom to plug into local households. However, it does not produce a lot of its own content. And the maximum of HK$210 million that City Telecom says it plans to invest in the new station does not sound like much in light of the high costs of producing original programmes or even buying overseas content. Meanwhile, Cable TV has an effective news team, but its main attraction is its international sports programmes. Will it end up duplicating itself as a sports TV station? Since TVB was set up in 1967, the city has always had two stations, except for a third one which existed for a brief period before going under. The government has no quotas on free-to-air broadcasters, so the duopolistic structure appears to be market-driven. It did not have to be this way. The government certainly has the resources to make RTHK, its TV and radio station, a local version of the BBC. However, it lacks the political will. As a result, RTHK has been mired in its own existential struggle with pro-Beijing critics and other vested interests sniping at it since the time of the handover. The local television scene has been enlivened by the increasing popularity of pay television, whether it is through cables (i-Cable) or fibre optics (NOW). But their services can be expensive, and not every family may choose to pay for them. There is, therefore, room for more free-to-air broadcasters. Provided they meet basic requirements, the government should give City Telecom and Cable TV a chance to prove their mettle. We can - and do - hope they will surprise us.