My Take

Content is king in any bid to save Hong Kong television

The city’s broadcasting industry is in a shambles. But while better technology is one way forward, it’s high-quality programming that will attract a new audience

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 February, 2017, 1:05am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 February, 2017, 1:05am

Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry is in shambles. The myopia and complacency of the dominant players, the incompetence of government regulators, and long-term adverse industry trends – all these have resulted in the sorry state the industry has found itself in today. Either the industry reinvents itself or we will all be condemned to many more years of inane local entertainment.

It has been revealed this week that Fantastic Television, a subsidiary of i-Cable, has suspended its application for a terrestrial broadcast licence. Forever Top, a consortium led by Pansy Ho Chiu-king, the daughter of Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun, has also suspended its free-to-air application. Meanwhile, after a decade of losses, the dominant TVB has announced its withdrawal from the local pay-TV market. Last year, ATV ended its free-to-air television after decades in service. The government essentially killed Hong Kong Television after it inexplicably rejected its licence application in 2013.

Free-to-air broadcaster Fantastic Television stalls its over-the-air plans, Hong Kong authority says

The government’s broadcasting policy has completely failed while the industry is slowly committing hara-kiri. On top of all that, millennials don’t like to watch programmed or scheduled TV.

The way forward is pretty clear, if overseas experience is any guide: better technology and better content. In a belated attempt to placate investors who saw its share price halved in the past two years, TVB is promising the former. This means refocusing on its long dominant free-to-air service and converging it with so-called over-the-top (OTT) broadcasting based on the internet. Yet, it stubbornly refuses to acknowledge its inferior programmes.

If the rise of HBO and the rebirth of Netflix is any guide, it’s the revolution in content programming that has captured a whole new audience. Overseas, high-quality dramas are more often found on TV rather than in movies.

This is not impossible in Hong Kong. Hard to imagine now, but in the first decade of its existence, TVB was willing to take risks by hiring young original writers and directors. In the 1970s, Dragon, Tiger and Leopard was an innovative crime drama series. The Northern Stars, for a time, made being a social worker almost cool. And Gan Kwok-leung, the most famous scriptwriter TVB ever had, mastered the art of the dramatic dialogue in such TV classics as The Wrong Couples and No Biz Like Showbiz.

Technology only takes you so far. In the end, content is king.