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Wharf Holdings Ltd

Easing regulations could help TV firms stay ahead of the game

The impending demise of another broadcaster points to the need for urgent action to preserve our vibrant media environment

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 March, 2017, 1:29am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 March, 2017, 1:29am

The television industry has suffered another serious setback after Wharf (Holdings) announced it would no longer finance its unprofitable pay television and broadband internet business, i-Cable. The fate of the popular broadcaster is now hanging in the balance, pending an internal review. If the decision is made to pull the plug, there have been reports it may go off the air as early as June.

Whether the end is nigh for the 24-year-old broadcaster is still unclear at this stage. But with no fewer than three free television and digital radio stations closing down over the past year, the news does not bode well for the industry. Not only are viewers’ choices narrowed, but the closures also undermine a vibrant media environment. Subscribers are now wondering what to do.

The unease is already shared by the public, as reflected in the online reaction to the announcement. Many people lamented that it would be a major blow to press freedom if i-Cable’s TV news did not continue. The channel revolutionised TV news by being the first to run 24 hours non-stop in Hong Kong, and provides live broadcasts of key news events. Its fair but critical coverage of local and mainland news also makes it one of the most trustworthy and respectable electronic broadcasters in the city.

Shares in Hong Kong broadcaster i-Cable slump on news that parent Wharf will cut off funding

Analysts attributed the financial loss to a number of factors, including the company’s failure to adapt to the seismic shift in the entertainment industry brought by mobile devices. This has been compounded by dwindling advertising revenues and subscriptions. The company had earlier committed to launching a free TV service in May. Whether this will happen will be closely watched.

While it is incumbent upon TV players to keep up with changing trends and technologies, the government has a duty to review the relevant policies and rules. The industry is still facing a wealth of restrictions, such as rigid content and advertising rules and a ban on cross-media ownership. This has limited operators’ flexibility to compete with non-TV entertainment providers. Officials must ensure that the broadcasting regime is up to date and free of undue restrictions that prevent players from keeping up with the times.