My Take

TVB to make new investments, but viewers will still get the same old soaps

The station’s top shareholder has his own global agenda, and his focus is Hollywood, not Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 August, 2017, 1:27am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 August, 2017, 1:27am

Last month, Television Broadcasts announced a much-needed big investment in developing more quality content and products. Inexplicably, they will be mostly in English and target audiences in the United States and international markets. Sorry, Hong Kong viewers, it’s not really for you.

TVB is putting US$100 million in a joint venture with Imagine Entertainment, headed by Hollywood ace director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer. This is supposed to give TVB, according to its PR minders, “Hollywood prestige and unrivalled talent”.

Mainland media magnate Li Ruigang, who is now probably the single most powerful shareholder in the station, said the joint venture “will be of significance to TVB’s growth strategy in the years to come”. A strange kind of strategy: TVB competing with Netflix’s House of Cards and Orange is the New Black or HBO’s Game of Thrones.

TVB’s announcement does nothing to impress investors. Long within the HK$25-HK$30 range, TVB’s shares have been in the doldrums while the broader market has had a brilliant bull run. After a brief rally because of an unsuccessful share buy-back, TVB’s share price is where it was at the depths of the global financial crisis a decade ago. You don’t need to be a stock analyst to understand why. Just watch a few episodes of its evening soap operas.

TVB, US-based Imagine Entertainment form US$100m joint venture to develop programmes for overseas markets

There is not much advantage to exploit as the virtual monopolist in a sunset industry. If it needs to turn around, it knows it must invest heavily in technology and contents. TVB now has an “all-in-one” multimedia platform which combines the functions of traditional television, mobile app, social media and free streaming. That is aimed at younger audiences who prefer to watch on mobiles, computers and tablets. They are the demographics advertisers are most interested in.

But TVB programmes continue to cater to its most loyal viewers – the ageing tenants of public housing estates, hardly the big spenders advertisers are after.

So its new tech platform is too young to attract advertisers; its stagnant content is losing them fast. TVB knows it must improve on content, but it’s been reluctant to invest – until now. It was clearly pushed into this big investment by Li, whose media empire controls Young Lion Holdings, which is TVB’s largest single shareholder. But Li has his own ambitious global agenda, hence the Hollywood deal. He is happy to use TVB’s money. Just don’t expect any new and improved TVB content for Hong Kong any time soon.