TVB fined HK$900,000 for anti-competition practices
Station must pay HK$900,000 for 'abusing its leading market position' via contracts that discouraged talent from working for rivals
The Communications Authority has handed free-to-air broadcaster TVB a HK$900,000 fine for imposing unreasonable contract terms on actors and singers.
Three years after it launched an investigation following a complaint by rival station ATV, the authority announced yesterday it had found TVB had abused its dominant position in the market to prevent competition.
ATV welcomed the authority's decision, while Cable TV urged the government to give out new free-to-air licences as soon as possible, saying new competitors would be the best cure for TVB's anti-competitive practices.
But TVB rejected the findings as "disappointing, regrettable and without merit", and said it would consider an appeal.
The authority, which examined TVB's one-show, serial-based and singing contracts from 2007 to 2010, said some practices contravened the Broadcasting Ordinance.
Serial-based contracts refer to those in which artists agree to act in a series.
Artists who signed those contracts were not full-time employees of TVB, but some were required to work exclusively for the station. Others were asked to obtain consent from the station before engaging in outside work during their free time.
Between 2007 and 2010, TVB approved very few such applications, and none of the applications involved working for TVB's rival stations.
"Such exclusive clauses weaken other stations' power to compete for artists on fair grounds," said the authority's chairman, Ambrose Ho Pui-him.
If the artists were in TV series shown on rival stations' channels, their voices had to be dubbed over. They were also banned from attending promotions for the series.
Singers also faced unfair treatment, the authority said. More than 90 per cent of the city's singers had contracts with TVB, and they similarly had to get the station's consent for outside work.
There was also an implicit understanding that they must not speak Cantonese when they accepted interviews with other TV stations, which the authority said hampered understanding and impaired the rivals' ability to compete with TVB. In more than 300 TV interviews of TVB artists featured on Cable TV from 2010 to 2011, almost all the singers spoke Putonghua.
Although the rule was not written into contracts, interviewed singers and record companies spoke of a fear of retaliation by TVB if they spoke Cantonese. They said there was a risk of being denied opportunities to appear on TVB shows and being given fewer music awards.
The watchdog said in its report that there was not enough evidence to prove that such a "retaliation policy" existed, but it was a genuinely held perception.
The maximum penalty allowed by law for the relevant violations is HK$1 million. Given that the station made remedies including cancelling the one-show contracts, the authority decided on the final fine of HK$900,000.
Former TVB artist Felix Wong Yat-wah, now with licence-seeker HKTV, applauded the decision for its "righteousness".
Popular singer Joey Yung Cho-yee said she had actually appreciated the chance to speak in Putonghua.
"Actually I don't mind, as the experience has allowed me to speak Mandarin quite well now. I should actually thank this rule," she said in Putonghua to non-TVB stations.
TVB said it had nurtured more than 1,000 celebrities via a substantial investment of resources, and that it did not hinder the operation of other TV stations or the development of the industry.
"We will seek legal advice concerning the authority's decision and findings and, if necessary and so advised, will commence legal proceedings against the decision," it said.
Cable TV's i-Cable Communications, HKTV and PCCW applied in 2009 and 2010 for new free-to-air licences, but the government has made no decision.