Ricky Wong abandons free-TV dream for digital one with HKTV relaunch

Ricky Wong unveils plans for three to five channels, including a 24-hour news service

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 7:53pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 December, 2013, 7:31am

Hong Kong Television Network chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay says the company will press ahead with its broadcasting plans, despite the rejection of its bid for a free-to-air licence, by launching TV services that can be viewed through the internet from July 1.

HKTV will begin offering content on three to five channels in the form of what is known as "over-the-top content", similar to that offered by Netflix, Hulu and WhereverTV.

"Hong Kong needs free television," Wong said yesterday. "Free isn't just about free of charge, but also freedom."

Wong also said he would not give up on pursuing a judicial review of the decision to reject HKTV's licence application.

At least one of the channels to be offered from July will be a 24-hour news channel. The content of the rest is yet to be decided, but most will be free, except video-on-demand services.

Wong unveiled his plan following the company's HK$140 million acquisition of China Mobile Hong Kong Corporation, a subsidiary of state-owned China Mobile which holds a unified carrier licence that allows the licensee to offer mobile television services through its broadcast spectrum.

The platform will be free from the rules covering content and advertising now regulating free-to-air television.

The public will be able to watch the programmes through internet-connected devices. Audiences will have to buy a connection device before they can watch the channels through spectrums that are more stable than normal internet connections. Most programmes will be available for free while some will be shown on a paid basis.

Without giving the exact amount invested, he said HK$200 million had been spent on buying a site in Tseung Kwan O and a further several hundred million dollars would be needed for the development of a multimedia production building there. He said that the company was financially sound and had over HK$2 billion in capital.

HKTV plans to recruit the 320 staff who were axed when its application was rejected. All the productions previously suspended will be resumed.

Wong said HKTV will offer 260 hours of drama in the first year. This will be doubled to 520 hours in 2015.

Wong denied the idea for the move had been given by mainland officials at the Liaison Office or by the Hong Kong government. He said the decision was a pure business idea.

When asked if he had any plans to acquire beleaguered station ATV, Wong said he would consider any reasonable business acquisition or merger.

Melanie Lo Ka-wai, chief executive of media agency Group M Hong Kong, said Wong's new plan would interest advertisers because the television saga had generated attention from the public. Compared to ordinary free television, HKTV might reach a younger and more upmarket audience who were willing to try new technologies, she said.

Watch: Thousands take to the streets against Hong Kong government’s TV licence decision