Victory for Hong Kong media maverick Ricky Wong in mobile TV battle
Watchdog reverses course and says his company can upgrade to same higher-resolution service used for programmes on free TV
Media maverick Ricky Wong Wai-kay’s battle to secure a free-to-air TV licence received a boost on Thursday when the telecommuncations watchdog approved his long-running application to upgrade the resolution of his mobile TV service.
The Communications Authority’s announcement reversed a High Court ruling of two years ago, in which the judge rejected a judicial review brought by Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) and Hong Kong Mobile Television Network (HKMTV) – both chaired by Wong – against the regulator.
After being denied a TV licence in 2013, Wong was accused of trying to use his mobile service as free TV in disguise by upgrading to the same advanced transmission standard, called digital terrestrial multimedia broadcast, used by other free-to-air broadcasters.
The judge said companies would need to apply for a television licence if their mobile station could reach more than 5,000 households.
Under the new ruling, HKMTV would be able to upgrade to the digital format that would allow viewers to watch high-resolution videos. The current platform only supports VCD quality. The new transmission standard will be applied to its services within 12 months.
“We welcome the decision made by the new government administration. We hope to provide more television entertainment choices for Hong Kong people in future,” an HKTV spokeswoman said.
She said people would be able to watch its programmes on TV sets or mobile devices with much higher picture quality by installing a designated receiver.
HKTV acquired China Mobile Hong Kong, which had been issued a licence to provide mobile television services in Hong Kong, and changed its name to HKMTV in 2013.
Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying and his advisers rejected an application by Wong for a free-to-air licence for an unknown “basket of factors”. This sparked a public outcry, with many questioning if the decision was politically driven.
Wong ran in the Legislative Council elections in 2016 on a platform of trying to replace Leung.
But with Leung’s term as chief executive ending last month, Wong’s luck seems to have turned.
Francis Fong Po-kiu, honorary president of the Information Technology Federation, said the reverse in the government ruling had much greater significance than improving picture quality.
“It is a good gesture made by the new administration under Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor,” he said. “It means Lam’s administration is not taking an hostile attitude towards HKTV, unlike its predecessor.”
In the authority’s statement, a spokesman said it had completed “rounds of correspondence exchanges and face-to-face meetings” with HKTV staff before reaching a finalised technical proposal.