Digital radio in Hong Kong dies with bow out of RTHK channels

Broadcaster will pull plug on five channels and reassign affected programmes in reshuffle

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 August, 2017, 7:34am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 August, 2017, 8:21am

Hong Kong’s last remaining digital radio channels will go off the air next month, public broadcaster RTHK announced on Friday, putting the final nail in the coffin for the city’s ill-fated digital audio broadcasting policy.

At the stroke of midnight on September 4, RTHK will pull the plug on five channels – DAB 31 to 35 – reassigning affected programmes to its FM channels in a reshuffle.

The move was announced weeks ahead of a six-month deadline laid down by the Executive Council in late March to end all digital radio services, which struggled for six years to find a sizeable audience.

No longer realistic: digital radio in Hong Kong gets the axe because of weak market

Three other commercial licensees – Metro Broadcast, Phoenix U and Digital Broadcasting Corporation – pulled out of the market between 2015 and 2016, making RTHK the sole operator of digital radio services.

The reshuffle will see the BBC’s World Service, now broadcast round the clock on DAB 34, reduced to an 11pm-7am slot on Radio 4.

The public broadcaster said it would “continue catering for the underprivileged, ethnic minorities and different communities”.

Head of corporate communications Amen Ng explained that listeners could always tune in to BBC programmes directly via its website, while the late-night time slot would carry more updated news due to the time zone difference between Hong Kong and the UK.

At the same time, the 24-hour relay of the state-run China National Radio would be retained on Radio 6, Ng said, stressing that it was “tailor-made” for RTHK and could help enhance exchanges between Hong Kong and mainland China.

End of digital radio is a chance for RTHK to better serve ethnic minorities

The introduction of digital radio services was first announced by former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in 2009, following the successful roll-out of digital television in 2007.

The first channel was soft-launched by Digital Broadcasting Corporation in August 2011.

At its height there were 17 such radio channels in Hong Kong, before the stations’ gradual demise due to unprofitability.

According to a Legislative Council document, at least HK$63.9 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent on promoting the technology, including installing transmission systems and publicity.

RTHK spent about HK$6 million each year to run the five channels.