Asian Games 2018

Cable TV Hong Kong to show 2018 Asian Games for free – but did it pay US$6 million for the rights?

Local broadcasters were reluctant to throw money at the 2018 Games in Jakarta amid reports the government stepped in before price drop

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2018, 11:52am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2018, 9:39am

Hong Kong’s Asian Games officials expressed relief on Tuesday after Cable TV announced it would offer free live broadcasts of the event from Jakarta and Palembang.

The price tag for broadcast rights for the August 18 to September 2 Games was US$6 million, a fee no Hong Kong station was willing to pay. However, i-cable Communications Ltd, which operates Cable TV, decided to step in amid whispers the government offered to provide assistance and that the price had dropped as low as US$2 million.

“We are delighted that Cable TV has decided to step in,” said Vivien Lau Chiang-chu, vice-president of the Hong Kong Sports Federation & Olympic Committee. “This is Hong Kong’s biggest delegation to the Asian Games and we have many chances to win medals, including gold, so it is important that the Hong Kong fans have a chance to see their athletes live.

“For the athletes also, it is important. They work so hard to prepare for the Games and when they step on to the podium, it is a proud moment for them and they would like the Hong Kong people to share in their glorious moment.”

Hong Kong fans can watch the action on Cable TV, the free-to-air channel Fantastic TV and its platforms on the internet and i-CABLE mobile app. Coverage includes the opening and closing ceremonies, competitions and daily highlights, with Cantonese commentary.

Cable TV has provided coverage of the past five Asian Games – Bangkok 1998, Busan 2002, Doha 2006, Guangzhou 2010 and Incheon 2014.

“As a sports television media in Hong Kong, we are delighted to be appointed as the official broadcaster again, showcasing the Asian Games action continuously for the sixth time to audiences in town,” said i-CABLE News Limited and i-CABLE Sports Limited executive director Ronald Chiu.

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There was the possibility that Hong Kong TV stations would completely ignore the Asian Games for the first time ever, with the US$6 million price tag proving too much.

A group of former athletes is said to have approached the office of Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po to help pay for the costs. In the meantime, it is reported that Japanese company Dentsu, which owns the broadcast rights, dropped the price to US$2 million, making it easier for Cable TV to commit to the Games.

Sports Commissioner Yeung Tak-keung and the office of the financial secretary had yet to respond to SCMP requests for comment as of Tuesday morning.

On Monday, Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah said local media organisations were negotiating with Games organisers. When asked if the government could buy broadcasting rights, he said the tradition was for commercial organisations to bid for rights, although he did not rule out government involvement.

Hong Kong will be sending a delegation of around 700 to the Asian Games, the largest squad ever thanks to several team sports taking part, including men’s and women’s rugby sevens and hockey.

Athletes such as Sarah Lee Wai-sze, as well as the men’s sevens team, are among the favourites to win a gold medal.

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The Olympics and Asian Games have always been a loss-making effort for Hong Kong broadcasters and that is likely to be the case with the Jakarta Games as well.

However, Chiu was quoted in local media as saying profit was not the priority when the company decided to take the broadcast rights, stressing that Cable TV has provided coverage for many years and Hong Kong was sending its largest squad ever to the Games.

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The Asian Games is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, with the number of athletes almost equal to those attending the Olympics. And with more sports events, broadcasters must spend a fortune on equipment and teams for each sport, including disciplines unique to Asia such as kabaddi, sepak tekraw and silat, among others.

However, Cable TV will receive six live feeds from organisers, which reduces the need to have reporting teams on the ground in Indonesia.

Hong Kong Rugby Union Chief Executive Robbie McRobbie said it was important for athletes to know that they were being watched by fans back home.

“For people in Hong Kong not have the opportunity to watch our sports stars in action would have been very disappointing and certainly would not have helped our sports community’s efforts to promote interest and participation in sports,” said McRobbie.

“From that point of view, we are certainly delighted that Cable TV have stepped in and decided to broadcast the Asian Games.”