Despite mounting losses at Hong Kong’s i-Cable, pay TV operator remains upbeat

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2015, 4:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 3:17pm

Internet service provider i-Cable Communications, the holding company of one of Hong Kong’s pay television providers, is in rebuilding mode with improved services in the pipeline after seeing its losses widen this year amid heavy competition.

Management at i-Cable, a subsidiary of Hong Kong landlord and property developer The Wharf (Holdings), said in a regulatory filing on Wednesday that plans are underway for "new product initiatives and investments to strengthen our customer base and boost revenue across market segments".

The company reported an interim net loss of HK$121 million (US$15.6 million) in the six months ended June 1 due to weak sales and higher operating costs. 

This compares unfavourably to a net loss of HK$23 million in the corresponding period one year earlier.

"An abundant supply of free channels, pay channels and streaming content continued to expand the direct and indirect competition, which further weakened the demand for our subscription content," the company said. 

"Broadband competition was also severe, as rival operators gained market share from us with faster connectivity."

Its programming costs in the first half of this year increased 9 per cent to HK$458.46 million, up from HK$420.85 million the previous year.

Selling, customer services, general and administrative expenses rose 2 per cent to HK$171.29 million from HK$167.42 million a year ago.

Meanwhile, consolidated revenue fell 10 per cent to HK$759.57 million, down from HK$842.53 million a year earlier.

Customer numbers at i-Cable were down across its market segments. It had 969,000 pay-TV subscribers at the end of June, compared with about 1 million at the end of December. Hong Kong’s population is just north of 7.2 million.

Broadband internet users decreased to 179,000 from 186,000 at the end of last year. It also had 105,000 residential subscribers to its internet telephony services, 5,000 less than the total on December 31.

"We have seen early signs of revenue stabilisation in pay TV as a result of our efforts to drive up price point," i-Cable’s management said.

Work on upgrading the network is also on track to deliver higher-speed broadband services to more homes in the city in the second half, it added.

The company is also known to be discussing licensing terms and conditions for its Fantastic Television free-to-air TV operation with the Communications Authority, the local industry regulator, following the government's decision not to renew the license of cash-strapped broadcaster Asia Television.

Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, the chairman and chief executive at i-Cable, said in May that Fantastic Television could start broadcasting within a year of the government granting it a license.

"I believe it can be faster than one year," Ng said at the time.