Hong Kong Communications Authority urged to explain approval of TVB channel lease to satellite TV operator to ‘clear doubts’

Hong Kong Communications Authority urged to explain approval of TVB channel lease to satellite TV operator to ‘clear doubts’

A recent decision by Hong Kong authorities to allow the city’s biggest free-to-air broadcaster, TVB, to collaborate with a satellite TV operator on running a channel has sparked controversy over its instant access to the local market, with unanswered questions remaining.

TVB has leased one of its five free-to-air channels to “Phoenix Hong Kong Channel”, allowing it to broadcast content without the need to go through the lengthy and complicated process of applying for a free-to-air licence from the Communications Authority (CA).

When asked about the controversy in an interview on Thursday, TVB chairman Thomas Hui To said the collaboration with Phoenix was carried out in “a very open manner with a proper process”, and that “Hongkongers should be happy” to have more content available.

The authority said there were precedents for a free-TV broadcaster to air content supplied by third parties.

TVB’s net loss narrowed to HK$763 million last year. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Legislator Doreen Kong Yuk-foon urged the authority to explain to the public the rationale behind its approval.

“Without a clear explanation, room for misunderstanding will grow. No one in Hong Kong is against these two television broadcasters. But we want our doubts to be cleared,” she said.

On April 15, the authority revealed it had approved a deal under which Television Broadcasts (TVB) would launch Phoenix Hong Kong Channel from April 22. It airs on TVB’s channel 85.

The authority also gave TVB a temporary waiver from complying with subtitle requirements for the Phoenix channel for three months to July 21. The Phoenix channel carries both Mandarin and Cantonese content.

As part of a restructuring plan, TVB was also allowed to replace its “J2” and “TVB Finance, Sports and Information Channel” with “TVB Plus” on April 22. TVB Plus runs on channel 82.

“As a broadcaster in Hong Kong, we feel that the more content that is available to the Hong Kong audience, the better,” Hui said.

Struggling Hong Kong broadcaster TVB to cut 300 jobs, reduce number of channels

With Phoenix TV intending to make its content more available for the free-TV spectrum, a commercial agreement was reached, he added, stopping short of providing the terms of the collaboration citing business confidentiality.

Hui admitted that more than one television service provider had approached TVB for channel 85 collaboration.

“We wanted to do it under a certain time frame … We would need to make sure that it could be approved by [the] CA,” he said when asked what prompted the decision to pick Phoenix TV.

“The entire arrangement was sanctioned by [the] CA. It was done in a very open manner with a proper process.”

The authority said on Friday that TVB had promised to ensure its channels’ content – either produced by itself or third parties – complied with requirements.

“There were precedents of a free-TV broadcaster transmitting programme channels supplied by third parties on its TV platform,” it said.

Asked whether it was aware of any commercial terms in the collaboration, the authority told the Post to ask TVB and Phoenix TV for information.

Phoenix TV was founded in 1996 by a former People’s Liberation Army officer, Liu Changle. It counts Beijing-backed publisher Bauhinia Culture as its biggest shareholder, with a 21 per cent stake. It is followed by Pansy Ho Chiu-king’s Shun Tak Holdings, with a 16.9 per cent interest.

The Post has contacted Phoenix TV for comment.

With a shift in the audience’s appetite and competition from other modes of media in recent years, the free-TV industry has faced tough times, with TVB’s six consecutive years of losses including three years during the Covid-19 pandemic partly reflecting that.

Losses at Hong Kong’s TVB widen to HK$406.7 million in first half of the year

Hui expressed optimism that the company would return to profit in the second half of the year.

In 2023, the broadcaster’s net loss was 5.5 per cent lower at HK$763 million (US$97.8 million) than the previous year.

He said there had been “explosive” expansion of TVB’s mainland Chinese business and substantial growth in advertising.

Hui noted there was a sharp increase in advertisers, with the banking, insurance and health sectors seeking to collaborate with the broadcaster for their campaigns in the Greater Bay Area.

“This year’s financial story of TVB must be a revenue story,” he said.

The bay area is Beijing’s scheme to link Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong province into an economic powerhouse.



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