Sunday, August 20, 2017

**UPDATED**Breaking news: Ricky Wong gives up on television dreams?

8/21/17 UPDATE:  I found out some more information about this whole thing that I felt necessary to share.  Apparently, in addition to RW selling his stake in HKTV, there was also an “official” announcement made where HKTV said that they are “reconsidering” the second application they had made for a free-to-air license 2 years ago (I read the official announcement in Chinese…not sure if I’ll have time to translate and post it though…).  This is interpreted to mean that HKTV is no longer interested in obtaining a free-to-air license and may rescind their application at some point in the next few months.  Also, HK-based Mainland station Phoenix TV officially rescinded their application awhile back ago and Forever Top’s David Chiu has put his application on hold as well due to his recent success in “acquiring” i-Cable (whose new free-to-air arm Fantastic Television launched earlier this year). 

So it looks like we go from having several potential contenders for additional free-to-air licenses to ZERO.  Though officially right now there are 3 free-to-air TV stations in HK – TVB, ViuTV, Fantastic Television – we all know that the 2 newer TV stations don’t stand a chance against powerhouse TVB…so basically, we are essentially right back to where we started from in that TVB will continue to hold their monopoly over the HK television industry, probably for the rest of their existence.

Obviously I’m disappointed...and with everything else going on in HK right now, this issue just adds to the frustration….


I don't usually do these types of short posts but I don't have access to a computer at the moment and come across this important news that I needed to share.

According to the 2 news articles below, Ricky Wong has officially sold his stake in HKTV.  The first article gives the details on the financial part of the transaction and the second is an interview of sorts with Ricky Wong where he says something that, coincidentally, I've been saying for the past 2 years:  the HK television industry has changed tremendously in the past few years since he applied for a license and it is no longer a viable option for him.

As much as I support HKTV -- and would still support them if they did decide to resume operations -- I'm not blind to the fact that things have changed the past couple years and the road would've been 10x more difficult for both HKTV and Ricky Wong than it was before.  It looks like RW finally realizes this now and has decided to "stop the bleeding" now before it got even worse.

Of course, I'm saddened by this, even though I already knew it was inevitable.  But I think more than anything else, I'm angry because this means TVB has won the battle and unfortunately for the HK entertainment industry, this means yet another nail in the coffin (those who've been following my blog and my posts on this issue will know what I'm talking about).

More thoughts to come once I'm able to get back to accessing via a computer.

Article 1:

Article 2:

Saturday, July 15, 2017

News: Victory for Hong Kong media maverick Ricky Wong in mobile TV battle (title from SCMP article)

Some of you might have already heard the news (which came out yesterday) that the Communications Authority decided to approve HKTV's application to "upgrade their mobile TV transmission standard" to the same digital transmission that is currently used by the free-to-air networks -- interestingly enough, some media outlets are reporting this news as the CA "approving HKTV's mobile TV license."  To be honest, both of these technically aren't the same thing and really shouldn't be used interchangeably, since the fact is that HKTV already has a mobile TV license that they bought from another company, it's just they couldn't "use" the license up to this point because the platform they had for transmission was low quality resolution.  As a means of background, HKTV had submitted a request to the CA several years ago to upgrade their transmission platform to digital terrestrial transmission so that they could broadcast their series in higher quality, however the CA rejected their request, claiming that HKTV was trying to "circumvent the system" by upgrading to same transmission quality as the current free-to-air stations (Ricky Wong had submitted the request not long after his application for a free-to-air license was denied).  HKTV had filed a judicial review against the CA on this issue several years ago, but the courts had ruled in favor of the CA and the government, so Ricky Wong was pretty much forced to "abandon" his mobile license.

Well, now it looks like the CA has decided to "reverse course" and approve the upgrade.  Not sure what this means in terms of the license issue (remember that HKTV still has a second application for a free-to-air license in the government's hands awaiting approval/denial), as it could technically go both ways -- this could be the government's way of "appeasing" Ricky Wong in case they decide to reject his license application for a second time...or it could mean that finally, HKTV has a fighting chance at possibly getting the license.  Regardless of which way it goes though, one thing is for sure -- the new administration under Carrie Lam doesn't seem to be hell-bent on bringing down HKTV like the previous administration under CY Leung was.

Details about the approval are in this SCMP article.

With all that said though, I also read an article from HK01 in Chinese that paints a more realistic picture of what this mobile TV transmission approval means for HKTV (and HK audiences).  Though most of us can consider this a "small victory" for HKTV and Ricky Wong, the real picture is more bleak (for the record, most of the stuff in the HK01 article is pretty much in-line with what I've been trying to get across for the past 2-3 years -- basically that it's "too little, too late" and even if HKTV were to finally get their license approved, it's pretty much pointless, since things have changed so drastically -- both for HKTV and the TV industry).

In the interests of time, I'm not going to translate the HK01 article word for word.  However, I will translate the 2 most important paragraphs of the article, which were basically Ricky Wong's response to HK01 and also a high level HKTV exec's response to the CA's decision:

When HKTV switched to becoming an e-commerce shopping platform in 2014, the company essentially lost all its artists as well as behind-the-scenes staff (scriptwriters, directors, etc).  Towards the mobile license decision, Ricky Wong responded through his spokesperson: "Half the scriptwriters and directors already returned to TVB!  The rest we will have to wait and see before saying anything further" -- meaning that resuming filming again will be difficult.

A current high level executive at HKTV revealed:  "Even if the government were to approve the free-to-air license now, HKTV's business model has already changed.  Plus for the past 3 years that we've been doing HKTVmall, we've been losing money -- it was only recently that we started getting alot more orders and business has become more stable.  However, Mr. Wong has alot less capital (funds) to work with now, since HKTVmall has yet to turn over a profit -- with alot less money than he used to have, where will he find the money to invest in filming series?"  The exec also indicated that if HKTV goes the mobile TV route only (assuming their free-to-air license doesn't get approved) and they do decide to film series again, for sure they won't be filming 1 hour episodes -- to reduce production costs, each episode would only be around 10 to 15 minutes.  Also, half the scriptwriters and directors (producers) already returned to TVB, so whether they would be willing to help Ricky Wong fight the battle again is a huge unknown.

For example, HKTV series The Borderline (警界線) producer Chu King Kei (朱鏡祺) already returned to TVB awhile back ago and produced their recently mega-hit series My Unfair Lady (不懂撒嬌的女人), while The Election (選戰) producer KK Wong (黃國強) was recruited by Andy Lau's (劉德華) company to produce the series Hong Kong Wall Street (香港華爾街) for Fox Asia, so it looks like neither producer would be returning to HKTV even if given the opportunity -- in the near future at least.

Source:  HK01
(Article title: 港視獲發牌《選戰》《警界線》有望拍續集? 王維基:編導去晒TVB)


Concluding thoughts:  Basically, this "small victory" for HKTV really isn't much of a victory, since it looks like the chances of Ricky Wong filming series again is very slim.  Besides, as the HK01 article already pointed out, HKTV's operational model has already changed, so even if they did film series again, it definitely won't be the same as 5-6 years ago -- in other words, all the things that had made HKTV such a viable alternative to TVB back then (aka all the things I had loved about HKTV) would no longer be in existence now.  Of course, someone like me would probably still support HKTV, but I can't say the same about majority of HK's audiences, many of whom still view TVB as their only option for HK television programs (just look at the 2 new free-to-air stations that recently launched -- ViuTV last year and Fantastic Television this year -- and you'll see how pathetic the situation is nowadays).  Heck, if I were Ricky Wong, from a practical as well as financial standpoint, I would continue to focus on expanding and developing the HKTVmall business too and not even bother with the television production stuff anymore!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Celebrity Death News: veteran actress Susanna Auyeung

I'm really sad at the moment, as I just found out that one of my favorite former TVB actresses -Susanna Auyeung - passed away yesterday from illness at the age of 63.  Most people nowadays probably don't know who Susanna is, since she was most active back in the 70s and 80s and retired completely from the industry back in 1993.  However if I were to mention who her husband is, I'm sure current TVB fans will recognize him instantly - he is veteran actor Samuel Kwok Fung.  Samuel and Susanna have been married 40 years and are considered one of the HK entertainment industry's most endearing model couples.  Both Samuel and Susanna have been favorites of mine since the 80s and I've continued to follow their careers all these years.  Even though Susanna already retired, I know she became a Chinese medicine doctor specializing in qigong and has saved countless lives over the past few decades.  Needless to say, I was devastated when I heard the news and seeing how much Samuel loved his wife, my heart is breaking right now thinking about what he must be going through at the moment.  My deepest, sincerest condolences to Samuel and hope that he finds the strength to continue keeping her memory alive.  Rest In Peace, Susanna!  :-(

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Breaking news: Scriptwriter Chan Po Wah to write and produce new series for TVB

I just read the "hot off the press" news from Mingpao Weekly magazine today about famed scriptwriter Chan Po Wah returning to TVB to write and produce a new series for them.   Sheren Tang is also "implicated" in the news, as she is good friends with Chan Po Wah and is considering returning to film this one series to support her.  Details are below.

I am actually super excited about this news because Chan Po Wah is actually one of my favorite scriptwriters.  I'm sure most of you who follow my blog probably know that Chan Po Wah was the scriptwriter responsible for writing one of my all-time favorite TVB series, The Blood of Good and Evil.  Po Wah Jeh actually left TVB many years ago and currently enjoys a successful career in Mainland China (I didn't know this but she is currently the highest paid Hong Kong scriptwriter in China).  I remember "golden" producer Lee Tim Sing once said when he retired that if TVB wants to "save" the quality of their TV series, they need to bring back scriptwriters Chan Po Wah and Cheung Wah Biu -- well, looks like TVB took Tim Gor's advice to heart, as they have supposedly been in talks with Chan Po Wah to return since more than a year ago.  I wouldn't be surprised if Cheung Wah Biu agrees to return to at some point later on down the line too!

In the interests of time, I'm not going to translate the article word for word, but will summarize the highlights below.

Source:  Mingpao Weekly, Issue 2537 (published June 24, 2017)

Article entitled:  Returning to TVB to support Chan Po Wah, Sheren Tang requests that she gets to sleep

-- Chan Po Wah states that the main reason she agreed to return for this one series is because it is TVB's 50th anniversary, plus she felt that Felix To and Sandy Yu (both of whom were tasked with convincing Po Wah Jeh to return) were sincere in persuading her to come back.  She is considering this as her "gift" to TVB for their 50th birthday.

-- Po Wah Jeh already signed the contract on June 6th with TVB to film 1 series for them.  She will return to HK in October to start prep work for the script.  Cast will be confirmed at later date and filming likely won't commence until 2018, as Po Wah Jeh states that she needs several months to work on the script.

-- Po Wah Jeh will be putting all her Mainland projects on hold for this series after October so she can focus on writing the script.

-- Po Wah Jeh didn't give a whole lot of details on what the series will be about, but she did reveal that it will be a female-oriented story about a wife with "many functions" (not sure if literal or figurative sense) and will be a subject that women in society can relate to.

-- She says that this idea has been floating around in her head for awhile already, but she does not want to film it as a Mainland series because she is familiar with how they operate and in the end, it will no longer be what she intended it.  She wants to film this series as a HK series so it will be done entirely the way she envisioned it.

-- Expanding on the above point, Po Wah Jeh said that TVB is giving her 100% control over the series.  She will be the main scriptwriter for the series as well as the main producer and will have complete control  of the production from a "creativity" as well as "executive (management)" standpoint.

-- Po Wah Jeh's last series with TVB was Loving You, which starred her good friend Sheren Tang.  The reporter interviewing her asked if she would invite Sheren to be the lead in her new series.  Po Wah Jeh said that would be ideal and if Sheren agrees to film it, she will tailor the script specifically for her.  She also said that if Sheren were to be the female lead, then the ideal male lead for the series would be Francis Ng.  However, she said that the script hasn't been written yet and so casting won't even be considered until after she returns to HK in October.

-- Sheren was also interviewed and this was her response:

     - She said it is great news that Po Wah Jeh is willing to return to TVB to write a new series, as a good script is hard to come by nowadays.  She said she really really wants to collaborate with Po Wah Jeh again.

     - Asked if she has already cleared her schedule for this series, Sheren said that there are alot of things to consider and besides she is still waiting to see the script.  The reporter told her what Po Wah Jeh said the story would be about, to which Sheren replied that she only found out about it now, as Po Wah Jeh didn't tell her that part yet.  Hearing the subject matter for the series, Sheren said she is definitely interested.

     - Sheren said that if she were to return to TVB to film a series, her one request is that she gets sufficient rest (sleep).  She said she was already very clear about this back when she came back for the TVB Anniversary Awards last year.  She said that it has nothing to do with her whether she is willing to endure long hours, but rather that at this point in her life, having to film the old way is impossible for her physically.  She mentioned that her last series with TVB (Beauty at War) took a huge toll on her physically that took a long time for her to recover and it was a warning sign that she can't overexert her body that way anymore.

     - Sheren said that some people think that she is unwilling to return because of the money, but she said in reality, that is the last thing she looks at.  She said she has no problems returning to TVB in order to support Po Wah Jeh or to support the HK television industry or whatever reason, but if she has to sacrifice sleep (rest), then that would be a deal-breaker.

     - Sheren actually gave specifics on what she expects in terms of rest (listen up TVB!!!) -- she said that the schedule should be no more than 12 to 13 hours daily, including make-up, costume, etc. Also, she said that she has to have complete script prior to filming -- in other words, no "flying papers" (TVB's usual practice of writing up the script and handing it to artists last minute, resulting in artists not having time to prepare).  Sheren said that script-wise, she is not worried, as she knows Chan Po Wah will have the script ready prior to filming.

     - Sheren said that alot of people have been asking her when she will return to HK to film series -- her response is that she has not forgotten about the HK television industry and if everything is "properly aligned" (schedule, script, whom she will be collaborating with, whether her requirements will be met, etc.), she will return in a heartbeat!

Monday, June 12, 2017

HK Television Wars update: New ratings system in the coming year!

So, I was catching up on my reading and one of the articles I came across last week talked about how the HK television industry is switching to a completely different, more unified ratings structure at the beginning of next year (January 2018).  I've posted a link to the article below in case anyone wants to read the original Chinese version of it, since I don't plan on translating this particular article word for word like I usually would (mostly because of time constraints, as I've got a few other projects I need to work on).   With that said though, I do recommend that those who are able to read Chinese (more specifically Cantonese, since most of HK01's articles are written in the local HK style and language) should read the article in its entirety, as there are some really good points and perspectives brought up in the article about the television wars that you probably won't find in the mainstream papers.

Instead of translating the whole thing, I decided to sum up / paraphrase only the part about the ratings system, since that's what this post that I'm writing is about:

-          Starting in January of next year (2018), all 3 free-to-air TV stations (TVB, ViuTV, Fantastic TV) will be participating in a newly appointed 3rd party ratings survey. 

-          For the first time ever, the ratings calculations will take into account viewing data from mobile phones and tablets, which includes "re-watches" of the same program within a 7 day period.

-          The ratings will be divided into 3 categories:  TV Live (traditional TV platform such as Jade channel), OTT Live (Over-the-top streaming platform such as MyTV Super and set-top boxes), and OTT Re-watch (same platform as OTT Live except counting "re-watch" data)

-          Changing to this system will hopefully result in a more fair, more objective, and more uniform comparison of the 3 free-to-air TV stations' ratings and thereby eliminate all the current issues that stem from each station calculating their own ratings.

-          Unfortunately, the government-owned RTHK's TV channel(s) will not be included in this ratings survey

Source:  HK01

Link to original article:

So here's my two cents:

On the one hand, I feel it's a good thing that all the TV stations in HK will finally be using the same ratings system after decades of each station doing their own thing.  Those who've followed my posts the past few years know that I don't give a rat's you-know-what about ratings (not going to rehash my viewpoint here – if you're interested, check out the other blog posts I've written in the past about the HK ratings system)….especially ratings in the HK television world, which have always had a reputation for being inaccurate and farcical due to each station's "habit" of calculating the ratings in whichever way they so please and then announcing those numbers to the world as though they were fact.  This was an issue even back during the TVB vs ATV days -- I honestly can't tell you how many times I've laughed at the 2 stations' absurdity over the years "arguing" over their ratings numbers, with TVB always beating ATV to the chase in announcing "both" stations' ratings (not sure why TVB was calculating ATV's ratings but they always did even though ATV had their own 3rd party system that did it for them), followed by ATV always crying a river about TVB "deliberately" misrepresenting their numbers and ATV management insisting that it was "absolutely impossible" for their station to consistently receive only single digit ratings (in the Wong Ching era of ATV, the ratings was just one of the bajillion things that ATV management was constantly "in denial" about).    Sure, now ATV is officially out of the picture, but that hasn't stopped all the "arguments" over the ratings, since there are now two new free-to-air TV stations in town to pick up where ATV left off (in the ratings argument, that is).   Currently, each station still does their own thing when it comes to ratings and there is no consensus whatsoever on whose numbers are truly accurate (though most of HK – media, general population, etc. -- goes with TVB's ratings calculations because, hey, they are the biggest and longest running TV station in HK now that ATV is gone, plus they monopolize the TV industry anyway, so how dare anyone NOT use their ratings?  Yeah, whatever…)

The other side of the coin of course is that this whole ratings system change is "too little, too late".  Yes, it makes sense to incorporate the viewing numbers from other platforms given that's how majority of audiences watch TV nowadays and yes, it's a more accurate representation – I absolutely agree with this.  However, the part I'm irked about is that the HK television industry should have made this change 5 to 10 years ago instead of waiting until now to do it.  Honestly, what difference does it make now to have a more "accurate" set of ratings all coming from the same source?  Does anyone really care?  TVB certainly doesn't, since, in their eyes, they will always be "ratings king" and no one will ever be able to surpass them, no matter how hard they try….which of course makes it not surprising at all that TVB has chosen to essentially "give up on" the HK market and instead focus its sights on the Mainland.  This brings me to the crux of my sentiment on why changing the ratings system is "too little, too late":  Not sure how many people heard the news that came out a few days ago about TVB choosing to air Unlawful Justice Squad in Mainland China before airing in HK, which is being viewed as yet another indication of TVB not giving a crap about HK audiences (like all the backlash they’ve been getting the past few weeks about the decision to air Phoenix Rising in their golden timeslot is not enough).   I guess getting hundreds of thousands of “hits” for their series on the internet from Mainland audiences is more important than the “measly” tens of thousands of HK audiences who actually have to go through the trouble of turning on the TV set…

Of course, it can be argued that the other 2 free-to-air TV stations – ViuTV and the just-launched Fantastic Television – do care about the ratings so changing the system will benefit them.  Um, not really…we all know that both stations are way too new and there is no way for them to catch up to TVB anytime soon where ratings are concerned.  Maybe 10 years down the road (if either station lasts that long), they might have a chance of "breaking even" with TVB, but by that time, it truly won't matter anymore because TVB will likely have given up the HK market completely by then, plus who knows if there will even be any more HK audiences around to be a part of the ratings count?  As this article very aptly stated, the "trend" in HK when it comes to majority free-TV audience viewing habits is to either turn on the TV to watch TVB, or turn off the TV and watch nothing at all.  If TVB's programs suck (which has been mostly the case for the past decade at least), most audiences in HK don't automatically turn to other free-TV channels even if the alternative exists – it has been this way for decades and, as the saying goes, it's hard to break old habits.  Yea, I know it's weird and probably hard for people who didn't grow up with the HK television industry to accept, but it's very much a reality – watching TVB has become a "way of life" for most HK folks and unfortunately, as much as I hate to say it, this is never going to change unless the day comes when TVB no longer exists….so basically any talk about ratings is pointless and meaningless.

Monday, May 1, 2017

SCMP article: A book about HK Cantopop history

Most of you probably know that I'm an avid reader, especially of books pertaining to the HK entertainment industry.  I guess you could say I'm a "collector" of sorts, as I'm always on the lookout for new books that come out pertaining to the industry and make sure I buy whatever I can before the books go out of print.  I've amassed a pretty large collection of entertainment industry-related books over the years and the intention is always to read them all as quickly as possible, but of course life and work get in the way and things kind of go downhill from there where "finding time to read" is concerned. 

Unlike the "regular" books I normally read – which are all in English – almost all of the entertainment books I have are written in Chinese.  This should come as no surprise, since almost all of the books were published in Hong Kong and written by people whose first language is not English.  Some of the books I had to order online but majority of them I picked up during my trips back to HK (I think I've written blog posts before about my habit of visiting bookstores whenever I return to HK to visit relatives).  Some books were only recently published while others were written several decades ago and were passed down to me from other family members (I am fortunate to be a part of a large family of HK entertainment fanatics!).

While I have no problems communicating  in Chinese due to being fluent in the language for many years already, I am admittedly a much slower reader when it comes to Chinese books.  The main reason is of course due to my first language being English, since my family immigrated here (to the U.S.) when I was a baby (most people don't believe me when I tell them that I'm an "OBC" – our conversation usually ends with people trying to force the "ABC" label on me, lol).  Not surprisingly, my brain is also wired to think in English so sometimes when I'm reading in Chinese, my brain will go into "auto-translate" mode and try to "default" itself back to English, lol (luckily this only happens when I read books, so I can get through Chinese newspapers and magazines pretty quickly).

This is why when I saw the below book review in SCMP about a book being released this year on the history of Hong Kong Cantopop written entirely in English, I was ecstatic and couldn't wait to get my hands on the book (finally, a book about the HK entertainment industry written in English by a native Hong Konger!).  I put in my order several weeks ago and the book finally arrived (via snail mail) yesterday!  Based on the SCMP review, it does sound like the book is more academic in nature (which isn't surprising given it's written by a University of Hong Kong professor as part of a research project) and I'm assuming that, while there is no doubt that the book will cover the entire timeline of Cantopop's history from its inception to current time, it looks like the tone will be more factual than anecdotal.  Regardless, I am still looking forward to reading this (I've got a few other books I need to finish up first though) and hopefully I can put a more personal spin to the content when I do my review of the book (which I will absolutely share on this blog).

For now though, fellow Cantopop fans can take a quick trip down memory lanel with the below article (note that I did not copy over the pictures that were in the article so if you're interested in them, please click on the Source link to read the article directly on SCMP's website).


Photo of the book's front cover that I took last night.


Article: Hong Kong Cantopop is a serious book on a genre that people don't take seriously

Source: SCMP

Hong Kong Cantopop: A Concise History
by Yiu-Wai Chu

Hong Kong University Press

There's a library of books about pop music's role in modern history and culture – from The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll to niche titles such as Mark James Russell's K-POP Now! The Korean Music Revolution. But until now there hasn't been a full documentation of Canto-pop – at least not in English.

Hong Kong Cantopop: A Concise History, by Yiu-Wai Chu, a professor at the University of Hong Kong's School of Modern Languages and Cultures, is a serious book about a topic most people don't take too seriously.

The Canto-pop stereotype is of stars who are prized more for their looks and acting chops than for their singing, while the songs themselves are cloying and formulaic. But Canto-pop is more than just a collection of catchy tunes sung by heartthrobs – it has been a unique soundtrack. As Hong Kong rapidly developed from a war-torn colony into an economic powerhouse, generations grew up with Canto-pop blasting from taxis and televisions.

Hong Kong Cantopop is an academic work that begins by citing the doctoral thesis on the genre by James Wong Jim aka "Uncle Jim". Wong was a lyricist who, along with composer Joseph Koo Ka-fai, created songs that helped define Hong Kong's identity, such as 1979's Below the Lion Rock.

Just a year earlier, Billboard magazine's Hans Ebert had coined the term "Canto-pop", giving a name to one of Asia's biggest music trends of the late 20th century. Chu traces the roots of Canto-pop back far further, however – to wartime anti-Japanese songs and local Chinese opera halls.

In the 1950s, singers started combining Hong Kong's dialect with Western pop melodies. A good example is Teddy Boy in the Gutter (1967), sung to the tune of Three Coins in the Fountain, which won the Academy Award for best original song in 1954.

By the 60s, local pop music had taken off, the discs being cut by EMI's Hong Kong subsidiary getting airplay on local radio stations. It was a revelation that modern pop or rock – like that produced by The Beatles, who performed in Hong Kong in 1964 – could be sung in the tongue used by 90 per cent of the population.

The 70s saw the rise of Sam Hui Koon-kit, the godfather of Canto-pop, and an explosion of TV shows and movies. By the 80s and 90s, Canto-pop was a trendsetting, multimillion-dollar industry. 

After it opened in 1983, the Hong Kong Coliseum frequently held sold-out shows by stars of the genre, who became the dominant pop-culture force across Chinese society, from Taiwan to the world's Chinatowns.

Fans were riveted by the rivalry between Alan Tam Wing-lun and Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing. Anita Mui Yim-fong was crowned the "Madonna of Asia" for her outrageous costumes and stage shows while Beyond brought rock guitar to the mix.

This was the era of Canto-pop's Four Heavenly Kings – Jacky Cheung Hok-yau, Andy Lau Tak-wah, Aaron Kwok Fu-shing and Leon Lai Ming.Cheung's albums sold millions of copies worldwide and Kwok had a major advertising contract with Pepsi.

Then came a generation of starlets, such as Karen Mok Man-wai, Kelly Chen Wai-lam and Sammi Cheng Sau-man.

In the 2000s, up popped the Twins, the photogenic, teeny-bopper duo of Charlene Choi Cheuk-yin and Gillian Chung Yan-tung.

But Canto-pop was in decline by the mid-90s, writes Chu. Record sales fell from HK$17 billion in 1997 to HK$560 million in 2006. Billboard signalled the beginning of the end with a 1999 article, "The Cantopop Drop".

Much of Hong Kong's pop culture – from kung fu flicks to art-house movies – rose out of a vacuum, at a time when China was still largely poor and isolated. But as the mainland modernised and opened up, Hong Kong's role diminished. The 1997 handover and the Asian financial crisis that same year pushed Canto-pop into further decline. Mando-pop was in the ascendency before the cultural tsunami that was K-pop eclipsed them both.

And then came 2003, a devastating year for Canto-pop fans. On April Fool's Day, Leslie Cheung committed suicide by jumping from the 24th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, in Central. In December, Mui died of cervical cancer.

Hong Kong Cantopop is well written, well researched and fills an important gap in cultural studies, but it doesn't fully capture the essence of a genre that was funny, bawdy and tugged at the heartstrings. It mentions the deaths of Cheung and Mui but it doesn't convey the deep shock and heartbreak of a community that still mourns them. Nor does it adequately describe the sheer joy of the all-dancing, all-singing, strobe-lit extravaganza that is a Canto-pop concert.

Hong Kong Cantopop would have benefited from historical photographs, or musical clips on a CD, but perhaps this was beyond the scope of its academic publisher. It would be rewarding to see Chu's research made into an interactive exhibit, website or documentary film.

With former Canto-pop stars such as Denise Ho Wan-see having branched out into new styles, what does the future hold for the genre? As Chu writes at the end of the book, "Whether the sunset can be turned into a new dawn, only history will be able to tell."

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Menu (導火新聞線) movie - My Thoughts

I finally got around to watching The Menu movie last night (yes, I know, a bit late in the game given that the movie was from like 2 years ago).  As a fan of the HKTV series that the movie was based off of, I will admit that I was initially a bit conflicted and wasn't sure if I truly wanted to watch the movie or not.  I'm sure fellow fans can understand my hesitation but for the benefit of those who may not have been following the whole HKTV saga as closely, I will attempt to explain a little bit about my thought process.  

Back when the movie was being filmed, I had actually followed the production process quite closely and tried to read/watch everything I could possibly get my hands on about the movie.  Part of the reasoning for this is because I loved the series to the point that I became a fan, so naturally, the last thing I wanted was to see an outside company come in and film a movie version that had the potential to "butcher" the original.  Of course, one thing that made this "TV series to movie" adaptation different from what we usually see (i.e. all those past movie adaptations of a certain HK television station's popular series) is that from the getgo, it was very clear from all involved in the production that, as much as possible, the original cast and crew from the series would be involved with the movie as well.  This ended up being true to some extent in that Ben Fong was still the director/producer, Pun Man Hung was still the scriptwriter, other behind-the-scenes crew who had worked on the TV series version were also involved with the movie, and much of the cast remained the same (except for a very conspicuous absence from Noelle Leung).  Still, despite these reassurances, I was still worried, mostly because the production company that would be making the movie was Stephen Shiu Jr.'s China 3D (a company whose most significant "claim to fame" in the past was in the production of category III sex romps).  In addition, there were some "controversies" that erupted during the filming process (which I won't go into here), plus the production process itself came across as super secretive, especially when compared to the "openness" of the filming process for the TV series back in the day.  And then there were of course the questions concerning creative freedom and the possible catering of the movie to the Mainland market (a discussion that I remember having 2 years ago with a group of fellow fans of the series).   Basically, what I'm trying to say is that, given all these factors (and more), I definitely had cause for concern.

Now, after finally having watched the movie, I can say with confidence that, despite my previous concerns and reservations about the movie turning out to be absolutely warranted (and looks like I ended up being right about quite a few things pertaining to the movie), overall I am happy with the way the movie turned out (I will explain in more detail later).

Before I go further, I want to make it very clear that the purpose of this post is NOT to "review" the movie, so please don't read it expecting a movie review-type write-up critiquing the mechanics of the production, the plausibility of the plot, etc. etc.  Instead, please read the below more as a "my thoughts" post on what I thought about the movie from the perspective of a huge fan of the TV series.  Since I am writing from the perspective of a fan who has watched the TV series version more than once, no doubt that my post will lean more towards a comparison of the movie with the series, which in turn also means that there will be some things I talk about in this post that non-fans (and those who haven't watched the TV series version) will probably have no clue about.  For those reading this post who fall into the latter category, I apologize in advance if not enough detail is given in certain areas and you end up feeling lost -- I definitely won't feel offended if you decide not to continue reading the rest of this post. Oh and for the HKTV haters out there, I strongly recommend not reading further, as a large portion of my post will essentially be me waxing sentimental about the series, which I (obviously) absolutely adored!

Ok, so now that the housekeeping stuff is out of the way, on to my thoughts about the movie….

Let's start with the opening sequence.  The first 4 minutes or so of the movie was devoted to a quick recap of the main plot points from the TV series with Kate Yeung's character Mallory narrating in the background.  I felt this recap was a necessity given that not everyone may have seen the series or even if they have, might not remember everything that had happened – besides, the recap was done well and pretty much set the tone for the rest of the movie.  Earlier on, I had actually read some reviews that "complained" about this opening sequence, claiming that the director was "wasting" precious screen time to "rehash" scenes from the series.  Since I had read these reviews awhile back ago before I had the chance to watch the movie, I didn't feel it was appropriate to respond to this critique of the opening segment prior to this point.  Now that I've watched, I have to say that I disagree with the reviewers' complaints about the opening sequence being a "waste of time."  First of all, the recap was only 4 minutes and actually flew by rather quickly.  In fact, I actually felt 4 minutes was too little given the fact that the series itself was 24 episodes and there were a lot of important things that happened.  I actually applaud the production team for being able to cram the main highlights of the series into such a short time frame – if it were me, I would probably need 10 to 15 minutes!  For those who hadn't seen the series, the recap was a nice way to help familiarize them with the background/premise of the series that the movie was based on.  For those who did see the series (even fans like us who have most likely watched the series more than once), it was a good refresher, especially since the movie essentially picked up from where the series left off.  For me personally – I actually LOVED the opening sequence, as it reminded me all over again why I fell in love with the series in the first place! 

Another thing I appreciated about the opening sequence was that the team didn't forget to throw in there what happened to Noelle Leung's character Alma.  Those who watched the series will know that it ended on a cliffhanger of sorts in that Alma was supposed to be on a flight to London but then the Smartpost team received word that a flight with the same itinerary as hers had crashed – the series ended without telling us whether Alma survived or if she was even on that flight to begin with.  The movie answered that question and even though the mention was very brief (as it should be given that Noelle wasn't part of the movie), I appreciated finally knowing after all this time.

In terms of cast, since this was an area of utmost concern for me, I will spend a little more time on this aspect of the movie.  Most of the main cast from the series did reprise their roles – Catherine, Greg, Kate, Samuel Kwok, Dexter Young, Anita Chan, Li Fung…even Benji, whose character Prince died in the series, made a "special appearance" in the movie.  Speaking of Benji –  I remember having a discussion a year or two ago (when I first found out that Benji would be in the movie) wondering how Pun Man Hung would incorporate Prince into the storyline.  I was thinking for sure it would be in the form of flashback, though I wondered whether it would be new scenes or ones from the series.  Then, a few months into filming, the cast "teased" us with pictures posted to their Weibo accounts of the 'Smartpost Fantastic Four' (Fong Ying, Fai Ye, Ah Mal, and Prince) sitting around a table laughing and chatting.  Of course I recognized right away that scene was not in the series, plus Benji had talked about returning to HK to participate in the movie, so at that point, I knew that Prince's appearance would be in "new scenes" filmed exclusively for the movie.  Though it was technically only one scene that lasted only a few minutes, that was enough to get me teary-eyed all over again over Prince's tragic death in the series.  The fact that Prince was one of my favorite characters in the series plus I was a huge shipper of the group's awesome chemistry, it was hard not to get emotional upon seeing the 4 of them back together again, albeit for only a brief moment. 

One of the things that I don't think was lost on any die-hard fan of the series is the obvious fact that Catherine and Kate had less prominent roles in the movie compared to Greg, who was very obviously the lead.  Of course this isn't surprising given that Greg is signed to China 3D as his management company, so naturally the company would want to promote their own people (which also explains why other China 3D artists such as Jeanna Ho, Jacqueline Ch'ng, Justin Cheung, etc. also got relatively 'prominent' roles in the movie).  I will admit that I was a bit ticked about this given how attached I was to the characters in the series (and the artists who played them) and to some extent, I'm still not thrilled about it even now – but since this was already expected even before the movie started filming, plus the final result was not as bad as I thought it would be (it definitely could've been much worse if the original production team was not involved in the movie), I've pretty much come to terms with it.  Besides, I also gave "brownie points" for Pun Man Hung's efforts in staying true to the series by giving each person on the Smartpost team a chance to contribute to the storyline.  Basically, I was grateful that the rest of the team outside of the main 3 actually had important roles to play and weren't reduced to mere 'guest appearance' roles.  In terms of Justin Cheung replacing Noelle Leung's role as the head of Smartpost, I don't have too much to say, since Noelle had turned down the opportunity to participate in the movie.  Performance-wise, Justin did fine, but I don't feel it's warranted to compare his role with Noelle's in the series, since Alma was so central to the series' plot whereas Justin's role in the movie was not as significant.

As for the new additions to the cast – I don't have too much to say other than I'm okay with the way they were incorporated into the movie's plot (mostly referencing the "newbies" to the Smartpost team as well as their rival newspaper).  Again, it could've been worse so I guess I'm just grateful that the movie turned out the way it did.  With that said though, I do want to give a shout out to the veterans that were invited to participate in the movie (i.e. Mimi Kung, Deon Cheung, Akina Fong, etc.), but especially to Ng Man Tat, whose performance was beyond AWESOME in the movie!  From his facial expressions to body language to the way he spoke the dialogue, Tat Gor did not miss a beat.  He was absolutely the one to watch in this movie and he did not disappoint AT ALL.  I'm glad the younger folks got a chance to work with Tat Gor, as I'm sure they learned a lot from him.


Writing this post as a fan of the series, there were some things I picked up from the movie that others may not necessarily have noticed when they watched.  To be honest, I wasn't really expecting to pick up on so much, as I tried to go into it with the intention of watching an ordinary HK movie, but I guess when a series has such an impact, it's hard not to compare, which I guess I was subconsciously doing in the back of my mind.  In any case, I am going to devote the last section of this post to listing out some of the things I saw which reminded me (perhaps "reassured me" is more appropriate?) that Pun Man Hung and Ben Fong were indeed at the helm of this production. [This is not an all-inclusive list though so if fellow fans picked up on something that I missed, feel free to comment.]

·         The TV series version of The Menu was known for its meticulousness.  Over the past 3 years, I've actually talked about this in various past posts about the series (complete with examples and all) so I don't intend to go into much detail about this here.  All I am going to say is that this meticulousness was indeed maintained in the movie version, which I was happy to see.  Of course, there is no doubt in my mind that this was due to Ben Fong's role as director overseeing the production process -- if the director was anyone else but him, I'm sure things would be very different.

·         Earlier in this post, I touched a little bit on the chemistry between The Menu's cast, which was an important component to the series' success.  One of the unique things about the series was the awesome chemistry between the cast members both ON and OFF the set.  Having watched my fair share of HK television series over the past few decades, one of the things I've noticed is that the series I've been most drawn to are those that feature a cast whose chemistry off the set translates beautifully to the small screen as well.  The Menu definitely fell into this category and for me, the chemistry within the Smartpost team (especially among the 'Fantastic Four') was one of the things I loved most about the series.   Though the cast was changed slightly in the movie (referring only to Smartpost team here), the chemistry between them was definitely still there.

·         As a history fanatic, I love it when TV series or movies reference real life events or points in history that serve as inspiration / motivation for particular actions that the characters take or that shape the lives they end up living (though it has to be done well and accurately of course).  In the series, there were 2 historical references that played a significant role, not just in shaping the characters, but also thematically in the plot.  The first was the significance of the date October 16th, 1968 in reference to athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos' Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics and the second was reference to Hungarian war photographer Robert Capa's famous quote: "If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not [standing] close enough." [I don't intend on going into detail about the significance of these 2 references in the series – if you're interested in knowing, then go watch the series or for those who have watched but forgot, then re-watch episodes 5 and 6 especially.]  In the movie, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Pun Man Hung kept the same stylistic approach by referencing conservationist Kevin Kelly, his magazine Whole Earth Review, and the photograph that was a source of inspiration for one of the major turning points in the plot.

·         Another aspect of the movie I loved was the production team's recreation of the Smartpost office setting that mirrored almost exactly with the series, complete with each of the characters' distinctive personal touches.  The aesthetics were an important component to all of HKTV's series and the story behind The Menu's setting in the series was one of the most talked about back then.  Again, I won't get into details since I already covered most of this in previous blog posts about the series.  As a fan though, I was extremely moved to see the effort in recreating the familiar Smartpost setting in conjunction with how it looked in the series. [With that said though, I do have one very minor "complaint" – I noticed that the Smartpost team switched to doing their group meetings in a sectioned off area out on the floor rather than in a conference room like in the series.  I miss that conference room, lol!]

·         Fellow fans with whom I watched and discussed the series several years back will probably remember our "obsession" with the song Can't Let Go from the series and the great lengths we went to find out everything we could about the song, which ended up rubbing off on the cast and crew as well (I still remember Greg, Catherine, and Kate talking about it during that meme interview and also HKTV addressing it on Facebook as well as other social media).  The music component was more subtle in the movie than it was in the series, but still played an important role nonetheless.  I was happy to see that Kong Fai took up the role of music director once again for the movie (fellow HKTV fans will probably understand my feelings on this).  And even though Eva Chan didn't participate in the filming this time around, her new song We're Not Afraid was featured in the closing credits.  Eva actually composed the music and wrote the lyrics for the song and it was sung by her as well as the 3 main leads (Catherine, Greg, and Kate) -- another beautiful song with meaningful, heartfelt lyrics that fit perfectly with the movie!

·         The format of the credits was similar to how it was in the series in terms of listing everyone's names in both Chinese and English (this is something that I commented a few years back that TVB has never done and still doesn't care enough to do even now, much to the chagrin of overseas audiences like me).  Initially, when I started watching the movie, I was actually paying very close attention to the characters names because I thought that when the credits rolled around, I would have to "manually" match up the names to the artists so I could figure out who the "newbies" were and also familiarize myself with artists I didn't know (this is something I've always done out of habit, whether watching TV series or movies).  With the movie though, it turns out I didn't have to do this after all, as the production team took it one step further in that each of the characters' roles were also listed out in parenthesis next to the characters' names so it was easy to identify which artists played what role and match face to name.  I wasn't expecting this at all (though I should've known better considering how, in the series, they actually featured pictures of the artist next to each character name in the credits, lol), so I was once again pleasantly surprised.  Though the production of the movie had nothing to do with HKTV, I couldn't help being reminded of one of the core elements that had set HKTV apart from their competition back then:  the sincerity and meticulous concern for quality in a production – a concept that is virtually unheard of nowadays, both in the HK television and movie industry (as well as the music industry to some extent).

Concluding thoughts….

When I finished watching the movie, I actually felt a bit sad.  This sadness had nothing to do with the plot or even the movie itself technically.  Watching the movie brought back all the memories from 3 to 4 years ago of the whole free-to-air TV license saga and HKTV's efforts to revitalize the ailing HK television industry.  This made me think once again about "what could have been" – if HKTV had gotten a license and would've been able to film season 2 of The Menu as originally planned, how would that have been like?   As much as I don't feel as strongly opposed to the movie being made now as I did originally (again, since I've talked about this before, I won't rehash the argument here), I still feel that, taken as a whole, the movie didn't have as much of an impact as the series did.  Of course, there are valid reasons for this (including the fact that TV audience tastes are different from movie audiences), but in keeping with the overall sentiment of this post, I am speaking from the personal perspective of a fan.  While the movie was absolutely a sincere effort production-wise and I definitely appreciate everything that Pun Man Hung and Ben Fong did to give the movie the same "look and feel" as the series, it is still not the same at the end of the day.  I still prefer having a continuation of The Menu via TV series rather than a movie -- I know this will never happen, but my sentiment is still the same regardless.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

HK Television Wars - newest update

As further followup to my previous 2 posts about the "HK television wars" and the state of the television industry, I wanted to share the latest "hot off the press" news about something I had mentioned in those posts:  the fate of i-Cable.

As previously stated, i-Cable's parent company Wharf Holdings had announced that they were no longer going to invest any more funds in the company, which meant the fate of the station's cable network as well as newly acquired free-to-air TV network hung in the balance.  There had been rumors that Forever Top's David Chiu -- who had already submitted an application for a free-to-air license and was still awaiting the government's decision -- was interested in buying the station.  This rumor went on for weeks and now finally, it has been confirmed.  David Chiu has agreed to invest funds in i-Cable, which means he will own about half the company and therefore become a decision-maker in the station.  The article below has more details, so I would say go ahead and read it, but one thing I found interesting that I wanted to point out was the fact that David Chiu stated he already told the government to put his free-to-air license application on hold until they sort everything out with i-Cable.  This actually makes perfect sense, since i-Cable already has a free-to-air license so if he takes over the station, he essentially won't need another one, though not sure at this point what he plans to do with Forever Top -- it sounds to me that both will function as separate entities, but right now, it's kind of too early to tell.  I guess we still have a few weeks to find out, as I'm assuming that there will be a little more clarity by the time i-Cable's free-to-air channel Fantastic TV launches on May 14th.


News article:  i-Cable down 21 pc despite white knights ride to rescue with plans for expansion

Source: SCMP

Troubled pay-television provider i-Cable Communications dropped 21 per cent on Friday morning as it resumed trading after announcing that it had found a white knight.

Shares of i-Cable dived to 46 Hong Kong cents shortly after market open, down 21 per cent from its previous close of 61 Hong Kong cents. The company had suspended trading for three days pending the release of an announcement that involves “inside information”. By 10am, shares had erased some losses and fallen 13 per cent to 53 Hong Kong cents.

The decline came after i-Cable announced Thursday night that it had been rescued by a consortium of white knights led by property tycoon David Chiu Tat-cheong together with New World Development chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun and others, who plan to use the broadcaster as a foundation on which to build a new media company.

“The share price dropped as the market is not sure if the HK$1 billion injection is sufficient to help with a turnaround for i-Cable, which has suffered losses for many years. In addition, the rescue plan involves right issues which require existing shareholders to pay for the offer of shares. That is not welcomed by investors,” said Ben Kwong Man-bun, director of KGI Asia.

But Kwong said the future share price of the company should become more stable with the help of the white knight.

“It all depends on what the next business plan of the new buyers will be. If the white knight has a good development plan for i-Cable, it would be positive for the future of the company.”

In a statement late on Thursday, Forever Top said it had agreed on a deal with i-Cable’s parent, Wharf (Holdings), for an equity injection of HK$1 billion to strengthen the broadcaster’s financial position.

In addition to Chiu, other backers of the consortium include New World Development chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun, Guangzhou R&F Properties chairman Li Sze-lim, John Zhao Huan, president of private equity firm Hony Capital, and conglomerate Chow Tai Fook Enterprises.

Chiu is the second son of Deacon Chiu Te-ken, who founded ATV, the free-to-air broadcaster that went off the air in May 2016.

Under the agreement, about HK$704 million will come from an open offer to existing shareholders, fully underwritten by Forever Top. A further HK$300 million will come from the conversion of debt due to Wharf into an equity stake in i-Cable.

An open offer allows existing qualifying shareholders to increase their stake in the company.

According to a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange, five shares will be offered for every three existing shares held by qualifying shareholders at 21 HK cents each.

Following completion of the offer, Forever Top will hold 40 to 54 per cent of i-Cable’s issued share capital, depending on the take-up of the offer by the public shareholders.

“Upon completion of the transaction, Forever Top will use i-Cable as the platform to drive its media business,” Chiu said in the statement.

“Hong Kong has been known as Hollywood of the Orient and I believe television talent, whether back-stage or front-stage, are abundant here. I am hoping that all these talent will be given the chance to bring into play in the most flexible manner of co-operation with i-Cable.”

He also said Forever Top would strive to strengthen the scope of financial news in the region as well.
The announcement comes just in time to save i-Cable and its 2,176 employees from the axe.

Last year, i-Cable made a loss of HK$313 million and Wharf had indicated it would cease funding the broadcaster and exit the unprofitable business of providing pay television and broadband internet.

The Communications Authority had said i-Cable must fulfil its financial responsibilities before its pay-television licence matured on May 31.

“With the new equity injection, i-Cable’s capital structure and operation outlook will be significantly improved – increased equity, reduced debt and possibly expanded services,” Chiu said.

Forever Top, which had previously applied for a domestic free-television licence, said in the statement that it had requested the Communications Authority put on hold the processing of this application until the outcome of the equity injection into i-Cable became clearer.

The injection plan will require approvals from the independent shareholders of i-Cable, the Securities and Futures Commission, the Hong Kong stock exchange and the Communications Authority.

Forever Top said it hoped the deal would be completed in September.

Trading in i-Cable’s shares was suspended on Tuesday, pending the result of an announcement.

In a statement to the stock exchange, the firm said it had applied for trading to be resumed from 9.30am on Friday.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

HK Television Wars -- more updates

I wanted to do a quick follow up to my post from last month about the state of the HK television industry as of late, as there were some new developments this week that have the potential to change the landscape of the television industry going into the second half of the year.

1)      The fate of i-Cable:  I had mentioned in the previous post about i-Cable giving back their broadcast spectrum to the government and questioned why they would do that if they still plan on operating.  Well, my question has been answered now, as last week, i-Cable's parent company Wharf Holdings announced that they will be backing out from the media business and will no longer be providing funding to i-Cable.  This decision stemmed primarily from the billions of dollars in losses that the pay TV arm of i-Cable racked up, plus the decline in ad revenue, which has made the pay TV market unsustainable (note that TVB also shut down their pay TV division last year and returned their pay license to the government, so obviously there are issues all around on the pay TV front).  The fate of i-Cable is up in the air at the moment, as they are hiring a financial advisor and going through their current cash reserves to see how much money they have right now and whether that is enough to keep the station running.  No one is willing to commit to anything publicly at the moment, but based on all the facts and numbers, the prognosis looks bleak.  Basically, there is a 99.9%  chance that i-Cable is going to give its pay TV license back to the government, but whether the company will have to shut down completely or not remains to be seen.

Of course, I'm sure you've figured out by now that this is going to impact the free-to-air TV license that i-Cable received last year.  Though their free TV arm Fantastic Television is scheduled to launch in May, there is now talk that it might or might not happen anymore.  Based on all the reports that have come out, everything will depend on what happens once the financial advisor goes through numbers and also whether they will be able to find a new financial backer willing to invest in them, as i-Cable needs to figure out whether they will have enough funds to fulfill the terms of the license (which requires them to commit to investing X amount of dollars for X number of years to maintain programming content).  If getting rid of the pay TV arm means that they can take all those funds and throw them into the free TV arm, then they might still be able to keep things going…however it doesn't look likely given that the company is already millions of dollars in the hole due to all the losses.  For me, this statement from i-Cable's chairman and chief executive Stephen Ng (as quoted from this SCMP article) says it all:  "We have three [broadcast] licenses, including the new one to be awarded by the government.  We are now considering whether or not to accept the new license and how to deal with the existing licenses."

2)      Forever Top consortium – coincidentally, David Chiu held a press conference a couple days ago and confirmed that the "restructuring" of their company is complete now so they have reinstated their application for a free-to-air license.  From what I understand based on what was stated in the press con (need to wait for the official reports to come out for actual terminology), the restructuring that took place was basically the consortium replacing their primary investor from a Mainland company to one that is based in Hong Kong.  The reason for this is because of the stipulation in the free TV license rules that foreign investors are not allowed to involve themselves in the day to day operations of the free-to-air TV station in any capacity whatsoever.  Sounds like David Chiu was playing it safe and didn't want this to affect his chances for a license, which in a way, is a smart move given what happened to ATV and what ultimately led that station to shut down after 59 years of existence (I'm sure no one needs to be reminded of the damage that Mainland investor Wong Ching did to ATV).  So basically, Forever Top is back in the game now and has confidently expressed that they are pretty sure about their chances for being granted a free-to-air TV license.  David Chiu also said that he expects the government to make a decision "very soon."  

Hmmm….ok, well, the "mystery" over Forever Top's sudden suspension of their license application has been solved now but I'm honestly not sure whether I should feel good about this or not.  I'm still not convinced that Forever Top will have a positive impact on the HK television market and to me, I don't see a difference between them and all the other media companies that are now trying to infiltrate the Asian entertainment market (more on this later).  I remember David Chiu saying back when he first submitted his application that if the government did not make a decision on the licenses within 6 months (or was it 3 months?  Can't remember the actual timeframe off the top of my head), he would rescind his application, as he does not have time to wait several years and will put his resources elsewhere instead.  This was what, like 3 years ago?  And obviously the government still has not made their decision yet.  So then David Chiu changed his mind and decided he DOES have time to wait after all?  Or was that "threat" his way of trying to strong arm the government into giving him a license?  By now, I'm pretty sure you guys understand why I don't feel good about this company (David Chiu and his consortium) at all.

3)       Last but not least – TVB.  I don't have a whole lot more to add from what I wrote in my previous post other than a "warning" to TVB that they better step up their game – and sooner rather than later.  Here's why:

-          ViuTV announced last week that they will be revamping their business model and have been given the green light (by their top execs) to invest in the production of more TV series.  So instead of focusing on reality-based variety shows (which is what they've been doing this past year since launching in April 2016) and only churning out 1 or 2 original series every couple months,  they will now be producing their own series on a consistent basis and airing them nightly (versus once or twice a week like they did previously).  I personally feel that ViuTV's "Margaret and David" series from last year showed a lot of potential (and this year they are upping the ante by inviting HK movie veterans Anthony Wong and Patricia Ha to film the next installment in the series), so it's still possible for ViuTV to give TVB a run for their money in the TV series department (though it's very obvious that the target audience is different for both stations, as ViuTV is trying to pull in younger generation audiences while TVB is still catering to housewives for the most part).

-          Fox Asia (the international arm of U.S. media giant Fox Network) already announced plans to film their first Cantonese language television drama.  It will be a crime thriller that is based on true life events and will star award-winning HK movie veterans Anthony Wong (man, Anthony sure is busy lately, lol), Kara Hui, Tse Kwan Ho (all 3 are HKFA and/or Golden Horse Best Actor and Actress winners).  Fox will be doing a separate press conference to announce further details but rumor has it that they intend on working primarily with HK movie stars on their drama series so there is a possibility that we may see more HK movie industry A-listers returning to the small screen in the near future.

-          Netflix, which launched in HK last year, has been working on strengthening up its programming as well as its presence in the city.  They haven't made any formal announcements yet but industry insiders predict that they will likely make a move soon.  If Netflix does decide to produce their own original Chinese-language series, no doubt that it will turn up the heat on the competition given their track record of already producing hit TV series in other countries.  Also, they've already bought broadcasting rights to a bunch of popular Korean and Japanese TV series, which they plan on airing on their HK channel.

-          I just read an article this weekend that said HBO is also gearing up to get a piece of the action as well.  I actually didn't know this but turns out that last year, HBO had collaborated with a Chinese production crew (that consisted of a famous Mainland China director and HK stunt choreographer) to film and release 2 Chinese language TV movies.  In addition, they also collaborated with one of Taiwan's top TV stations on a series starring Taiwanese singer-actress Guo Shu Yao.  While it looks like HBO's target isn't necessarily the HK television market (at least not right now), it's pretty obvious that they are trying to establish their footprint in Asia and with HK's history of being one of Asia's premiere entertainment hubs (hey, HK didn't get its nickname "Hollywood of the East" for nothing), the likelihood of that "reach" expanding to HK in the future is pretty huge if you ask me.

Friday, February 10, 2017

HK Television Wars – Latest updates

It has been a long time since I’ve written about the ongoing “war” between TVB and the HK television industry.  Personally, I haven’t really been following TVB news as closely anymore (though of course I haven’t abandoned them completely – kind of hard to after following them for 30 years), but I’ve continued to keep tabs on the HK entertainment industry in general, especially as it pertains to my favorite artists or entertainers I grew up watching.  And yes, I’m also still keeping tabs on the HK television wars (aka the free-to-air licensing issue) to some extent (time permitting of course).

Here’s an update on a few things that have been going on recently impacting the HK television industry and TVB (note that this is NOT all-inclusive of everything that has been going on in the industry lately…I only cover a few things that come to mind):

1)      i-Cable’s free TV arm Fantastic Television finally received their license in hand last year and a few months ago, they held a press conference announcing that they are planning a launch date of May 2017.  As with their usual style, i-Cable’s management team has been super-secretive about their programming content, though what is known so far is that their business model will be very similar to ViuTV (NowTV’s free TV arm, which launched last year) in that their focus will be on variety programs and purchased content rather than self-produced TV series.

To be honest, I don’t get these companies’ mentality.  It doesn’t sound like they are serious at all about competing with TVB.  Everyone and their mothers know how “obsessed” HK audiences are with television series and currently TVB is pretty much the ONLY option when it comes to TV series production.  Doesn’t it make sense then that if you’re planning to launch a new TV station, your first priority should be to produce high quality television series that will  give you a decent chance of pulling in the ratings and audience share long-held by TVB?  I would surely think so!  Yet, both of the TV stations that were granted free-to-air television licenses 4 years ago (gosh, time sure does fly!) have chosen to go the complete opposite direction.  When ViuTV launched last year, they even stated publicly that they are “not  trying to capture TVB’s core audience” but rather, are focusing on those audiences who have abandoned TVB already, with the goal of producing content that will bring these audiences back to watching HK television.  Um, ok….sure, ViuTV, that’s a lofty goal and we appreciate the idea of wanting to bring HK audiences back but don’t you guys think that’s an unrealistic goal given the current environment in HK?  Besides, do you guys truly think that HK audiences who have abandoned TVB are now all of a sudden going to come scrambling back to watch variety programs, reality shows, and Cantonese-dubbed Korean series?  Did the ATV lesson of “how not to run a TV station in HK” teach you guys anything???  Apparently NOT…..

Anyway, back to the subject of i-Cable (aka Fantastic Television) launching soon.  According to recent reports (like literally from yesterday’s newspapers), Fantastic Television – which had put in an application to the Communications Authority last year (June 2016) to grant them some of the over-the-air broadcasting spectrum that ATV had to give back to the government after they closed last year – has now decided to put the broadcast spectrum talks on hold.  The Communications Authority is perplexed at this decision (and rightfully so) because Fantastic  Television won’t be able to broadcast in a free-to-air environment without establishing a terrestrial network, which is what the spectrum does (don’t ask me to explain the details cuz I’m not scientific so not 100% sure how it works).  Basically, without the spectrum, the station would need to purchase transmitters and a bunch of other equipment in order to transmit their signals in the free-to-air capacity, which would mean huge investment on their side.  Frankly, I’m scratching my head on this one as well – I mean, I highly doubt i-Cable has their own broadcast spectrum like HKTV does (which is the reason why Ricky Wong didn’t bother applying for ATV’s broadcast spectrum back when they gave it back to the government last year).  Something doesn’t sound right with this whole thing (the media outlets are actually calling this “a blow to HK’s free-to-air television market”), though who knows what the real story is behind the scenes.  I guess we will have to wait and see what happens in 3 months when the station officially launches.

2)      On the free-to-air license application front, the “big” (albeit “old”) news is that Forever Top (the consortium led by David Chiu – the son of former ATV owner Deacon Chiu – and Pansy Ho) decided to “suspend” their application for a free-to-air license in September of last year.  Their explain was that they need to “reorganize their corporate structure” before deciding whether to resume the application process.  Not really sure what that means, but putting my business hat on, I’m going to make an educated guess that there was either a major change in their executive ranks (i.e. maybe David and Pansy’s companies decided to part ways?) or there was some type of merger / acquisition (or something of that sort)….whatever the case may be, there is guaranteed to be a financial impact in one way or another, which is most likely the “real” reason why they are suspending their application.

So with Forever Top suspending their application, that leaves HKTV as the only other candidate out there with their second application for a license still pending.  I’m pretty sure Ricky Wong is banking on the fact that the new Chief Executive (we will know who it will be soon enough) coming in will be “nicer” to him than CY Leung was and perhaps give him the license that he has been trying to get (anyone want to bet that RW is hoping and praying that John Tsang becomes CE, since he has an amicable relationship with RW and HKTV?).  To be honest though, when it comes to government and politics, there is no such thing as “playing nice” or “playing fair”….doesn’t matter that the former Finance Commissioner was “supportive” of HKTV in the past – once he gets to the CE spot (if he makes it that is), he will need to abide by a different set of rules.  Personally, I don’t think HKTV will ever get their license (and this coming from a huge HKTV supporter) – the political environment in HK right now is toxic and tensions in society are at its highest levels.  With all the issues in the city right now (some of them “life and death” issues), I’m sure that deciding whether to grant new free-to-air TV licenses is low priority.  Besides, if the government decides to deny HKTV for a second time, I’m fairly certain that Ricky Wong and HKTV won’t get the type of mass audience support they got back in 2013 after the first license denial.  I could come up with many reasons to support why but will only cover a few here:  one – a lot has changed in the past 4 years and there are more pressing issues for Hong Kongers to worry about now; second – with ATV gone and ViuTV flopping, most HK television audiences are already resigned to the fact that they will be forever chained to TVB and if they don’t like it, then they can look outside of the city (i.e. China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, etc.) for entertainment options that fit their needs, since the local alternatives (non-TVB fare) aren’t appealing.  Besides, after seeing how poorly ViuTV is performing, it’s understandable that audiences don’t have confidence that other stations coming in will do any better.  The bottom line is that the “momentum” is not there anymore – HKTV’s best chance of getting a license was in 2013 and maybe 2014 when their series were airing and everything was still “fresh” with audiences…now that 3 years have gone by (and who knows how much longer it will be until the government decides to pick up the license issue again), HKTV has already been largely forgotten.  I hate to say it, but as much as I still support HKTV, I’m not oblivious to the reality of the situation.

3)      In terms of TVB – well, let’s just say that they’ve (supposedly) got challenges of their own to deal with.  Aside from being fined left and right by the Communications Authority for repeatedly violating rules governing product placement and indirect advertising on their programs (which TVB has been fighting the CA tooth and nail), TVB has been trying to fend off unsolicited offers to buy their company.  Just 2 days ago, there was a little known Mainland production company that offered to buy 30% stake in TVB – this while internally, the station’s current biggest shareholder Young Lion Holdings, led by Mainland investor Li Ruigang, just launched a share buyback program that will give themselves an even stronger hold on TVB. 

In addition, TVB decided to return their pay TV license back to the government last month, citing that they’ve been losing money on pay TV service for years now and it is no longer sustainable to be in that market.  They’re also claiming that their 2016 net profit will be down significantly (they are saying it will be down by as much as 55% to 65%) due to declining advertising revenue.  The numbers aren’t out yet so there’s no way to know whether TVB is exaggerating or not, but as a point of reference, from 2014 to 2015, TVB’s net profit went down by 6% (they went from net profit of HK$1.41 billion in 2014 to HK$1.33 billion in 2015).  Ok, I will be the first to admit that I haven’t the slightest clue how much it costs to run a TV station, but um, with the economy the way it is right now, being able to still turn over a profit in the billions of dollars is damn good if you ask me!  Sure, TVB is “making less” than what they made the year before, but it’s not like they are really losing money or operating “in the red” like ATV was doing.  Honestly, TVB should quit their whining over declining ad revenue (and all the other stuff they’ve been complaining about such as audiences’ viewing habits changing to watching series online rather than on the TV) and instead put that energy into producing better programs.  Their reputation has been in the toilet for more than a decade now and things are only going to get worse with more and more entertainment options cropping up globally.  But I guess that’s too much to ask of a company that already has an unchallenged monopoly on the HK television industry….