Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My ‘TVB Rant’ # 14: Should TVB continue to be an ‘artist management’ company? Is TVB’s ‘jack-of-all-trades’ mentality leading to its downfall?

Ok, I know I had said that I didn't want to do another ‘TVB rant’ post for a few weeks at least, since I had already done so many of them recently....BUT I can't help it, as I've been mulling over this idea for the past few days and really wanted to blog about it...

As I'm sure you've all heard by now, the 'buzz' in the HK entertainment industry these past few weeks has primarily focused on the recent aggressive 'poaching' of TVB artists, producers, scriptwriters, copy editors, artists managers, etc. by newly formed TV stations (especially Ricky Wong’s City Telecom) -- pretty much they reached out to almost everyone at the company (at least that's what the Media has been reporting, but of course, we all know we should take what the Media says with a grain of salt....)

Anyway, one thing that this whole poaching situation has done so far (which I can't really say is a bad thing) is bring to light alot of the internal 'issues' that exist at TVB -- issues that, to be honest, really are not 'secrets' in that most people (both within and outside the industry) know they exist, but just decided (for whatever reason) to 'sweep' under the rug for so many years. As a quick recap, let’s look at some of the ‘issues’ (aka ‘problems’) that have come to light through this fiasco (Note that the below are only the ‘issues’ that we hear about most often and is NOT all-inclusive):

1) TVB is cheap – This is no surprise, neither is it a secret, as TVB is known for not paying their artists much money. The company itself has even admitted on several occasions that what they pay to artists has always been lower than what’s currently in the market.

2) Long hours, no rest – Again, this is no secret…artists and behind-the-scenes crew alike often work long hours with very little rest. (Artists often tell stories of how they get off work at 4am after having been there since 6am the previous morning and only have time to go home to shower, then are back at work again by 6am.) In fact, this is something that has been going on for decades already (dating back even to the 80s). Personally, I’m not surprised -- since TVB runs its operation like a factory where they are churning out their series one after the other like an assembly line, of course this type of situation is going to occur.

3) Blatant (and not so blatant) Favoritism – I think I’ve ranted enough about this topic already, so I’m not going to go into it again in this post (if you’re interested, feel free to read my previous TVB rants, as I touch on this topic in at least ½ of them, if not more). All I’m going to say is that it’s obvious to pretty much everyone (except for die-hard TVB supporters, that is) that the management plays favorites – and I don’t care how much the management tries to deny this, it’s still not going to change the perception.

4) Lack of respect for veteran artists – This sort of goes hand in hand with point #3. And again, this is no surprise either – just look back at the series from the past 7-8 years and it’s obvious what the current management thinks of veteran artists. In their view, the veteran artists are basically a ‘tool’ to help them promote their favorite biological sons and daughters (and also to ‘fool’ the audience into watching the series and thereby boosting the ratings). Just look at the number of veteran artists who have ‘complained’ about TVB in the past 7-8 years -- whereas in comparisons, I have not heard a single one of the ‘favorites’ currently being promoted complain – and the disparity in treatment is obvious.

Since we all know that the above are already ‘common’ complaints about TVB and have been discussed numerous times in all sorts of arenas in the past decade or so, I’m not going to focus on these particular ‘issues’ in this post. Instead, I’m going to focus on an ‘issue’ that was sort of alluded to in many of the previous articles about this situation, but never really discussed : should TVB even be doing the function of artist management in the first place or should they just stick with what a TV station should truly be doing – producing series?

There has been a barrage of criticism aimed specifically at Virginia Lok (TVB’s director of production and resources and the person overseeing the artists management department) in the past few weeks (which to me, is late in coming – I mean, it took people 8 years to see how much of a bxxch she is??). Most of the criticism has been about how she neglects a lot of the artists (especiall y the veteran ones) and even when their contracts are close to expiring, she doesn’t bother to discuss contract renewal with them (that is, unless the artist is on her ‘favorites’ list of course). There are other complaints as well (I could surely spend an entire ‘rant’ on all of the complaints against Virginia Lok), but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus primiarily on the ‘neglect’ one.

One of the ‘excuses’ that TVB (via their spokesperson Tsang Sing Ming) has used to ‘defend’ Ms Lok is that she is not ‘purposefully’ neglecting artists – it’s just that the artists department is so huge and she has so much work to be done that it’s difficult for her to ensure every artist is ‘taken care of’ as well as they would like (personally, I feel that’s a BS excuse, but that’s beside the point right now). Ok, fine – if TVB wants to use this lame excuse, then my ‘response’ to them is: Well, then TVB should think about whether their company is suited to do the ‘artists management’ function in the first place!

I mean, the last I checked, TVB is supposed to be a TV station first and foremost – well, at least that was the intention when Run Run Shaw first started the company back in 1967. But yet, over the years, instead of remaining purely a TV station, TVB has morphed into an entertainment empire, foraying into other arenas such as music and movies. In addition to creating their own music division (TVB Music, which was established in 2003) and their own movie production company (Shaw Brothers studios, which started up again 2 years ago), TVB continued to perform the ‘management company’ (aka ‘agent’) function for artists who choose to sign management contracts with them.

Granted, the function of managing artists has been in existence since the start of the company, but given the complexity of an artist’s career nowdays, how feasible is it for TVB to continue doing this function? I could understand the reasoning behing why TVB would want artists to sign management contracts because that way, they could tie the artist down to only servicing their station and in that regard, control the artist (which I’m totally opposed to, but that’s a whole other ‘rant’). That may have worked back in the beginning years (in the 70s for example) when there were fewer artists to manage and also the artists had less complicated careers. But nowadays, with the ‘norm’ in HK for an artist to be involved in more than 1 ‘arena’ (TV, movies, music) of the entertainment business, it’s no longer as simple as managing an artist’s career in television – as the artist’s manager / agent, there is the added responsibility of managing their movie and singing career as well (plus all the product endorsements, sponsorship events, etc. that go along with it). When all of that is taken into consideration, TVB is no longer purely a TV station, but rather, a TV station / record company / movie studio / management company. If TVB were able to do all 4 things well, then ok fine – but the fact of the matter is that they’ve been doing a half-you-know-what job in EACH AREA in the past few years. Not only that, but the core function of the company’s existence – producing quality TV shows – has eroded to the point that it’s virtually non-existent now (basically, the quality has gone down the toilet – and that’s an understatement!). And on top of that, the artists themselves aren’t happy because of the poor jobs that TVB is doing with managing their careers.

If we are to go with TVB’s argument that they have too many artists to manage and with the complexity of some of the artists’ careers, it’s getting overwhelming for them to handle, so it’s possible that they may have neglected some of the artists – well, then WHY continue to be in that situation? Why can’t TVB just recognize that they can’t be the ‘jack of all trades’ trying to control the entire HK entertainment industry anymore and ‘stop the bleeding’ by scaling back on some of the functions that they really should not have been involved with in the first place?

In looking at all the events that have transpired in the past few weeks (as well as all the ‘issues’ that have accumulated in the past few decades), I feel that in order for TVB to ‘truly’ fix their problems, the action they need to take is to refocus the company back on the ‘core’ of their existence – producing quality TV shows and series (after they fire Virginia Lok, that is – and yes, I’m biased against her). This means that they need to get rid of all the ‘excess’ functions that they were doing (music, movies, artist management) and go back to their roots. Instead of trying to tie down an artist to their station by trying to be the ‘agent’ managing their career, TVB should get out of that business and leave the ‘managing’ to the people who specialize in it (and yes, there are PLENTY of companies as well as individuals out there who specialize in the agent / manager thing). This is definitely a ‘win/win’ solution for both TVB as well as the artists for the following reasons:

1) TVB doesn’t have to worry any longer about being perceived as ‘favoring’ certain artists they manage over others because they won’t be ‘managing’ anyone. All the artists would be ‘free agents’ whose sole relationship with TVB would be to film series for them and that’s it. In a sense, it would work similar to the whole ‘per series / show contract’ that TVB currently has with a lot of artists – the artist would sign a contract agreeing to film a particular series or a certain number of episodes for TVB and once the contractual obligation is fulfilled, they can decide whether they want to continue collaborating on a transactional basis. Overall, the relationship with the artists would be healthier.

2) Image-wise, this would definitely be better for TVB, as it would do away with the whole biological child (artist managed by TVB) versus non-biological child (artist not managed by TVB) problem that has plagued TVB for decades and is the subject of much criticism (as well as scorn) whenever awards time rolls around. It would definitely level the playing field.

3) For the artists, they can gain more experience working with different TV stations and different people – they can truly ‘expand their horizons’ even within HK instead of being stuck working for the same company year after year.

4) By focusing on just ONE thing (producing TV shows / series), it will hopefully allow TVB to go back to producing the QUALITY programs that had once defined them as a TV station. Oh, and by the way – they don’t have to worry about the ‘money’ aspect because if even if they are only doing ONE thing, if they do it WELL (meaning EXCELLENT), the ‘money’ (revenue / profits) will eventually come – I mean, it’s common sense…as consumers, we are more than willing to pay for a quality product, especially if we know it’s well worth the amount we pay – but we are definitely not going to pay for a product that is shoddy and easily broken (the smart ones won’t at least).

Concluding thoughts…

How likely is the above going to happen? Well, honestly I doubt it, given that TVB has been in existence for more than 40 years and is pretty much already ‘set’ in its ways. I think the only way they will be able to do it is if Mona Fong (Run Run Shaw’s wife and TVB’s current Vice-Chairman) rescinds her powers and let’s someone who is willing to embrace the above concept run the company instead. Oh, and definitely they have to get rid of that ‘evil cancer’ Virginia Lok too because so many employees hate her, many of them may not be willing to even give TVB a chance with her still there!


  1. HK entertainment newspapers should have more analytical articles like yours instead of their usual drivel. TVB won't want to get rid of its management company because it would lose a hefty amount of money from its cuts on the artists' side jobs.

  2. Honestly, I always got confused some years ago with how artists have t sign contract and then later found out that they were doing management stuffs too. Then it got even more complicated. AND YES, when they juggle too much, some thing has to give AND that is quality in this case. (You know how we multi-task like crazy on our computer and suddenly the screen goes blank 'cause the machine couldn't take it anymore? Same concept. So simple YET TVB can't see it.)

  3. @tamaya: Thanks! It means alot to me to hear that! I wish HK entertainment newspapers would be more analytical as well -- maybe then we will finally be able to read articles that are truly 'newsworthy' rather than just worthless (and baseless) gossip.

    Good point regarding TVB losing out on their 'cut' (management fees)...I didn't think about that when doing the writeup...that's definitely one reason why they would never give up the management biz.

  4. @DTLCT: Agreed, especially the part about the computer thing (LOL) cuz that happens to me often (maybe I'm just impatient when it comes to computers, which adds to the frustration..haha).

    Yea, it's sad that TVB can't see the 'real' problem(s) and work on trying to fix them but instead choose to bury their heads in the sand (or are they really that ignorant? Could it be that they do see it, but because they are too greedy, they don't want to change it? I actually wouldn't put it past them to be like that)...

  5. Bottom Line: TVB want to continue their monopoly so of course they won't stop their Management deal. Unless the gov makes it a law, which brings back to why they haven't done anything about TVB's monopoly all these years, the thing of not allowing contracted artiste to speak Cantonese on other HK tv stations is a total violation of human rights! China tried to do something similar forcing all tv stations in Guangzhou to only air in Mandarin and got a whole bunch of people protesting cause the main language in GZ is Cantonese!

  6. anyway a good thing about these new competition is that hopefully all of them will adapt the "No management" track forcing TVB to do the same!

  7. @sport3888: I agree...and that's probably the only way to stop it. The only thing is, as is usually the way it works, TVB always manages to stay under the radar. The gov't hasn't been able to do anything about the monopoly thing all these years because technically, TVB doesn't have a monopoly, since ATV does exist (the excuse is that it's not TVB's fault that ATV is incompetent -- it's not like TVB is purposefully trying to push them down in order to control the market)...

    As for the 'no management' thing -- well, so far it doesn't look too promising. As of right now, we know that City Telecom for sure does the artists management thing, so it looks like they are going down the same path. We'll have to see if the other 2 stations will do the same...

  8. What makes TVB the "only" station running is because if TVB sucks, ATV sucks even worse and made their artistes migrate to TVB.

    I hope CTI will give a better competition, but I'm wary on how Ricky is practically adopting TVB's existing manpower into CTI instead of holding intensive interviews and searches for new backstage and frontstage talents given the amount of money he has. I'm also wary about his ambition of producing xxx number of TV series a year. This just sounds like another factory in the making. I hope not.

  9. zzxyz:Reading Ricky Wong's weibo and news reports on him did not give me a good impression of him. Esp. his gleeful taunts at TVB with his "haha! I've got so many xxx of your artistes on my team now." Could almost picture thumbing his nose at tvb. So crass! Even if it maybe just part of his business strategy.

    And agree with your CTI is another factory in the making remark.. TVB audiences have been complaining about seeing the same old faces recycling on their tv screen, if Ricky is really into superior entertainment arts, and with his money, he could create his very own CT Stars and his very own unique CTI tv series, instead of being a copycat thief. He has this mentality of money is dai sai. He seems to be more intent on bringing down tvb than in elevating HK tv entertainment.

    Did he say what's his motive for setting up CT?

  10. @zzxyz & tamaya: I agree with both of you! The minute I heard that Ricky Wong sent SMS messages to almost everyone (artists and behind the scenes people alike) at TVB, I already had a bad impression of him -- which is why I kept bringing up the "sincerity" thing. Sure, it may seem that he is being 'smart' by trying to 'catch as many fish as he can' in his net, but at the end of the day, what type of 'quality' is the fish that he is catching? From the artists' viewpoint, he lacks sincerity big time because by taking such actions, he is basically telling the artists 'you don't matter to me, my goal is only to bring down TVB' -- so in essence, the artists are just 'pawns' that he is using to 'knock' TVB. If I were the artists, I would ask 'ok, so after you've met your goal of bringing down TVB, what's next? Are you going to throw me by the wayside like TVB did?'

    You know, the interesting thing is, he actually doesn't have alot of big name artists who agreed to go over to his company. I read in a few of the articles that he only has a handful (a little less than a dozen) artists who he was actually successful in 'clinching' of the articles stated that so far, the most 'well-known' person he has signed is veteran actor John Chiang (I like John and I definitely appreciate his talents, but honestly, he's not even popular with the younger generation audiences of today, since most of them are only concerned with the current first-line siu sangs and fa dans) me, I don't think Ricky Wong's strategy is going to work long term.

    Bottom line is that if CTI is going to be TVB #2, then NO THANKS!!

  11. So a thought on playing the Jack of all trades card:

    I guess you could say that Andy Lau was a good example of this (as were Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung). But again, this has a lot to do with talent of the artists helped to 'sell' the artists. But at the same time, TVB's achilles heel was that they never bothered to find artists as new talent trainees to fill those spots that were left empty after the singers from the golden era took their last bows on stage. They really cannibalized some of their other talent - Anita brought this up when she said they were overpromoting her and not paying attention to other artists like Stephanie Che, who were signed to the same record label. I guess the same thing is happening with Raymond Lam, except, of course Raymond is no Anita - not even close.

  12. @TAQ: Actually, Andy Lau was one of the artists who came to mind when I was writing the post (in terms of artists from the 80s who followed this pattern)...but to be honest, Andy is a bit different because one of the main reasons why he was able to remain popular for this long is because of his incredible work ethic and endurance (and also his passion for the industry as a whole to some extent) even though TVB helped him get his start, he would not have become the 'star' that he is if it weren't for his own hard work (and talent)...

    Also, TVB's other issue is that they are way too complacent and arrogant because they pretty much monopolize the HK TV industry (and in recent years, through their 'association' with EEG, they're trying to monopoloize the movie and music industries as well). That's part of the reason why I feel they don't bother to find 'new talents' -- that plus the fact that they have bad judgment.