Friday, August 10, 2012

My ‘TVB Rant’ # 21: The 2012 HK Television Wars – Latest Updates and Analysis

Yup, it's time for another one of my 'rants' about TVB (well, kind of, since this post talks about more than just TVB-related stuff).....I know, I know -- it's been awhile since I've done one of my rants and some of you probably thought that I had stopped ranting because there hasn't been much to rant about recently. Well, the truth is -- there has actually been plenty to 'rant' about, it's just that I got super busy with work and life in general so I didn't have time. Now that I'm starting to get more 'caught up' with my stuff though, I figured it was a good time to do a 'catch-up rant / update' on some recent happenings in the HK television world.

Ok, so here we go....

Even though I've been quite busy recently, I've somehow still been able to fit in pockets of time to watch a few TVB series / variety shows here and there (haha...yup, that's the 'die-hard' television fanatic in me talking) as well as somewhat keep up with my daily 'habit' of reading HK entertainment news. Of course, there has been alot going on in the HK entertainment world recently, though much of it I don't really care to comment on -- but one thing I HAVE been continuing to keep tabs on is the whole HK television wars thing between the current free-to-air TV stations (TVB and ATV) and their upcoming competitors in the free-to-air market (CTI, NowTV, and i-Cable). I actually did a couple postings related to the television wars in the past few months based on the developments at that time, but with so many things that have changed, it's probably a good idea to do an 'update' at this point. Here's a quick 'rundown' of some recent happenings (note that the listing of the stations is completely random -- there is no particular rhyme or reason for why I listed it this way):

The current ‘players’:

This may sound harsh, but honestly, should we even consider ATV in this ‘battle’ anymore? I mean, the station has been plagued with problems for years already and with the rapid escalation of the issues these past 2 years, I’m surprised that they’re still even afloat!

First off, their decision to stop filming series and instead rely almost entirely on news, variety, and ‘specialty’ programs was really stupid because look where that has taken them? I mean, let’s face it: the reality is that HK television audiences are crazy about TV series – if they’re going to turn on their TVs, 90% of the time it’s going to be for the purpose of watching a TV series, not a variety show (the variety show is merely a ‘time-filler’ in between series)…it’s embedded in the culture and pretty much is never going to change, so why would the management even consider doing an ‘all news, all day’ channel and expect it to be successful?

Speaking of management….how many times has ATV ‘changed hands’ in terms of management over the past few decades? Heck, I think they should get recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the TV station that’s had the most management turnover! (Ok, I’m being facetious, but you get the point). So much for job security! I really feel sorry for ATV’s employees – I mean, imagine having to work in such an unstable environment where you don’t know from one day to the next who your boss will be (or whether you will still have a job when you come in the next day). Oh and weren’t there rumors last year (or was it this year?) about ATV employees not getting paid on time for their work and in some cases, not even getting paid AT ALL? Wow….and I thought TVB sucked for paying their artists below minimum wage – compared to ATV not even paying their artists at all, the ‘few bucks’ that TVB pays doesn’t sound too bad after all, huh?

The conclusion – I don’t think it would be that much of a stretch to say that pretty much no one watches ATV anymore, right? Well, judging from the numerous ‘zero point ratings’ that ATV has logged in the past several months, I don’t think it’s too far off from the truth. By the way, when was the last time that ATV logged double digit ratings points? I honestly can’t think of a recent instance (if anyone does think of one, I’d be curious to know!). And if the virtually nonexistent ratings isn’t enough ‘proof’ of how badly ATV has deteriorated, maybe the recent ATV 50th Anniversary Gala will help convince the ‘doubters’ – go ask director Tsui Siu Ming and I’m sure he’ll give you first hand testimony on how he felt performing to an auditorium full of EMPTY chairs at the gala!

Let's just say that the TVB of today isn't what it used to be. It's obvious from the series they've put out in the past 2 years that they are SEVERELY lacking in talent -- both in front of the camera (actors and actresses) as well as behind-the-scenes (producers, directors, scriptwriters, etc.). It's definitely NOT a coincidence that most of TVB's series in the past 2 years consist mostly of the same cast over and over again (and not just the supporting cast, but the main leads as well) -- I mean, honestly, I've already lost count of how many times I've seen the same names on cast lists for series airing back to the point that I've gotten confused several times already when tuning in to a series in the middle of an episode and thinking I was watching a particular series when in fact it's a different series with the same cast (believe me, that rarely happened to me in past years). Yes, I understand that TVB has to work with the resources they've got and with the mass exodus of so many artists and behind-the-scenes personnel in recent years (especially last year with the whole 'poaching' thing by other stations), their resources have dwindled drastically -- but to be very honest, alot of that was TVB's own doing (not going to rehash all the 'reasons' right now though).

The 'lack of resources' was especially apparent last month when TVB did that whole "Amazing Summer" special event thing where they had pretty much all their artists drop what they were doing to participate in a group picture and a bunch of lame skits (which, by the way, I could probably rant about all day since I'm watching the skits currently and saying that they are a 'joke' is basically an understatement --- if you haven't watched the skits yet, my opinion is: DON'T!! It's a major waste of time as well as brain cells!). Looking at the group picture, I couldn't recognize the names or faces of probably half the artists who participated -- not to mention the 'standings' in the picture were ridiculous (some people who were in the first and second rows definitely didn't deserve to be there). If that's the best that TVB can do nowadays given the lack of resources, that's truly very sad....

Another thing I've noticed about TVB as of late is that they seem to be cramming as many 'familiar' / 'relatively known' artists into series as they possibly can, even having them take on nonessential 'filler' roles or roles that I would consider one level above an 'extra' (or 'ke le fe' if you want to use the Cantonese term). I already started noticing this with last year's series (Forensic Heroes 3 comes to mind right away) and even more so with this year's series (Witness Insecurity is the most recent example). I could sit here and speculate all day about the ‘reasons’ why TVB would ‘misuse’ their artists like that (i.e.: the lack of artists in general so the artists they do have need to wear different hats, TVB politics, etc. etc.), but the fact that it’s happening proves that something is amiss. [Sidenote: I’m not talking about the series where having various well-known artists ‘guest-star’ in a particular segment is part of the storyline – series such as Tiger Cubs for example. I’m referring to series where the characters can be completely written out of the script and no one would know the difference (WI is the best recent example of this that I can think of right now)].

Whatever the case, it’s obvious that things are not “fine and dandy” at TVB anymore and if they seriously want to come out of this war relatively unscathed (which is pretty much impossible at this point but I’ll still put it out there), they (meaning TVB management) really need to ‘clean house’ and start making all the right moves. The biggest advantage they have going for them right now is the ‘familiarity’ they have in HK audience’s households (and the certain amount of ‘loyalty’ that comes with it) as well as the ‘connections’ that they’ve established with ‘big name’ people who have worked for them in the past and who still have a relatively good relationship with them – people like film director Wong Jing for example, who has already confirmed that he will be writing and producing a series for TVB and casting his friend, multi-award winning Best Actress Deanie Ip as the female lead (smart move on TVB’s part considering how ‘well-connected’ Wong Jing is). It will be interesting to see what other ‘moves’ TVB will make in the face of the impending competition from the other stations – it’s pretty much their battle to lose (or win) at this point!

The ‘new’ players…

As I’ve said before, they’ve been relatively quiet throughout the ‘battle’ so far and out of the 3 companies that have applied for a free-to-air TV license, they’re the ones that we (the general public) know the least about in terms of their strategy in the face of the upcoming war.

As of right now, we still don’t know too much about their strategy, however in my opinion, their recent Olympic broadcasting rights ‘debacle’ does give us a little glimpse as to what they were ‘possibly’ thinking in terms of the whole TV license thing. Personally, I’ve lost all respect for i-Cable after seeing the crappy way that they handled the whole Olympics thing – not sure what they were trying to accomplish with their ridiculous proposal practically trying to force TVB and ATV to air i-Cable programming in their ‘golden’ timeslots (and playing ‘hardball’ by only giving the 2 stations 24 hours to respond). Well, the tactic backfired on them big time, since the government ended up having to intervene – the whole incident just made i-Cable management come across as incompetent and greedy! (The person at i-Cable who ‘authorized’ the lousy decision must be kicking himself right now…).

I’m curious to see what other ‘lame’ decisions i-Cable management will make in the coming months, especially once the free TV battle ‘heats up’.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – out of the 3 companies that applied for free-to-air licenses, I feel that NowTV has the most potential to succeed. True, they have not even started filming series yet and in reality, they don’t even have any artists officially ‘signed’ to them either (Bowie Lam and Wong Hei are signed to the management company ATN, which NowTV has a stake in but doesn’t completely own), however based on everything that they’ve revealed so far about their plans upon receiving their license, it looks like they are taking a more measured approach, which is smart given the circumstances.

By bringing on Ho Lai Chuen as the primary ‘executive’ to oversee their free-to-air operations (he had previously worked for TVB for 30 years and oversaw their non-drama department), NowTV definitely took a step in the right direction – not just because of HLC’s decades of experience in television, but primarily because he is well-connected (in terms of to artists and producers) and also he is pretty well-respected. Case in point -- no doubt that Ho Lai Chuen played a HUGE role in getting TVB’s former ‘golden’ producers Lau Ka Ho and Mui Siu Ching to agree to join NowTV last year (they will be overseeing the drama department at NowTV – similar to Catherine Tsang and Tommy Leung’s roles as production heads at TVB) – the husband/wife team of LKH and MSC are extremely well-respected in the television industry, they have a proven track record of producing numerous highly rated and highly acclaimed series, and the number of artists they collaborated with in the 25 years that they were at TVB (and who would be willing to collaborate with them again if asked) is tremendous!

NowTV recently held a press conference where Lau Ka Ho and Mui Siu Ching announced their upcoming plans for producing drama series in their new positions. Pretty much they are going to focus on breaking into the Mainland market with their series, as most of them will be collaborations with a Mainland company -- they will also choose artists to collaborate with based on suitability to their scripts (which they are also involved in creating / writing)…of course, they will utilize HK artists if the series is a good fit, however there is very little chance that their series will be in direct competition with the other HK TV stations (which is probably why up to this point, NowTV has been able to maintain such an amicable relationship with TVB). Wong Hei already confirmed that he will be filming a TV series for NowTV in early 2013 (who he will be collaborating with is unknown at this point, though there are rumors flying around that Steven Ma and Charmaine Sheh will also join NowTV – of course, this has yet to be verified so please do not treat it as truth!).

Overall, if you want my opinion on which station is most likely to succeed – well, my money is pretty much on NowTV. Out of the 3 new stations vying for a piece of the free-to-air market, I have the most respect for NowTV so far because up to this point, they’ve been making the right moves. Obviously they have not been as ‘aggressive’ with their plans as CTI has been (and they have maintained a relatively low profile this past year compared with CTI’s loud, high profile ‘storming’ into the HK television world). With that said though, NowTV has been able to maintain a certain amount of transparency with their plans, revealing just enough to keep the general public abreast of what to expect, but of course not completing giving away all the ‘secrets’. Most important of all though – unlike CTI -- NowTV has NOT outrightly poached any of TVB’s artists – all of the artists and producers who joined their company from TVB were approached only after their contracts with TVB had ended (Bowie Lam and Wong Hei) or they had already submitted their letters of resignation (Lau Ka Ho and Mui Siu Ching). Now that’s what I call ‘healthy’ competition!

Out of the 3 new TV stations coming into play soon, I probably know the most about CTI, primarily because the company (and its chairman Ricky Wong) has been ‘in the news’ the most often – almost as much as TVB.

I’m sure most people who have been following the whole TV station battle thing are well aware of what CTI’s plans are terms of breaking into the HK television market (for those who might be interested in reading up on them, check out the various blog posts I wrote under the label ‘City Telecom (CTI)’ or ‘Ricky Wong’) – therefore I’m not going to cover everything in this post. The important thing to note is that in the span of a little less than a year, CTI has been able to gather together a staff of close to 300 employees consisting of artists as well as behind-the-scenes personnel (or so they state – who knows, the number could be exaggerated) – PLUS, they have already started to film series as of several months ago (2 of the series already wrapped filming and are in post production, 3 are currently filming, and 1 more will start filming at the end of this month). That’s a pretty aggressive timeline for a company that doesn’t even have its license yet (and probably won’t get their license until 2013 at the earliest)!

A few things that set CTI apart from what is being viewed as their biggest competitor – TVB (and give them a huge competitive edge over the television powerhouse):

.-- Ricky Wong is definitely targeting TVB’s ‘pain points’ when it comes his tactics for building up his television empire: he’s luring artists to his company through promise of ‘more money’ than what the artists would ever make working for the ‘notoriously cheap’ TVB (I’ve read that in a few instances, the pay that some of the artists are getting is 10 times that of what they got at TVB!); he’s giving those who work for him the FREEDOM to also work for any other TV station they wish (something that TVB never allowed); and probably most important of all, he is taking the ‘sincere’ route by personally meeting with (or calling) every artist he plans to invite to join his company (what other CEO out there flies 30 hours round trip to Canada to personally meet with a second/third line veteran artist and spends a day ‘learning’ from him about how to ‘do’ television? Talk about being sincere! -- plus he makes them feel respected and valued. Compare this with TVB, where the artists management department is so freakin’ disorganized and its ‘fearless leader’ (Virginia Lok) is so busy arranging the schedules of only her own beloved ‘favorites’ that she lets many artists’ contracts expire without even knowing it (which means that those artists were never even contacted to discuss contract renewal). If you were one of those artists, which company would you choose?

.— So far, CTI has stuck to its ‘goal’ of pushing for creativity and innovation -- all of the series that CTI has in the works are varied in terms of theme / genre and there is some ‘unique’ aspect to pretty much each one of them: a vampire-themed idol drama (‘There’s Still Time to Love You Again’), a horror flick where pretty much every artist in the series gets to play 9 different characters (‘Frightful Century’), HK’s first TV series musical (‘Fantasy Love Song 201314), a heartwarming tale of encouragement that explores what happens if people got a second chance to live their lives (‘The Second Life’), a sophisticated undercover cop series where the artists get training using real guns (‘Police Cordon’), and a sci-fi/fantasy detective drama starring a highly anticipated father/daughter team (the series that Felix Wong will start filming this month with his daughter Adrian).

.-- The BIGGEST difference of all in comparisons to TVB – for all of CTI’s series, the scripts are 100% completed PRIOR to filming (which means that the artists get the entire script in their hands before they start filming so they have time to understand their character and prepare). Given TVB’s decades-long ‘tradition’ of writing scripts ‘on the fly’ (the whole ‘flying papers’ concept) and only giving their artists story summaries or partial scripts prior to filming (the artists pretty much get the rest of the script throughout the course of filming, since the scripts are usually not finished yet), this ‘concept’ of getting the full script prior to filming is definitely an attractive benefit to consummate actors/actresses who take their craft very seriously!

With the cast lists that were released for CTI’s latest series, I’ve heard a lot of people ‘complain’ about how the artists signed with CTI (or filming series for them) are mostly veterans who are ‘past their prime’ and are virtually ‘unknown’ to today’s audiences – in other words, the audiences don’t recognize more than half the names on the cast list because of their ‘lack of popularity’. My counter-argument to this is – well, the same can actually be said of TVB’s series, except replace the ‘veterans’ with ‘newbies’. I can very honestly say that I’ve looked at the cast lists for quite a few of TVB’s upcoming series (either already filmed, currently filming, or planning to film) and well, um, I probably don’t recognize half the names on the list – for someone like me who has followed TVB series for more than 2 decades, it has been years since I’ve looked through a cast list for TVB series and not be able to recognize majority of the names on there! So basically, my point is – with all the changes coming down the pike, it’s probably best to just keep an open mind and let the pieces fall where they may...


  1. haha I'm still reading but I can name 1 recent incident where ATV had double digit ratings! And it was because of the London Olympics they were airing. I heard this from hyn5's chatbox so not sure how true that is.

    1. @sport3888: LOL! Go figure...of course it had to do with the Olympics...haha! I would actually consider that an anomaly though, since the Olympics only comes around once every 4 TVB probably got high ratings as well, since they're doing that joint programming thing. ;o)

    2. I used to support ATV alot because their series really are better written and more original then TVB's even in the 2000s! Many of their original series are copied by TVB few years later yet people always fail to notice because they don't watch ATV. Also I used to be very mad because many of their actors such as Ruco Chan, Kenneth Chan, NgTingYip, Elena Kong, Joey Meng, Alice Chan, Gabriel Harrison, Pinky Cheung, etc are far better in acting skills then TVB's yet just because of the bias and lower ratings they aren't as famous! If ATV was willing to put more money into acquiring better filming equipment their fate probably would've been different. People always complained about their screen color not been as saturated and color as TVB's yet with this old yellowish tint yet they never changed nor improved on that aspect all these years. You'd think that with their expansion few years ago they'd acquire better filming equipment, guess not.
      Yes and the whole idea of only filming variety shows was horrible. They pretty much gave up. But a good thing about that aspect is that it really pushed all their acting talents over to TVB and many of them have gotten allow more attention which I'm glad. Though I still hate TVB, their management, their bullying, and pettiness.

    3. Also they always fail to notice real talent and only promote those with looks but no acting skills. I'd take ok looks and great acting any day! They keep saying they "lack actors" but really what they lack are "glasses". If they were willing to give more chances to everyone including supporting actors, having different people as leads, they wouldn't need to have the same cast every single time! Also why is it that they always fail to film drama with different age ranges? Not all leads need to be in their 30s. There can be dramas about people from their teens to 40s. Also if they watch Jdramas, a series doesn't even need that many "cameos/supporting actors". The focus can be on mainly 4-5 people with some minor characters showing up. The character depth that Japanese dramas can achieve in 11-12 episodes is far more than the series that TVB can ever achieve even in 30s episodes with their unnecessary "family scenes" in everything single series from detective to romance. Geez like what a weibo commenter said even their "school dramas" are about "teachers" how boring can you be? A school drama about the daily lives and friendship of a bunch of friends is far more interesting! That's why I watch anime more than tvb's dramas because they are far more entertaining.

    4. Also there's always something call "nostalgia" I'm not in my teens anymore but when I watch the anime "kimi to boku" "You and Me" about a bunch of high school guys who were friends since elementary I can still relate to that. It's both touching and funny at the same time. It's sad that TVB's dramas are so dominated and focused on writing them for their housewife audiences that youngsters of HK don't even watch their dramas and can't relate them at all. When watching RTHK's documentary a young girl was like she only watches the drama when she's sitting with her mom. There aren't anything that talks about what a young person should do when they get out of school, how to face the world, etc. Everything are repetitively about professionals, or rich family feuds over money. Seriously TVB's people milking the rich family feud thing like forever.

    5. @sport3888: Yup, I agree with you about ATV. It's actually kind of ironic that alot of TVB's actors/actresses as well as producers actually came from ATV (even since back in the 80s...) -- also, alot of the artists I liked for their acting (i.e. Nick Cheung, Esther Kwan, Kwong Wah, etc.)originally came from ATV as well.

      That's why I feel that one of ATV's biggest problems was that they had bad management who pretty much drove the company to ruin...I mean, with management changing so often, it's hard for the company to achieve the stability it needed to really focus on their productions.

      I'm also glad that ATV's talented artists went to TVB and are finally getting the recognition they deserve because I've always preferred good acting over looks and so it's definitely a treat to get to watch series with quality acting again (though unfortunately, I think it's kind of too late to save TVB now given all their missteps previously...)

    6. @sport3888: Well, one 'pain point' with TVB, especially in the past decade, is that they lack creativity...they basically don't have original ideas anymore and that's why they need to rely on 'lifting' ideas from others in order to get material for their series. Plus their whole thing about having to cater to the 'housewife' audiences (which has not changed in 40+ years) -- that's one of the problems too...they're very reluctant to change because they don't want to 'rock the boat' and risk losing they make the same types of series over and over again....

  2. I have a question regarding Ricky Wong allowing artistes to film for anyone they want. Does that include those who are signed to CTI?

    I've recently heard about Hawick Lau, Lau Dan's son returning to film a series for TVB is that true? I wonder if it's just a one time project. TVB must be very desperate to contact someone who's left them and is doing well in mainland to film for them. I'm surprised that Hawick actually agreed. llwy12 if you have more info regarding that series and what that's about please share =)

    1. @sport3888: Well, so far, I'm really not sure which artists actually signed management contracts with CTI because it sounds like most of the more 'known' artists only signed the equivalent of a 'per series' contract with CTI. Those artists have all been allowed to film for pretty much anyone they want...I would actually be curious to know too whether a CTI-managed artist will be able to film for any station they want (I guess we won't know until one of those instances actually comes up).

      With regard to the whole thing about Hawick filming for TVB thing to keep in mind is that none of that is confirmed. Wong Jing only confirmed that he will be collaborating with TVB on a series and that his 'wish list' in terms of artists he wants to cast in the series include Deanie Ip, Hawick Law, and Kenneth Ma -- the key here is 'wish-list''s pretty much Wong Jing giving his opinion of who he wants to work with....that doesn't mean that Hawick and Kenneth are going to do the series for sure, since they were probably 'clueless' prior to this that WJ wanted to work with them in his new series. So basically -- no, Hawick has not 'agreed' yet (at least not from the stuff I've read)...

      I honestly don't know if Hawick will actually do the series or not, since he has such a busy schedule in Mainland...I'm not sure if Hawick has a good relationship with Wong Jing or not because that might actually be the deciding factor on Hawick's part as to whether he would take time out of his busy schedule to film this series...

    2. Guess we'll have to wait until a managed CTI artiste films for someone else like NowTV.

      I didn't know it was confirmed yet I just heard the news from hyn5 chatbox and thought it was true. I don't really watch mainland series wonder how much Hawick's acting has improved since then.

      The whole thing with "Wong Jing filming series for TVB sounds so eerie similar to what ATV started doing many years ago. Not sure of the reason but Wong Jing did direct quite a few number of good series for ATV.

      Will be interesting to see what the final cast for that drama will be. =)

    3. @sport3888: ACtually, you're absolutely correct -- with both the Wong Jing series and Eric Tsang one, TVB is doing exactly what ATV did years ago: have an outside production company film the series with TVB paying for some of the costs and also buying the broadcast if we want to get really technical, those 2 series won't really be "TVB series" per say (just like many of ATV's series weren't really 'their series' since they didn't really participate in the production except for paying some of the costs). I really don't see it as any different than TVB buying the broadcasting rights for a series from a different country (Jewel in the Palace for example) and airing it on their own station...

    4. Well I guess it's different if TVB lends their set and people for Eric and Wong Jing to film?

      I read someone mentioning how rather then focus on having just a few tv stations filming dramas, HK should be like other countries where many production companies focus on making good dramas and air them on tv stations. I've never thought of that. But I think it'd be great if people are willing to invest in opening more production companies for filming dramas rather than just movies. It'd certainly provide better quality series for audience and less limitation in creativity.