Thursday, October 4, 2012

The 2012 HK Television Wars: A Detailed Look at the Free-to-Air Licensing Process + Latest Updates – PART 2

Here's part 2 of the article I had posted yesterday about CTI and the free-to-air TV license process.

There's actually quite alot of interesting stuff in this portion of the article as well (which consists primarily of Ricky Wong responding to the recent rumors about his company and also some thoughts from CTI's artists).

Link to Part 1:


ND Daily Exclusive: When will the Free-to-air TV War Truly Begin?
Source: ND Daily News -- Part 2

Translation: llwy12

Article originally published 9/14/12

Part 2: The ‘price’ of waiting…

The 'ground-breaking' ceremony for CTI’s TV Production Center in Tseung Kwan O (which reportedly costs 600 million HKD to build) was indeed a grand event back in February -- however recently, insiders revealed to HK Media that construction work on the production studio was halted a month ago. In addition, there were reports earlier that Ricky Wong had suddenly fired a few top executives [William and Tina] at the production company of which he is an investor [the company is called Creative Arts Productions – it’s a Mainland management company that has the likes of Charmaine Sheh and Joe Ma signed as managed artists]. Both of these ‘unusual’ moves, coupled with the fact that CTI still has not received their license yet, caused the Media and general public to speculate that perhaps CTI won’t get its license after all and so now they must cut expenses as much as possible. During our interview, Ricky Wong responded to each of the recent rumors.

Rumor #1: Construction of TV studio halted in order to cut expenses

Mr Wong’s response: “Construction halted not because of money; I have 3 billion HKD to ‘burn’ for 6 years.”

Ricky Wong confirmed that construction work at his TV studio has indeed been halted, but it has nothing to do with cutting expenses: “The foundation work for the building has already been completed, however before we can proceed, we need to await government inspection. Once inspection is completed, then we will be able to move forward with phase 2 construction, which is planned for end of this year / early next year. All of this is normal protocol – in fact, the other construction sites in the area are undergoing the same process! Why would it be an expense control tactic?”

As for his action of firing Creative Arts Production’s executives, Mr. Wong responded: “Only fired 3 people – we have a staff of over 700 people!” Asked about his company’s revenues not being in line with the huge amount of expenses associated with building his TV empire, Mr. Wong explained: “To operate a TV station in HK, it requires at least 1 to 2 years of preparation. During this ‘preparation’ time, of course there will be a lot of expenses – I never expected there to be any profits the first 2 years. Our company currently has 3 billion HKD available cash – even if we use 500 million a year, the money will last us at least 6 years. Even if we have absolutely no incoming revenue for those 6 years, we will still be fine. People outside the company perhaps don’t understand all this, but basically, there is no need for anyone to worry. The company is not in a ‘financial loss’ stage as rumored – we are merely in the ‘investment’ stage right now.”

Rumor #2: If TV license is denied, the 8 series filmed this year will be sold overseas

Mr Wong’s response: “We still need more programming to keep in inventory to ensure we are ahead of the game once license is granted.”

Even though they have not received their license yet, CTI has already commenced filming on 7 drama series, with 3 of those already completed. Ricky Wong indicates that by the end of this year, they will have a total of 8 series already filmed. What will be the platform for airing these series? It was rumored earlier that in the event CTI doesn’t get their license, they have a backup plan for the series – selling them overseas. However, if this were to happen, CTI would surely receive criticism – not only would it be unfair for the artists and behind-the-scenes crew signed to their company, but more importantly, free TV audiences would not get the ‘benefit’ of watching the series. Therefore, the option of selling the series overseas would definitely NOT be a popular one.

Towards this rumor, Mr. Wong responded: “Even if we don’t receive our license, the series will still air on a free TV channel no matter what – this is the only way to be fair and just to all the artists and crew who worked on the series. Currently I am busy following up on the filming progress for each series – even if we were to receive our license [in the next couple months], we would still have to delay ‘opening’ the station until mid-year 2013 because right now, we don’t have enough ‘inventory’. A 20 to 30 episode series will finish airing in about 4 to 6 weeks – we need to accumulate at least 300 hours of programming (TV series and variety programs) in order to meet the need at startup.”

When it comes to treatment of the artists and other personnel – almost all of whom he was personally involved in recruiting – Ricky Wong has definitely been making all the right moves. According to CTI’s artists, directors, writers, etc., Mr. Wong does more than just personally visit the set of each series being filmed – he also ensures that every meal provided for the cast and crew consists of 3 dishes, 1 soup as well as dessert. In addition, Mr. Wong also invested in high quality filming equipment – the same type used to film movies – for all the directors; for the artists, he arranged air-conditioned trailers for them to rest during breaks in filming and most importantly, by establishing set work schedules, he guarantees that each artist will have at least 8 hours of rest each day. [TN: Pretty much Ricky Wong is following the 8 to12 hour workday schedule that a lot of the American companies utilize. This is definitely very different from the ‘24 hour’ schedule that TVB seems to employ, where, in extreme cases, some artists don’t even get to go home or sleep for several days straight!]

Rumor #3: Due to TVB launching strong ‘counterattacks’, artists are hesitant to ‘jump ship’

Mr Wong’s response: “Having competition pushes us to do an even better job.”

Amongst the 3 companies waiting for a license, CTI has been the most direct threat to TVB. Pretty much all of the 20 or so directors and scriptwriters that CTI currently employs formerly worked for TVB – same with many of the artists who had joined CTI. To ‘counter’ the shortage of artists and behind-the-scenes crew brought on by CTI’s aggressive ‘poaching’ strategy earlier in the year, TVB’s new owner Charles Chan had to utilize his ‘friendship cards’ to convince movie director Wong Jing (王晶) as well as Eric Tsang (曾志偉) to help him. Using the ‘outside produced series’ formula [TN: meaning the series will be produced by 3rd party production companies, not directly by TVB], Wong Jing plans on inviting 7-time Best Actress (in movies) winner Deanie Ip (葉德嫻) to star in his series, while Eric Tsang revealed that he has already secured superstar Andy Lau (劉德華) and is currently trying to convince Chow Yun Fat (周潤發) to return. Even actor Lawrence Ng (吳啟華) – whom it was heavily rumored earlier that he intended on joining CTI – is already confirmed to be returning to TVB instead. In the weeks and months ahead, more ‘big name’ former TVB stars will undoubtedly be returning to help their ‘mother home’ fight the upcoming TV battle.

Given the circumstances, does Ricky Wong still have confidence fighting this TV war? He expressed: “If it wasn’t for us [CTI and the other stations] stepping up and laying down the challenge [to TVB], what are the chances of audiences getting to see the likes of Andy Lau, Chow Yun Fat, etc. return to film series? It’s precisely because there’s competition that we are pushed to do an even better job!”


Latest updates on the other 4 TV stations:

TVB – In addition to new boss Charles Chan convincing his friends Wong Jing and Eric Tsang to produce series for the station (and inviting Deanie Ip as well as Andy Lau back in the process), the drama department’s production heads Catherine Tsang (曾勵珍) and Tommy Leung (梁家樹) also have a few ‘major productions’ in the works, including: the long anticipated sequel to 2003’s hit Triumph in the Skies, the modern series starring former TV Kings Wayne Lai and Moses Chan, Lawrence Ng’s return to his popular doctor role in the sequel to this year’s hit medical series The Hippocratic Crush, etc. [TN: They forgot the confirmed ‘reunion’ of Esther Kwan and Bobby Au Yeung in a new ancient series as well as the return of Kathy Chow, Eddie Cheung,  and Dayo Wong to film series next year…]. In addition, head of variety programs department Sandy Yu (余咏珊) has a few ‘gimmicks’ planned for upcoming ‘heavyweight’ variety programs, including having all of HK vote for this year’s TV King and Queen winners at the Anniversary Awards.

i-Cable – Even though the station successfully obtained the rights to broadcast the Olympics earlier in the summer, they were not able to convince the government to issue their free TV license prior to the broadcast, resulting in them having to ‘share’ their Olympic footage with TVB and ATV and thereby failing to ‘grab’ free TV audience share.

NowTV – In July, the station held a press conference announcing their free TV plans once their license is received. They indicated that the focus of their series will primarily be to ‘penetrate’ the Mainland market, so their series will mostly be joint collaborations with Mainland production companies.

ATV – As far as this ‘long declining’ station goes, their recent focus seems to be on preventing the HK government from issuing free-to-air TV licenses to rival companies. Other than that, there has not been any ‘new’ action taken recently.


CTI Artists Speak Out…

Maggie Cheung (張可頤) [scheduled to start filming her first series for CTI this month]:

“Hong Kong needs more TV stations in order for our drama series to be more diverse and varied, which helps us improve overall. I’m not worried at all about CTI obtaining its license.

Mr. Wong is very different from TVB [management] – when it comes to getting things done right, he does not look at how much it will cost. People ask me why I was resolute about leaving my previous employer [TVB] – it’s precisely because I was moved by Mr. Wong’s drive and spirit! CTI has a certain fire and a desire to fulfill their dreams – the cast and crew are all of one heart, united for a common goal – this was a huge factor that attracted me to the company.”

Felix Wong (黃日華) [started filming on a detective series last month]:

“Expanding the broadcasting market [in HK] is inevitable, it’s just a matter of timing. I was just discussing [the licensing issue] with Mr. Wong earlier – he is very confident and optimistic about getting the license, it will just take some time for it to happen. It’s okay, we’ll just film series first – the world will continue to get better and better! I’ve been filming for a few weeks already and the experience has been very fun – it feels the same as filming a movie! The overall production process [at CTI] is taken a lot more seriously – for example, with more people involved in the task, the lighting is a lot nicer – things are more fresh, there is a lot more time to rest, etc. Most important is that there is enough time to study the script and do my homework – TVB can’t compare.

Everyone on the cast and crew really has a heart for making the production the best possible. Mr. Wong also visits us on the set often – in fact, he does so for every series being filmed, which is huge encouragement for all of us. True, not having a license might impact revenues, but from what I understand, that hasn’t stopped the management team from continuing to recruit more people.”

Frankie Lam (林文龍) [currently filming the series Three Sides of Shape Doctors (三面形醫)]:

“I’m not worried about whether the series I film will air or on what platform because to me, the quality always comes first. If a series is high quality, audiences will still watch it regardless of what platform it’s on. Just like someone who is used to eating with the right hand now switches to eating with the left hand – it might take some getting used to at first, but it’s just a matter of time.

‘Unity’ and ‘working together as one’ are feelings that I haven’t experienced in recent years and both can definitely be found here. The filming atmosphere is great.”

So Man Chong (蘇萬聰) [CTI Chief Director, formerly TVB director whose previous work includes last year’s Lives of Omission]:

“I’m not worried about the delay in getting the license. Actually, the government’s rule is that TV stations are required to start broadcasting programs within 9 months from when they receive their licenses – so even if the government were to issue our license at the end of the year, we still might not have enough ‘inventory’ to start broadcasting yet. Even though we will have filmed 8 series by then, those will probably finish airing within half a year. Therefore, from a strategy perspective, it’s actually better for us to receive the license later. We want to continue taking each production seriously and have more time to film rather than rushing in order to meet the numbers.

As for the company ‘cutting expenses’ – that’s only a rumor. When it comes to money for filming, the company spares no expense and we’re given whatever we need. All this time, we’ve also continued to recruit people to join the company. In terms of filming equipment, we use super clear HD cameras and lenses as well as state of the art equipment that movie producers use, so the results that come out on screen are much nicer. To be honest, back when I was at TVB, I had a dream of being a movie director, but was never able to fulfill that dream – now I feel that I’ve achieved it.”

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