Tuesday, November 27, 2012

News Article: TV licence to thrill: Ricky Wong's pledge for the future

This is part 2 of the article I posted yesterday from SCMP about the whole free to air TV license thing. In Part 1, TVB’s GM Mark Lee got the chance to give his ‘argument’ for why additional TV licenses shouldn’t be issued while part 2 gave CTI’s chairman Ricky Wong the chance to voice his argument in support of the license issuance.

Personally, I feel that Ricky Wong has a more valid argument -- he is pretty much able to refute each of Mark Lee’s main points, attaching concrete numbers / statistics to support his points just like Mark Lee did.

To be honest, after reading these 2 articles, I can’t help but side with Ricky Wong – to me, whether Mark Lee has any valid points or not doesn’t matter anymore because I absolutely detest his attitude! Pretty much after I read the part where Mark Lee “threatens” to take away employee benefits and such if the government “dares” to issue the free TV licenses, I was instantly turned off by his arrogant lack of concern for his people (aka the people who work for him) and basically didn’t care any more what else he had to say. I mean, come on now -- as an employer, when you start threatening your employees' livelihoods and essentially tell your employees that you are "using" them to further your own selfish agenda (which is pretty much what Mark Lee is doing with the ‘threat’ that he made), how can you expect your employees to continue to be 'unquestioningly loyal' to you? Personally, if Mark Lee were my boss and he "threatened" me like that, I would quit right away and tell him to go take a hike (to put it mildly)! Who needs to be treated like an 'easily dispensable piece of trash' and then to be 'threatened' with having your benefits taken away on top of that?

Ask any owner of a successful, prosperous business and they will tell you that their biggest asset is their people (aka their employees) – without the ‘people’ who diligently and loyally work hard day in and day out to service the company’s customers, the company would go nowhere (this is especially the case in the entertainment industry – heck, there wouldn’t even be an entertainment industry without the artists, producers, directors, etc. who are the ‘core’ of any production!). TVB’s management obviously doesn’t understand this concept otherwise Mark Lee wouldn’t say the stupid stuff that he did! This is actually one area where Ricky Wong has the upper hand and why, despite how much some people may dislike him for the way he operates or shoots off his mouth, they are still willing to stand behind the ‘cause’ of his company getting their license – the way he treats his employees is drastically different from the way TVB treats theirs….he treats his employees with respect and humbles himself in front of them, plus he’s willing to take risks and give people chances that they may have never gotten before (of course there will be those out there who argue that he’s doing all this just for show and such – but hey, at least he’s willing to make the effort to treat people well for however long it lasts…unlike TVB’s management, who basically don’t give a crap and don’t even bother to ‘pretend’ to treat their employees decently!).

In terms of the ‘argument’ from both sides….well, Ricky Wong may not be 100% right with some of his points and who knows if he will actually ‘follow through’ with all the stuff he says he’s going to do, but regardless, he still has a decent, valid argument. Come to think of it, TVB’s argument is actually kind of weak – their whole point is that the HK advertising revenues isn’t enough to sustain so many TV stations. If that’s what the ‘gist’ of their argument is, then fine – but if you really want to hear my opinion, that ‘argument’ itself can be shot down because if you really think about it, even if the other 3 stations get their licenses, there actually won’t be 5 stations competing against each other. Why? Well, look at it this way…

ATV is pretty much out of the picture already because they are so far gone, no one can save them anymore – so they basically don’t count.

NowTV has already said their focus will be on the Mainland market and not really HK audiences, so they won’t be in direct competition with TVB.

I-Cable hasn’t really revealed much about their plans, but it sounds like their focus will be more on ‘large scale’ events (such as Olympics, World Cup, etc. – those type of big sporting events) as well as informational shows, so I highly doubt they will be much of a ‘threat’ to TVB.

That pretty much leaves only CTI in direct competition with TVB….so in essence, at the end of the day, there will still only be 2 TV stations battling out – the only difference is that CTI will be a strong competitor against TVB rather than a weak, virtually nonexistent one like ATV was.

So basically, the only TV station that will truly be threatened if CTI comes on board is ATV, since most likely they will go bankrupt and close up shop (which honestly is perfectly fine for most of us at this point). TVB will probably make "less money" because they have to share the pie with someone else, but in no way will they be "in the red" as Mark Lee claims.

In essence, my whole ‘take’ on the issue is: give the 3 new stations their damn licenses already!!!


TV licence to thrill: Ricky Wong's pledge for the future
In the last of a two-part series, the City Telecom boss talks about his dream for a station that will rebuild lost pride in Hong Kong's culture

Written by Vivienne Chow and Amy Nip

Source:  South China Morning Post

        Ricky Wong Wai-kay loves green. In his modest office in an industrial building in Kwai Chung, the City Telecom chairman has a selection of ties in various shades of green resting on a rack next to his chair. There's a tall green plant and a load of chunky objects in viridian decorating the shelf behind his glass desk.

But one green item the telecoms maverick still can't get his hands on is the government's green light for his free-to-air television licence application. It has been more than 1,000 days since Wong's CTI applied, as did subsidiaries of PCCW and i-Cable.

He has become increasingly vocal over the past month about the delay, making himself a target for criticism from the two existing terrestrial television stations, Television Broadcasts (TVB) and Asia Television (ATV). TVB argues there isn't enough advertising revenue to support more new stations, while ATV has attacked Wong in its Blog the World show, dubbing him a demon.

That has not dampened Wong's spirit. It's a battle he is determined to fight - CTI sold its 20-year-old telecoms businesses in May for HK$5 billion to concentrate on television. He vows to create a TV station that belongs to Hong Kong.

ATV's attacks don't appear to faze him. "They have probably helped me indirectly," says Wong, clad in a zipped-up Louis Vuitton hoodie and jeans.

Indeed, public opinion is lining up behind him. More than 85 per cent of respondents in a survey by the University of Hong Kong wanted more free-to-air TV choices. Over 200 industry veterans signed a petition calling for more TV stations. And his comrades are with him for the battle. A text message on his mobile phone, sent from one of the 220 artists and 500 people on production and creative teams he has hired, reads: "You have sold your son [the telecoms businesses]. Let's do our best together."

Wong is keen to respond to claims by TVB Group general manager Mark Lee Po-on that the government has not been clear about its broadcasting policy and that TVB has been kept in the dark about how many new licences would be issued. Lee argues there is not enough advertising revenue available to support new players.

But Wong says the government has long been clear about its plan to open up the domestic free-to-air TV market.

Pointing to a 1998 Legislative Council briefing paper on a government review of television policy, Wong says the only reason the market was not opened up earlier was constraints on the broadcasting spectrum.

"Under the new technology-neutral licensing regime, there would be no limit on the number of domestic free licences to be issued," the review paper read.

The paper said that because of the plan to open up the market: "Advertising and subscription royalties for all television and sound broadcasting licensees should be abolished."

Wong says the government has scrapped what it used to charge TVB - 9 per cent of the total locally generated advertising revenue - since 2000. He estimates TVB has already saved HK$2.4 billion in such royalties from the HK$26.6 billion in advertising revenue generated since July 2000.

"I don't understand why TVB doesn't know the government's policy," Wong says. "The government did not beg TVB to open up the television market. The government has already given TVB benefits [by scrapping royalties] and has been very clear about having no limit on the number of free TV licences."

Wong plans to produce 260 hours of drama and 104 hours of variety and infotainment programmes this year, followed by 650 hours of drama and 520 hours of variety and infotainment next year. Pre-production has been extended from three months to six to allow the creative team more time. CTI has reserved HK$2.8 billion for the development of TV and multimedia business in the long run.

His television station - if a licence is granted - will begin with five channels. A year later the number of channels is slated to rise to 12, then 20 in three years and 30 in six years. He has put HK$300 billion into the venture so far. He has also promised he will maintain an English-language channel, one of the licensing conditions for TVB and ATV.

In the past couple of months, Wong has taken a new direction in his battle for the licence, going from Mr Nice Guy to a high-profile figure challenging the delay publicly. He has appeared in press conferences, radio interviews and back-to-back media interviews to make his case. After all, the group's multimedia business, which includes TV, has already recorded a net loss of HK$73.8 million, according to CTI's annual report.

Wong does not buy TVB's argument about a lack of advertising revenue. Lee says the TV advertising market is worth HK$3 billion per year, a stark contrast with advertising monitor admanGO.com's estimate of HK$18.2 billion last year.

But Wong says the figure doesn't worry him - he expects his new channel to generate only half of its revenue locally, with the rest coming from selling content.

One episode of a TV series can, for example, be sold to a mainland web portal for between 600,000 and 800,000 yuan (HK$987,200). And Wong believes CTI's quest to offer something different will bring viewers back to terrestrial television.

CTI has already invested HK$87.6 million in programming, including drama series ranging from 10 to 30 hours per series. Four drama series have been completed and four more are in production - with the offerings ranging from a musical, a drama revolving around the controversies of plastic surgery, a crime thriller with supernatural elements, and even one youth-orientated drama tipped as Hong Kong's answer to the vastly successful Twilight vampire romance series.

It's a sharp contrast to TVB's tear-jerkers. "It's a misconception that people don't watch dramas any more," Wong says. "What takes up the greatest internet bandwidth is watching dramas. It's just that young people don't watch local dramas because of their poor quality. They watch Korean, Japanese and American TV shows."

Wong has long criticised TVB dramas for their lack of creativity and limited genre - a staple plot involves middle-aged people caught up in love crises. "How can you expect that to attract a young audience?"

But since last year Wong has targeted much of TVB's creative talent - from scriptwriters to directors and even production crew, as well as make-up and costume artists. Lee says Wong is criticising TVB's product while trying to hire away the very employees who produce it.

Wong responds: "These people are truly talented, but their talents will never shine under the [TVB] system. They are like leopards caged in a zoo. And I release them into a safari park. There, they can run as fast as they want."

Wong dismisses Lee's claim he was aggressive in his recruitment and was aiming to paralyse TVB's production.

"I didn't expect all 30 people I met would jump ship. I offered them only a 20 to 30 per cent pay rise, which is reasonable. Why is it my fault? Shouldn't [TVB] be alarmed and reflect on what went wrong? Their management didn't even know how many had left until months later.

"Do you know how much money they make? A director with 25 years of experience under his belt, creating shows achieving 30 to 35 rating points [an audience of 1.9 million to 2.3 million], can generate HK$3 million to HK$4 million in advertising revenue in one hour. And they are earning only HK$20,000 a month with no commission. But why did they stay [at TVB]? Because they have nowhere else to go, unless they go to mainland China."

Wong says CTI spends HK$1 million per episode on a drama series, against what he says is TVB's HK$300,000. Trailers for CTI's shows will make their public debut on December 4.

"We apply the techniques of shooting a film to making a TV show. All the scenes were shot on location," he says. "We once rented an office at Two IFC, which costs HK$80,000 per day. We rented it for two days, so that we could get a genuine harbour view where you can see ships actually move, not a poster backdrop like what you see on TVB."

But even if CTI wanted to shoot in a studio, it has a problem - it doesn't have one yet. Its 500,000 sq ft multimedia production and distribution centre, which will consist of 12 studios, is still under construction at Tseung Kwan O and won't be ready until 2014, at a cost of HK$800 million.

It has been suggested political reasons are behind the government's delay in issuing new licences. Reports have suggested Wong, perhaps mindful of Beijing's perceived wariness of expanded coverage of Hong Kong affairs, has played up dramas at the expense of news.

CTI's news programmes are currently carried by pay-TV concern bbTV over the Hong Kong Broadband Network, which CTI sold to CVC Capital Partners along with the IDD telecom business in May. Wong says editorial and current affairs programmes will remain unfettered and be integral to the operation.

Wong hopes his channels can break even within three years - but that can't happen without a free-to-air licence. He is confident the green light will come soon. TVB says it is ready to take legal action if licences are granted, while Wong is prepared to go to court if the permit doesn't materialise by the end of the year.

Wong has long insisted he wants to create a station that truly belongs to Hong Kong, a place he describes as free and creative.

"Hong Kong has become a very unhappy place. As a media person I hope to rebuild the pride Hong Kong once had. To some, this pride comes from money. But to me, this pride comes from our culture," Wong says.

"In the past, Hong Kong film exports made Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan household names around the world. We were a culture exporter. But our TV culture has deteriorated by a great deal."


  1. lol, just had to comment on this line:
    "They have probably helped me indirectly," says Wong, clad in a zipped-up Louis Vuitton hoodie and jeans."
    anyway, thanks for translating ~
    i'm just sick and tired of all this really.
    atv protesting, then this stupid mark lee with his selfish comments, then tvb who's afraid to have competition because they'll have to share the pie, then atv for accusing mr.wong of stealing documents....
    the government better just issue those damn licenses already!!! ( like you said).
    i'm just waiting for that day, i can go on weibo to finally read some good news =.= like ' hk government finally issues licenses!'

  2. I seriously hope the HK government will release the licenses before the end of 2012! It's been way too long and I'm also tired of ATV an CCTVB!