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.