[News] TVB executive says no room for new players

In the first of a two-part series, TVB executive Mark Lee Po-on discusses the threat and 'unfeasibility' of new stations in the free-to-air TV industry

Written by: Amy Nip and Vivienne Chow
Source: South China Morning Post

If the battle over new free-to-air television licences is as much about public opinion as it is about the government's long-delayed decision, then TVB executive director Mark Lee Po-on is coming out swinging.

While a recent poll by the University of Hong Kong found that 85 per cent of the city's viewers want more choices, the two existing terrestrial stations, Television Broadcasts (TVB) and Asia Television (ATV), have been the most vocal critics, arguing that there is simply not enough advertising revenue to support more players.

"We are not against having more [fishermen] join us to catch fish, but you have to create more fish in the sea first," Lee said.

TVB is fighting the new licence applications by City Telecom (CTI) and subsidiaries of iCable and PCCW on three levels: on government procedure, public opinion and in the political sphere.

Lee has questioned the government's right to award new licences before TVB and ATV's latest licences (which were secured with the promise of vast investment) will expire in 2015. He is prepared to go to court to press the claim, and has written to all lawmakers, Executive Council members and board members of the Office of the Communications Authority for support.

"If others are escalating this [dispute] to this level, we have to follow," Lee said, perhaps referring to City Telecom chairman Ricky Wong Wai-kay's high-profile "please" for an answer on the licence applications, which the government has been considering for more than 1,000 days.

TVB planned to offer better benefits to its staff. From next year, they would work five days a week like many office workers in Hong Kong, and would get pay rises according to the inflation rate. But if anything goes wrong, the company would have to take the opposite direction.

"The bottom line is, if there's no money, we will have to cut costs. And there's no way we can improve the quality of our productions."

Would this be Plan B if more competitors emerge? "It would be inevitable," he says.

"The government must be clear about its logic and rationale [about granting more free TV licences]. It owes society an explanation on how many licences Hong Kong can accommodate. The government has never been clear," Lee said.
Commerce Secretary Greg So Kam-leung, he says, has been reluctant to even discuss the issue. "Greg told me: 'Mark, let's not talk about free-TV licences today.' What else can we talk about?"

Lee wants the government to clarify three things: how many licences it will issue in the long run, how it arrived at that number and when it will issue them.

According to Lee, the government's consultants never contacted TVB or ATV when they assessed the television market, raising concerns about the accuracy of their studies. Maintaining a tight grip on advertising and content, while introducing competition would kill the industry, the executive argued.

"There is no government around the world, which would bring in a few more stations, knowing they would fail in the end. Such behaviour is not responsible," he says.

But it seems the viability of stations is not the main concern of the city's viewers. While millions of eyes are glued to TVB's shows, audiences are quick to complain about programme quality and illogical plots.

Actor Raymond Lam Fung appears invincible to bullets or explosives in his role as a police narcotics officer in the action drama Highs and Lows. A bottle of oolong tea appears on Qing dynasty emperor Daoguang's desk in Curse of the Royal Harem. The same faces appear repeatedly in various shows: actor Law Lok-lam "dies" five times in different dramas aired on a single day.

Dramas tend to be restricted to a handful of genres featuring either an upper-class family's dispute, or the wives of an ancient emperor fighting for his love - the kind of tear-jerkers housewives enjoy after washing the dishes. It is in stark contrast to shows, such as Seven Women, that TVB produced in the 1970s, challenging viewers' minds and tastes.
And worst of all, some online users have nicknamed the station "CCTVB", accusing the broadcaster's news arm of taking its lead from the mainland's official broadcaster.

However, Lee rejects the criticism. He says TVB respects editorial independence and gives enough freedom to its creative team, allowing it to produce dramas like last year's hit When Heaven Burns, which won the hearts of young viewers (who usually reject free-to-air channels) with its subject matter - cannibalism - and political undertones.
But amid that creative freedom, ratings remain king, Lee says. "Why would [TVB] have to produce programmes that have low ratings? They can't generate revenue. No commercial operator would create products that have no market. We won't go against the market."

So, while ATV's major investor, Wong Ching, chooses to dance Gangnam Style outside the government headquarters during a protest against the licences, Lee, nicknamed "the maths man", centres his argument on the figures.

While licence applicants cite TVB's billion-dollar profits to support their argument that the market is big enough for more, Lee thinks otherwise. "It would be harsh for me to put it this way, but TVB is earning more at the expense of ATV," he says.

In 1996, TVB earned HK$2 billion from advertisements, while ATV earned HK$855 million. By last year, Lee's station was earning HK$2.8 billion, while ATV only had HK$100 million, he said.

Local television advertising revenue remains at about HK$3 billion, Lee says, much lower than advertising monitor admanGO.com's estimate of HK$18.2 billion last year.

And with ATV and TVB spending HK$2.5 billion between them, the money would soon run out if CTI lived up to its pledge to spend HK$1 million per hour on its proposed drama series.

There is a big difference between the two stations' revenue and admanGO's figures because they offer hefty discounts to major advertisers and frequenters, Lee, a member of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, says. He worked for accounting firm KPMG from 1977 to 1987 prior to his television career that spans both TVB and ATV. "If there is indeed HK$18 billion worth of advertising, I won't really care how many stations there are," he says.

Advertising revenue has fluctuated in recent years, slumping after the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) scare in 2003 and dipping again in 2009 after the economic crisis. When the economy goes down, advertising is the first thing many firms cut.

The amount that companies devote to television advertising has not increased as more channels have been added.
"Before 2007, there were four analogue channels in the city. The number went up to more than 10 after the introduction of digital channels, including our three [channels] and ATV's four," Lee said. "But having more channels doesn't mean more advertising revenue."

With more stations to choose from, he says: "Total advertising revenue could increase a little, but that definitely won't be a large increase."

And there are other challenges for the industry. Hongkongers work ever longer hours and are likely to become more selective about which channels - if there are more available - they should devote their time to.

"People need to work and to sleep. It's a global trend that they are watching less TV," Lee said.

There is also increasing competition in the ad market - internet ad revenues grew 27 per cent last year while magazine advertising was up, according to admanGo. "You can see all the outdoor ads in MTR stations. Video ads appear in buses' TV sets and even in lifts," Lee said.

He draws on his own experience at the helm of ATV between 1992 and 1996 to explain the likely consequences of too many stations competing for too little revenue. "You cut the costly local productions and buy overseas dramas," he says. Dramas produced elsewhere are available at a fraction of the cost of locally produced series.

"I cut the hours of drama production from 600 to 260 [at ATV]," he recalls. The struggling station, which ran two dramas of its own every day during the 1990s, has since purchased more dramas from the mainland and the rest of Asia for dubbing. ATV still produces variety shows, but local dramas have been completely wiped out.

Lee says the situation is aggravated by the government's reluctance to allow the stations to expand beyond Hong Kong's small market. While their signals spill over into the heavily populated Pearl River Delta, ATV and TVB are not allowed to air their own ads. Instead, they have to hand over the rights to the mainland authorities for a paltry annual fee of less than HK$100 million.

TVB has made overtures during discussions on the mainland-Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, but there has been no sign of a breakthrough.

The uncertainty over the new licences has also stymied TVB's plans for overseas expansion, which might be risky. To step up its presence in the West, over the last six months it was planning an international version of the English-language Pearl channel to be broadcast on satellite stations. News would be its focus, mixed with travel shows and programmes about Chinese culture.

But Lee had to turn his attention to finding ways to fend off rivals, and he has harsh words for Ricky Wong. "I don't like the aggressive way he does things."

He says Wong's CTI plotted to poach half of TVB's 80-strong drama team in one weekend last year. "[CTI] wants to paralyse our operations. In the end, 25 of our staff quit. … If it is working for the well-being of the whole industry, it should train its own people instead of doing something this hostile.

"He keeps bashing our station's quality, but at the same time recruits our people and highlights what TVB dramas they worked on in the past."

But Lee strikes a more optimistic note when he talks of reforming the station's operations - regardless of the competition
"People are craving openness, and we are heading in that direction," the TVB executive says.

For the first time ever this year, for instance, TVB invited members of the public to choose the winner of the Miss Hong Kong beauty pageant. But the experiment backfired, with the system crashing as millions of people tried to cast their votes. The winner was eventually chosen, as in previous years, by a panel of judges.

This has not deterred Lee. Viewers will be able to vote for their favourite actor, actress and drama in TVB's annual awards show at the end of this year.

It is also going to scrap its three-decade-old Jade Solid Gold Best Ten Music Awards Presentation in favour of a more authoritative show jointly organised by TVB and three radio stations. The show - which other stations say has yet to be finalised - will also feature public voting.

"TVB does not have hegemony. We want to give the power back to the people," he says.

Lee emphasises that his station is an institution. "Victoria Harbour, Ocean Park and TVB come to people's minds when they talk about Hong Kong. The wrong policy could crush the 45 years of achievements that TVB has attained."

In tomorrow's edition, City Telecom boss Ricky Wong Wai-kay shares why new free-to-air licences are a must.

Thoughts:  I understand why tvb and atv does not not want CTI to get their licence.  I mean who would want to share half their pie when they could keep the whole pie?  So yah, I didn't mind and just ignored their complaints and stuff, but something in this article irked me.

TVB planned to offer better benefits to its staff. From next year, they would work five days a week like many office workers in Hong Kong, and would get pay rises according to the inflation rate. But if anything goes wrong, the company would have to take the opposite direction.

"The bottom line is, if there's no money, we will have to cut costs. And there's no way we can improve the quality of our productions." - Mark Lee

If that is your plan, then so be it!  =.=  That sounds to me like a threat and absolutely bizarre!  ARGH!!!!  If you want to cut the money when CTI emerges, fine!  Cut it all you want because in the end, guess who it is going to bite back in the end?  YOU!!!!  Cut your quality, cut your production etc....it will just stimulate the flow towards CTI!  Then what are you going to do?  Tvb, you put in what you earn.  Give people bad quality productions, they'll gradually disperse.  Give your staffs a hard time?  You'll still be paying them, but how much heart would they put into the productions?  *sigh*  In order to stay strong, you first have to be strong internally.  Tvb only has an external suit that they hide in, but it's gradually disintegrating.

TVB have been in the industry for years, so it's not easy for it to crumble so soon but with the way they're heading (with their stupid thought processes and management), they will eventually fall apart and that's just a matter of time.

While I see Mark Lee's point in the revenue thingy, I don't think it's strong enough to object CTi's licence.  The way my mind work is that you'll stay alive if you're strong, and if you're not strong enough to stay alive...then too bad.  That's how the world works anyways.  We can't stay in one position forever.

"TVB does not have hegemony. We want to give the power back to the people," he says.

He honestly said that...?  Well, am I the only one that thinks it is basically contradicting everything that tvb actually does?  :P  haha.

2013 Sales Presentation Clips - part 2

*****Clips credits ihktv, tiancai34@youku and hyn5

I will be updating the posts with my thoughts tomorrow :D

View Part 1 HERE

Love Reverses Three Lifetimes of Fate (情逆三世緣)
Cast: Bobby Au Yeung, Esther Kwan, Ben Wong, JJ Jia, Christine Kuo, Mandy Wong, Benjamin Yuen, Rebecca Zhu
*tears of joy*  Esther and Bobby!!!

The story looks quite good too!  I am so excited for this :D

Big Wheel ( 巨輪)
Cast: Ruco Chan, Edwin Siu, Linda Chung, Louise Lee, Kristal Tin, Louis Yuen, Leanne Li, Susan Tse
Another series that I am really looking forward to, with a very refreshing cast :)  I love the music played in the background, makes the trailer pretty intense.

A Great Way To Care II (仁心解碼2)
Casts: Alex Fong, Tavia Yeung, Yoyo Mung, Edwin Siu, Christine Kuo
I personally enjoyed the prequel alot and is looking forward to this "sequel".  Of course I am upset with Monkey's (Kate Tsui) death, but the main reason why I'm looking forward to this is because of the focus on psychological diseases/sickness.  It's an interesting topic that made the prequel so enjoyable, so hopefully that it won't disappoint in here.  Something else I am looking forward to is seeing Yoyo Mung again.  I've come to like her a lot and really miss seeing her onscreen.

The Hippocratic Crush II (On Call 36小時 II)
Cast: Lawrence Ng, Tavia Yeung, Kenneth Ma, Him Law, Mandy Wong, Benjamin Yuen, Candy Chang, Eliza Sam
I like how the clip for this is different than the other ones :)  One of the most anticipated next year!

Oh, as for the themesong, I am wondering if tvb will re-use the song from the prequel (since they did that for Ghetto Justice 2) or not?  Bias here, I do want them too because whenever I hear the song, there's just this "pull" that makes me think of the cast :)  Even in the trailer, hearing the song makes me even more excited!!!

A Good Heart Goes Haywire (好心作怪)
Casts: Michael Tse, Bosco Wong, Niki Chow, Vincent Wong, Mandy Wong
I don't know what they're saying, so I am a bit confuse.  So Michael's character turned good, and Bosco's turned bad?  o.O  Either way, I like seeing Bosco in these "bad" roles!  Ever since Lives of Omission, I've come to like him more and more.  Think he's very charismatic :)  Haha so is Michael too!  Looking forward to the two!

Cousin, You Are Good (老表,你好嘢)
Casts: Roger Kwok, Wong Cho Lam, Joey Meng, Wong Kwong Leung, Ivana Wong, Louis Cheung, Angela Tong
Roger Kwok and Joey Meng!  Yes!  From the trailer, seems like it'll be an enjoyable series to watch!  Not only with refreshing main leads, their are also new faces in the supporting roles.  I do hope that this series won't disappoint :D

2013 Sales Presentation Clips - part 1

*****Clips credits ihktv, tiancai34@youku and hyn5

Rosy Business III (巾幗梟雄3)
Cast: Wayne Lai, Myolie Wu, Edwin Siu, Natalie Tong, Sire Ma, Eric Li, Susan Tse, Joseph Lee, KK Cheung

Even though was not particularly interested in the series at first, the trailer is not bad.  Quite intrigue with the double Wayne :P  As for Myolie, it is so odd seeing her in a pre-modern drama!  Or should I say it has just been so long since her last one!  To be honest, I am most interested in seeing Edwin...

As for the title, I hope that it's only for marketing purposes.  I don't consider this as a franchise of Rosy Business...

Cold Mountain Hidden Dragon (寒山潛龍)
Cast: Kenneth Ma, Raymond Wong, Kenny Wong, Aimee Chan, Priscilla Wong

The animations are absolutely horrid!  Same goes to the costume!  As for the story, not as bad as the other factors.  If they have to film this though, 90% of the trailer (ie. costume, effects cast) have to be changed :P  Lols I doubt that tvb will actually do it though.

Seems like tvb is venturing out of ancient dramas and heading towards pre-modern.  Probably because of budget issues?  Not only that, most of the ladies don't really have the "ancient" look.

As for there recent pre-modern series, let's just say that I appreciated them much more before.  Just in the recent series, The Last Steep Ascent, I can recognize almost every building in there =.=  Thank goodness they actually spent some budget on Silver Spoons, Sterling Shackles since it was a grand production.

Transfer of Love Firm (傳愛事務所)
Cast: Moses Chan, Wayne Lai, Fala Chen, Christine Ng, Evergreen Mak, Jason Chan, Matt Yeung, Susan Tse, Sire Ma, Samantha Ko, Lin Xiawei

With such a cast, I did not expect this series to be a comedy.  Even from the info before, nothing mentioned it to be a comedy right?  Either way, I do wish that Wayne Lai will play a comedic/light -hearted character (he've been too serious since Rosy Business) since I love him in comedies, but I do hope that Moses will have a more serious role.

And where was Christine Ng?  Q.Q

One-Sided Love Twins (單戀雙城)
Cast: Aimee Chan, Lin Xiawei, Tony Hung

This felt like a love story between two girls.  And hey!  The guy in here is Tony Hung!?  Apparently tvb wants to promote him to siu sang status next year...even though we could not even see his face in here.

I actually wouldn't mind this series if it involves more new stars.  Could be a Sunday series to promote the newbies a little since tvb use to have series like that before (ie. Aqua Heroes, Hearts of Fencing)  Those small series often comes out to be light-hearted and enjoyable to watch as you see all the refreshing yong faces.  

Food For Slaves (食為奴)
Cast: Raymond Lam, Ron Ng, Fala Chen, Sharon Chan, Nancy Wu, Benjamin Yuen, Susan Tse

I'd love to see Ron in a comedy.  Honestly, he've been typecasted into those stubborn/hot-headed guys so much that it's getting on my nerves.  Even though he might have destroyed his image with the scandals and such, I though his acting improved in L'Escargot.

I personally don't think they'll film this, but if they do, I will look forward to it.  I want to see Nancy Wu in a fighting role Q.Q

Sniper Attack 2013 (神槍狙擊2013)
Cast: Michael Tse, Kate Tsui, Eddie Cheung, Kathy Chow, Alice Chan
Eddie Cheung, Kathy Chow and Alice Chan!!!!  Especially because it's Alice's first series with tvb, this is a must see!  With fadans lacking, I really hope that Alice Chan will be more promoted :)

TVB's 2012 Gala Show - The Ladies's fashion

The fashion overall in here is much better than the Sales Presentation's...so let's hope that the Awards night will be even better!!  Unfortunately, stars like Myolie Wu and Fala Chen were unable to attend the Gala since they are filming Triumph in the Skies in Europe....

Dressing in a more conservative matter than the others, I still personally like Linda's dress alot!  I especially like how the collar of the dress was all fancy (stands out) while the rest of the dress were in two simple colors.  The belt and the design of how the rest of the dress were layered is also something I liked.  Along with her hair and lipstick color, she had on a very classic look.

Linda got another dress for her performance with Ruco :)  Hehe both of them looks fabulous!  lols I was all excited seeing them perform together x)

Even though a different dress, the style is still somewhat similar but overall, I also like it very much.  It would be more preferable if the dress was a one piece though.

Honestly, I would not like it so much if it was the dress itself but Christine pulled it off very well.  The dress matches her skin tone and along with how she styled her hair into a ponytail, altogether with the dress, gave Christine a very pure and youthful look!  

It is quite unfortunate to hear that When Heaven Burns was Astrid's last series since I love seeing her onscreen (when i first saw Astrid, I thought of Alice....do you guys think they resemble each other?  I can see a little of it.)

Now back to her dress, I love it alot.  Just the metallic white/grey attracted me to the pictures, and the floral beads designs on the dress is also very pretty.  I can see a problem though when she tries to walks x)

Alice Chan is no doubt one of the most beautiful actress tvb have now.  This dress only further proven that fact.  The dress is quite simple, but yet elegant and Alice gives of a very goddess-like feeling in it....

Compared to her dress at the Sales Presentation ceremony, I am nowhere near liking this dress.  Especially with the extra poofy stuff, they make her figure much bitter in size.

The dress if not bad, but I am not a big fan of it either.

Before seeing the full picture of Sharon's dress, the top part of it reminded me of Lady Gaga's meat suit dress (no joke...that dress was made of all real meat, including her boots) because of the shades of red.  Lols I freaked out for second there.  After seeing the full version, the fabric designs reminds me more of a koi...especially how the dress flares out at the bottom.  Overall, thought the dress was alright since I don't really like the designs on the fabric.

I want the full picture of the dress :/  Overall, still cute!  I really like the color purple too.  The only thing I don't really like are Selena's jewelry since I do not think they match very well with the otufit.  Better to have no necklace at all (since the dress's neckline is already so high) and with a different bracelet.

EDIT:  I found the full picture of the dress :(  I had initially thought that it'll be a short dress, but unfortunately it was not.  Ugh...

Handsome guy and beautiful lady!  Yoyo's dress reminds me of a swan, similar to Myolie's and Nancy's dresses last year but Yoyo's swan dress gives off a much gentler aura than theirs.  Very sweet :)

Quite odd that I like Kristal's hairstyle but just because of the way she displays herself, her hair suits her alot.  On the other hand, I still do not like the dress.  Personally don't like dresses with such poofy-ness haha.

It is quite clear that Shirley has lost alot of weight!  :(  
As for her attire, it's nothing new.  Shirley usually wears this tube dresses...

Unflattering dress and bad choice of lipstick color D;

Where was Natalie Tong?  This was the only picture I found.  Anyways, I don't have a full view of her dress so not much comment.  Only thing I've got to say is that I love her hair!

EDIT:  Found the picture of the whole dress!  Do not like it though.

I posted this group picture because of Macy Chan.  First of all, very surprise to see her dress in such a revealing dress...which sadly is kinda...eh?

At first look (in the group picture, I really liked that purple-ish dress in the middle worn by...an unknown actress, but after seeing the full dress, it wasn't that great since it was too poofy.  I guess it was better when the other actresses blocked all those extra poof.

Then there are more actresses that I did not know....which I began tired of saving pictures off, so there are only a few of them here.

These were performance dresses right?  That is why all of them got the matching feather thingy :D  Cute!

[Pics] TVB's 2012 Gala Show