Hong Kong's ATV to Close After Denial of Broadcast License

Karen Chu

Hong Kong's oldest broadcaster has been denied renewal of license and will cease to broadcast on April 1, 2016.

The Hong Kong government has issued a non-renewal decision on Asian Television Limited's (ATV) application for renewal of the domestic free television program service on April 1.

The end of the 58-year-old broadcaster, the first of the two free-to-air stations in Hong Kong, concludes months of turmoil for the company. ATV has been in dire financial straits since December 2014, and has delayed paying wages to its employees and the license fee to the government. Its viewership was dismal, at times earning zero points in ratings for some programs.

ATV has been in talks with potential buyers and new investors for the last three months. It has announced on its Chinese channel primetime news program on March 31 that Ricky Wong, founder and owner of Hong Kong Television Network and chief executive of ATV for 12 days in 2008, has agreed to buy the 52 percent stakes offered by ATV major shareholder Wong Ching. Ricky Wong denied such claims the next morning.

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ATV's free TV license is due to expire on November 30, 2015. Under the Broadcasting Ordinance, a notice in writing of the non-renewal decision has to be served on ATV at least 12 months before the expiration of its license. As a result, ATV will have its license extended to April 1, 2016.

"Over the past few months, the government has been acutely aware of the developments surrounding ATV," said Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So. "Since it is necessary for the purpose of legal procedural fairness to give ATV reasonable time to submit a concrete restructuring program on its 'planned transformation' this January, the chief executive in council earlier imposed a deadline of March 31, 2015 for ATV to submit concrete implementation details. ATV, however, failed to do so by the deadline, and the chief executive in council today has made a non-renewal decision based on all information available to him."

"The Communications Authority (CA) considers that the overall performance of ATV is unsatisfactory. Its performance in various aspects has clearly deteriorated after the mid-term review of its license. The CA has serious doubts as to whether ATV would be capable of making the necessary improvements, and whether it has the financial capability to deliver its investment plans, and indeed to continue its business as a going concern," So said.

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"This is the first time in the local broadcasting history that an incumbent's broadcasting license is not renewed," So added.

ATV's 600 employees will be dismissed when the station dissolves, but its top executive said that the station might not be able to last that long. ATV executive director Ip Ka-po told a radio station on April 2 that ATV does not have the plan to enable it to run until next year, and needs to determine the station's operational mode, program content and whether to cooperate with another operator so as to reduce the manpower required.

On the same day as ATV's license was denied renewal, a new TV license was formally granted to HK Television Entertainment Company Limited (HKTVE), operated by Richard Li's PCCW, which also runs the IPTV platform nowTV. The validity of the license will run for 12 years — until March 31, 2027, subject to a mid-term review in 2021. HKTVE's new free TV service will be delivered through fixed network. Its integrated Cantonese channel and integrated English channel will begin broadcast within 12 months and 24 months, respectively, after the grant of license.

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