i-Cable Communications, one of three applicants for new free-to-air television licenses, has called for a fresh round of public consultation on the opening up of the sector.
Its appeal followed threats by Television Broadcasts (TVB), the industry giant, that it may seek a judicial review of the government decision.
The pay-TV operator’s free-to-air subsidiary, Fantastic Television, decried delays in issuing licenses yesterday, saying the issue is still with the Executive Council a full year after a Broadcasting Authority recommendation in wake of its license application in January 2010.
“Allowing this frustrating situation to continue would only make it more embarrassing by the day for this administration and run the risk of leaving a political predicament for the new administration,” it said
Fantastic TV – together with PCCW’s Now TV and Ricky Wong Wai-kei’s City Telecom – are widely expected to win licenses in a first for the sector since the 1970s.
Fantastic said it “could not even … start investment preparations in view of the legal action already threatened by the two incumbent licensees, the protracted legal battles that will ensue and the risk of the government losing.”
TVB said last week it may resort to legal measures following a High Court rejection of Asia Television’s application for a judicial review.
Fantastic TV wants new consultations on questions such as “Will the public welcome more and better free-to-air TV choices?” and “Should the government depart from long established policy and involve the incumbents in the approval process because they have so demanded and even threatened legal action?”
Fantastic TV called on PCCW and City Telecom to join in its request. City Telecom has refused, saying it is confident of being granted a license.
Market watchers said City Telecom is the least willing to face a further delay as it has agreed to sell most of its telecom business for HK$5 billion in preparation for the capital-intensive investments in the TV business, while i-Cable and PCCW have more room with their ongoing pay-TV operations.
Wong has questioned TVB’s earlier complaint that the free TV-to-air market is so “limited” that it cannot accommodate new competitors.
“In the last 15 years Hong Kong’s economy especially the overall advertising market has grown a lot, while only the free-to-air TV market has stalled,” Wong said, implicitly referring to TVB group general manager Mark Lee Po-on’s comment that advertisement revenue in the sector saw no growth from 1996 to 2011.
“Maybe it’s because the [TV] programs are not interesting enough.”
Sources said the Executive Council discussed the issue in yesterday’s meeting.
A government spokesman said it will swiftly and prudently process the applications.