Hong Kong Free-To-Air Broadcasters Ordered To Carry Patriotic Programming; Cable TV Gives Up Pay-TV License

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Hong Kong regulators have ordered local free-to-air TV and radio broadcasters to carry 30 minutes of national education and identity and National Security Law programming each week.

The new rules affect the city’s two dominant free-to-air TV broadcasters – Television Broadcasts (TVB) and ViuTV, owned by billionaire Richard Li – as well as Commercial Radio and Metro Broadcast radio stations.

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“On top of the existing required broadcast hours of current affairs programs under the category ‘current affairs,’ licensees shall also broadcast no less than 30 minutes of programs on national education, national identity and National Security Law per week,” the Communications Authority said .

The Communications Authority also ruled that the required broadcast hours for English programming on English-language radio stations was reduced from 80% to 55%. In addition, the weekly TV programming quota for “young persons” was doubled, while the minimum number of hours for children’s programming was halved.

The National Security Law was imposed on Hong Kong by the mainland Chinese government in June 2020, following a year of pro-democracy protests. The law criminalizes “subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts”. In the wake of the law’s introduction, several Hong Kong media outlets, including Apple Daily, Stand News and FactWire have been shut down.

Meanwhile, Cable TV, one of Hong Kong’s two main pay-TV broadcasters, has been given up its pay-TV license six years earlier than planned, in the midst of financial difficulties.

Hong Kong’s Executive Council granted the company permission to cease pay-TV operations on June 1, after it made the request to the Communications Authority in September last year. The license came into effect in June 2017 and was set to expire in May 2029.

Patrick Tsang, Vice Chairman of Cable TV parent company i-Cable Communications said the move is an important step towards reinventing the company, which plans to expand into the local free-to-air market. A spokesperson for Hong Kong’s Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said the decision was commercially driven.

Hong Kong now only has one other major pay-TV broadcaster, NowTV, which like free-to-air service ViuTV, is owned by Richard Li’s PCCW.

I-Cable net losses increased by 29% to HK$226M (US$28.8M) in the first half of last year, while subscribers fell from 731,000 at the end of June 2021 to 683,000 in June last year.

Analysts said the move reflects the decline in local pay-TV services with the rise of streaming, as consumers move to platforms such as Netflix, Disney+ and YouTube, but also reduces the space for niche content and Cantonese-language programming.

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