HKTV stops production as viewer numbers plunge: report

Metaratings
16 Feb 2015
00:00
Article

The honeymoon appears to be over for Hong Kong TV upstart HKTV.

The TV channel masterminded by Ricky Wong made a major splash in the Hong Kong television last year by not only streaming its programs online (if only by necessity, being denied a free-to-air broadcast license and seeing its mobile TV plans thwarted), but by generating a lot of buzz with new content that looked fresh and innovative compared to the formulaic fare on offer from broadcasting giant TVB.

When HKTV went live in November 2014, Wong boasted some impressive numbers. However, according to local media reports, those numbers have been going nowhere but down ever since.

From Jayne Stars (translating a report from ihktv.com):

When HKTV first opened in November 2014, it brought in a daily average of 385,000 live viewers and 205,000 unique viewers. … However, on the second week of its service, HKTV lost over 175,000 live viewers, dropping to 183,000 viewers per day. By February 2015, live viewership averaged to 99,000 viewers per day, with only 60,000 unique visitors.“The way we present our programs [is] different from other television stations. Therefore, our viewers are also different. Many people would usually turn on the TV and do other things, but HKTV’s broadcasting platform doesn’t allow you to do that. Most of our viewers are very active in watching our programs. The rise and drop in viewership ratings are normal. We will change things according to the audience’s tastes. That way, HKTV can understand what the viewers want.”

Meanwhile, HKTV has reportedly halted plans for further TV production. With 13 dramas and 163+ hours of footage already in the can, HKTV will run out of new programming by September, the report says.

Wong has not unexpectedly defended HKTV’s numbers, pointing out that the numbers are still respectable when remembering we’re talking about streaming, not free-to-air broadcast:

When HKTV first opened in November 2014, it brought in a daily average of 385,000 live viewers and 205,000 unique viewers. … However, on the second week of its service, HKTV lost over 175,000 live viewers, dropping to 183,000 viewers per day. By February 2015, live viewership averaged to 99,000 viewers per day, with only 60,000 unique visitors.“The way we present our programs [is] different from other television stations. Therefore, our viewers are also different. Many people would usually turn on the TV and do other things, but HKTV’s broadcasting platform doesn’t allow you to do that. Most of our viewers are very active in watching our programs. The rise and drop in viewership ratings are normal. We will change things according to the audience’s tastes. That way, HKTV can understand what the viewers want.”

Wong also says the viewership numbers won’t impact HKTV’s revenues as the broadcaster isn’t dependent strictly on selling ads – it also makes money from overseas buyers. And its e-commerce site, launched earlier this month, is meant to provide another revenue stream.

It’s tempting – and easy – to look at the falling numbers and halted production schedule and predict doom for HKTV. On the other hand, it’s only been broadcasting for three months.

And given all the hype surrounding its launch, the first-week numbers were undoubtedly driven by sheer novelty, reflecting the fact that Hong Kong’s Cantonese-speaking audience isn’t exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to native-language programming. TVB content has been criticized for years as too formulaic and derivative. (One of TVB’s newest attempts at “innovation”, Johnson Lee’s Sze U Tonight, is such an obvious copy of American late-night talk shows such as Late Night With David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that there’s been concerns that the copyright owners of those programs might be able to sue for infringement.) And the SAR’s only other broadcaster, ATV, hasn’t produced any viable new content for years, and is now so strapped for cash it can't even pay its news staff.

No wonder viewers went flocking to HKTV on Launch Day. (The fact that HKTV had received a metric ton of publicity over its license battles with the SAR government certainly helped.)

Ricky Wong was naturally keen to capitalize on the high numbers generated during HKTV’s first week. Now that the novelty has worn off, it seems the numbers are realigning within more realistic expectations. The question for now is how much further they’ll keep sinking – and at what point advertisers will start getting nervous (if they’re not nervous already). It would also be interesting to see how HKTV’s live stream numbers compare with its on-demand numbers.

It’s also worth remembering that Wong still hasn’t given up on getting a broadcast license – the SAR’s High Court is reviewing the company’s request for a free-to-air broadcasting license. With ATV now in real danger of losing the license it just got renewed, HKTV’s case is a lot stronger than when its original application was rejected (and its case was arguably not that weak to start with).

In any case, Wong has always been a dark horse, from his early days founding City Telecom to HKBN and its subsequent IPTV offering. It would be a mistake to count HKTV out this early in the game.

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