Carrie Lam, Broadcaster-in-Chief
11 May 2021
Do not adjust your sets, the HKSAR Government is getting into sports TV distribution. In yet another demonstration of its increasing intervention in the economy, Chief Executive-cum-Broadcaster Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet Ngor today announced that her government has purchased the Hong Kong broadcasting rights to the Tokyo Olympics from Dentsu Inc., at an undisclosed price, and will sub-licence them free of charge to 5 licensed TV broadcasters, thereby removing competition and exclusivity.
Mrs Lam also revealed that the Government had been working on this deal since 2019, squeezing out the private sector. There's no way she could have known in 2019 that no HK broadcaster would ultimately be willing to pay for the rights. In the past, RTHK suggests that TVB paid US$15m for the rights to the 2016 Rio games and i-Cable paid US$16m for the 2012 London games. Each of them sub-licensed some content to other stations.
The stations will of course be free to sell advertising during the Government-financed TV, earning profits at taxpayers' expense. With the viewership spread across multiple channels though, the advertising dollars will be spread more thinly, and some stations may just not bother to cover much of the Olympics, as they will have their own production costs, including teams of Cantonese commentators here or (quarantine permitting) in Tokyo. That's what happens when the Government interferes in the market.
The move also sets a dangerous precedent - can we expect the Government to bid for various European soccer leagues' TV rights and compete with the commercial stations for those rights? How about the World Cup soccer, or Formula One racing? How times have changed. When the issue came up in the Legislative Council on 6-Jun-2018, then-and-now Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau Tang Wah, said:
"Major sports events are held around the world each year. The broadcasting arrangements of such events are made by the organisers having regard to the nature of the events and their operational needs. In respect of the World Cup and the Olympic Games, the organisers award the broadcasting rights to eligible media corporations or their related companies under market mechanism in accordance with their policies and regulations. It is understood that the relevant organisers have required the organisations awarded with the broadcasting rights to allow local free television broadcasters to relay certain hours of the events or the key events therein. As such, a mechanism is already in place to ensure that the public may view some of the matches of the World Cup and the Olympic Games free of charge. In general, governments around the world will not intervene in the process and Hong Kong is no exception."
Well, now it is.
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