Hong Kong free-to-air broadcasters are mandated to carry patriotic programming; Cable TV gives up pay-TV licenses

Hong Kong regulators have ordered local free-to-air TV and radio broadcasters to carry 30 minutes per week of national education and identity and national security law programming.

The new rules affect the city’s two dominant free-to-air TV broadcasters – Television Broadcasts (TVB) and ViewTV, owned by billionaire Richard Lee – as well as radio broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK).

“Over and above the current required broadcast hours under the ‘Current Affairs’ category, licensees shall broadcast programs of not less than 30 minutes per week on national education, national identity and national security laws,” the communications authority said.

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

The mainland Chinese government imposed national security laws on Hong Kong in June 2020 after a year of pro-democracy protests. The law criminalizes “sedition, secession, collusion with foreign powers and acts of terrorism”. In the wake of the introduction of the law, several media outlets in Hong Kong, 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 given up its pay-TV license six years earlier than planned, amid financial difficulties.

Hong Kong’s Executive Council allowed the company to cease pay-TV operations on June 1, following a request to the communications authority in September last year. The license came into effect in June 2017 and was scheduled to expire in May 2029.

Patrick Tsang, vice chairman of cable TV parent company i-Cable Communications, said the move is an important step toward reinventing the company, which plans to expand into the local free-to-air market. A spokesman for Hong Kong’s Trade and Economic Development Bureau said the decision was commercially driven.

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

I-Cable net loss rose 29% to HK$226M (US$28.8M) in the first half of last year, as 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 of local pay-TV services with the rise of streaming, as subscribers move to platforms such as Netflix, Disney+ and YouTube, but also shrinks space for niche content and Cantonese-language programming.

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