2015 did not begin well for ATV. It is pleading for a miraculous injection of funds from shareholders and struggling to meet its minimum news coverage requirement. Now it will have even less domestic programming, after cancelling several news broadcasts.
The decision was not made until late December, despite encountering successive financial losses for multiple quarters. Then in November, it failed to pay its salaries.
Its programme change seems to be a feeble attempt to reduce costs, but simply put, it is too little, too late. Inflexible decision-making and rigid operation policies have caused ATV to collapse amid economic woes and wavering viewership. But ATV is not the only one suffering from these issues.
TVB, which everyone assumes monopolises the entire industry, is equally plagued by public scrutiny and a decline in popularity.
Now barely a shadow of its former glory, the TVB empire has gone from exporting drama franchises, to succumbing to the influence of shows from neighbouring countries. Their reliance on outdated methods resulted in accusations of plagiarism, constant rehash of old ideas (aka the “TVB formula”) and loss of homegrown talents and frontline artists.
TVB, hence, was not exactly the fierce opponent that caused the downfall of ATV. Instead, YouTube, Netflix, and iTunes are the major factors for the degradation of local entertainment. The younger generation has long abandoned traditional TV for sleeker, faster internet. With 24-hour streaming of high quality programming, they offer much better alternatives to the predictable humdrum of soap operas.
We no longer rely on TVB (or ATV) for imports of foreign programmes when there is easy access online. We no longer have to endure meaningless advertisements when there are ad-filters on our laptops. We are no longer satisfied by bland story developments when there are original plots elsewhere.
As Hong Kong gradually emerges as a cultured metropolis, the audience demands sophisticated character development rather than two-dimensional, unrealistic TV figures. The usual blend of influential tycoons and battles for inheritance, disintegrating family businesses and complex love triangles have become the subject of ridicule.
Meanwhile, political satires produced by HKTV, which incorporate current affairs with dark comedy, are able to capture the sentiments of the general public, and get positive reviews.
With no news from Fantastic TV and HKTVE, the supposedly free TV channels that remain only vague promises, TVB and ATV could remain the sole providers of entertainment well past 2015.
But cash cannot sustain ATV in the long run. Revamps in management committees, operational directions and strategies are overdue.
TVB is not immune either. It has to make policy changes to recover lost ground and repair its tarnished reputation. It has to respond to the ever-changing appetite of viewers without clinging desperately to the bygone formulas that allowed TVB to climb to its peak in the 90s.
In a globalised era, competition comes not only from local suppliers, but also from across continents and languages.