Hong Kong broadcasters resolve World Cup row

Hong Kong broadcasters resolve World Cup row

Published Apr. 27, 2010 10:15 a.m. ET

Three Hong Kong broadcasters have ended a dispute that would have shut out free coverage of the World Cup in this soccer-crazed city of 7 million people - but the partial solution only airs matches to households with digital decoders.

Hong Kong's World Cup rights holder, the pay-TV broadcaster Cable TV, was at loggerheads with local terrestrial stations TVB and ATV over a sub-licensing deal. Cable TV offered footage for the opening match, the semifinals and the final, but required the two stations to also carry its commentary and advertising.

Those demands were initially rejected. But under public pressure to reach a compromise with the World Cup just weeks away, the three stations said in a joint statement that TVB and ATV have agreed to Cable TV's terms - but the two stations will only air the matches on their digital channels, instead of their analog channels. The financial terms of the deal were not announced.

The agreement broadens the coverage from Cable TV's paying subscriber base of more than 1 million households to another 1.2 million that are equipped to receive digital TV signals. But it still leaves out about 1 million households who don't have digital decoders.


Critics say the deal still excludes working-class families who can't afford digital decoders.

``If you don't have money, you won't be able to watch,'' the Ming Pao Daily News quoted Ng Wai-tung, an organizer for Hong Kong's Society for Community Organization as saying.

Still, the Hong Kong government applauded the deal.

``We believe the three parties worked very hard in their negotiations. They also took the government's advice that they need to consider the interests of viewers and football fans in the course of business negotiations,'' Hong Kong's Secretary for Commerce and Business Development, Rita Lau, told reporters.

Inheriting their love of the sport from their former British colonial rulers, many Hong Kongers are ardent soccer fans, frequently staying up late to watch European club matches and testing their own skills in cement pitches sandwiched between skyscrapers in the city's dense landscape.