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Production houses
Alternative for local TV stations and audiences

By Jess Kong

Instead of producing programmes on their own, local television stations also buy programmes from production houses.

In fact, Hong Kong has been following this practice for only a short time.Television stations buy programmes from production houses in Europe, Japan and Taiwan.

Television stations can either give a fixed amount of money to production houses for producing certain programmes, or they can buy programmes from the production houses directly.

Said Mr. Joseph Wong, director of Lemuel International: "Buying programmes from elsewhere can lower a television station's production costs because fewer production staff are needed."

According to Dr. Ng Chun Bong, head of the Department of Cinema and Television at Hong Kong Baptist University, different demands also prompted television stations to buy programmes from elsewhere.

Said he: "Owing to globalisation of the television industry, Hong Kong audiences have started watching different kinds of programmes, like those about Chinese history.

"In addition, it is much cheaper to buy programmes from production houses. To produce the same programme themselves, stations would need to pay nearly 10 times more."

At Asia Television, some staff members in its production department were dismissed, so they set up new production houses themselves.

Sparkling Sun International is one of them.

Although it is independent of ATV, they use the station's resources, such as studios and cameras at ATV.

According to Mr. Yeung Wing Cheung, director and general manager of Sparkling Sun International, the company produces several different kinds of programmes, including documentaries.

"We have signed a contract with ATV in which we agreed on issues like the nature of the programmes, pricing, resources, and copyrights," said Mr. Yeung.

ATV gives the company a fixed amount of money for production. By controlling production costs carefully, the production house makes a profit.

Mr. Fred Leung is the executive director of Sharp Talent, another production house that originated from ATV.

He talked about the differences between working in the production department of ATV and in a production house.

Said he: "As a company, we have become more independent now.

"The administrative framework is different. We are now free to choose the talent and the topics."

Mr. Yeung shares this view.

Said he: "After setting up an independent company, we have saved a lot of time because we no longer have to attend so many departmental meetings.

"We also have more freedom now."

Freedom in financial planning is an important feature for a production house.

Said Mr. Yeung: "We can decide how to plan the budget.

"In the past, we had to justify costs clearly to a supervisor if the expenditures were too large.

"Now we can decide on the amount of expenditures without explaining to anyone."

Mr. Yeung also says that working in production house is better than working in a production department.

Said he: "I am working for myself now. I can reward my staff members when they work overtime, but I did not have the power to do so in the past."

On the other hand, Mr. Leung said it is hard to compare the two situations since they are different things.

"I was working for someone in the past, but now I am the boss. I am free, but also it means heavier responsibility," he said.

However, according to Mr. Wong, this kind of practice has its disadvantages.

Said he: "When cooperating with production houses, television stations do not employ a lot of staff in their production department, so they cannot train their own production team.

"The communication between television stations and production houses may not be good because there aren't many meetings between them.

"The programmes produced may be different from what the television station expects," said Mr. Wong.

Quality is also an issue.

Said Dr. Ng: "Suppose ATV gives $10 million to production house A for producing a programme. Then production house A asks production house B to produce it and gives it $9 million.

"It is a profit making process, but in the end, the quality of the programme may be very bad because the budget was inadequate.

"As a result, the audience loses the chance to watch good work.

"If a production house wants to earn more, it has to spend less money on the production, and the content is not so rich."

Mr. Yeung admits that this phenomenon exists, particularly in the case of dramatic series, though the problem is not so serious.

Said he: "Production houses only employ someone to do a part, not sell the whole project to another production house."

Meanwhile, Television Broadcasts operates in a different way.

TVB buys only a few programmes. They are usually dramas from production houses.

Said Dr. Ng: "TVB has a lot of staff members. If it buys programmes or uses production houses, it will have to cut some staff members."

He thinks that cutting manpower is not what a big company like TVB wants.

Said Dr. Ng: "Moreover, TVB is not only a local television station, but also an international one. Its programmes are sold around Southeast Asia, China and Taiwan.

"The programmes are also shown on other channels such as Galaxy Satellite TV."

Relatively lower production costs are another reason TVB can retain staff. Said

Mr. Wong: "TVB has developed a system and a production line to allow smooth production.

"Because it produces many programmes, it can share resources like equipment and costumes. The production costs are thus greatly reduced.

"As a result, TVB will continue to produce its own programmes, just like a big production house, whereas ATV will follow the trend of using a production house."

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Jess Kong

The production of Hong Kong Today at Asia Television.





Jess Kong

Mr. Yeung says working in a production house is better than working in a production department because he has greater freedom.