Achieving imagination
iTV leads the SAR's TV industry into new era

By Dawn Chan

    What can be imagined, can be achieved.” Hong Kong Telecom’s slogan might not be an over-exaggeration. With interactive television, or iTV, which is being introduced by Hong Kong Telecom IMS, people will have a 24-hour private cinema and shopping mall at home.
     “iTV is no traditional terrestrial or cable television platform,” said Dr. William Lo Wing-yan, the managing director of Hong Kong Telecom IMS.
     While the technology has yet to be made available to the general public, there are trial runs taking place already in Hong Kong. The introduction of services to the general public is now expected to take place early in 1998.

     The technology iTV uses is a combination of technologies from Japan, the United States and some other highly developed countries. While the technical combination is complex, the operation is very simple.
     All a subscriber needs is a set-top box to connect a telephone line, a common television set and a specially designed remote controller.
     “iTV can turn one’s home into an entertainment, shopping and information centre,” said Dr. Lo. “It will obviously lead to a more convenient and comfortable lifestyle.”
     Hong Kong Telecom IMS will offer a package of several charged services to subscribers, including video on demand, music on demand and home shopping.
Courtesy of Hong Kong Telecom IMS

Dr. Lo: iTV will provide a more convenient and comfortable lifestyle.
     In April 1998, a home banking service will also be provided.
     The video on demand service will offer more than a hundred local and foreign films. Cartoons and documentaries will be provided for various age groups.
     Compared with existing movie channels, the video on demand service is unique in two ways.
     First, there is no time limitation or programme schedule. Movies are ordered whenever one wants. Second, there is a built-in VCR-like function so that one can rewind, fast forward and pause films when viewing.
     People can also enjoy hundreds of music videos, karaoke tapes and other musical events anytime with the music on demand service.
Subscribers can even do their shopping at home. There are various products waiting for viewers in the virtual shopping plaza of home shopping.
     From April 1998, time wasted on lining up at the bank can be saved. The home banking service will enable people to do bank transactions at home. Subscribers will be able to deposit and withdraw money with electronic cash cards.
     Said Dr. Lo: “Imagine you are extremely tired after a full schedule of work. You suddenly remember you have to serve dinner for 20 people tomorrow. You find that there is no food left and the supermarket is closed. Desperately, you just want to watch a good movie to ease your nerves.
     “This annoying experience may occur every day in modern people’s lives,” Dr. Lo said, “and iTV’s services provide a solution.
     “iTV can generate an infinite number of applications. Education, network games and other interactive information services are possible. However, in the foreseeable future, we will not have self-produced programs,” said he.
     Dr. Lo said his company is putting all its effort in introducing iTV to all walks of life.
     “By sponsoring the production of films and holding roadshows in various districts, we expect we can serve the Territory step by step,” said Dr. Lo.
     While staking a share share of the market, however, Dr. Lo does not think there will be tense direct competition with other television service providers.
     Said he: “iTV is different in programming and benefits to viewers. But we are competing indirectly with them for the time of viewers.”
     “In fact, iTV and traditional multi-channel cable platforms can compliment each other,” he added.
     The Hong Kong Telecom IMS has conducted research showing that 70 percent of cable subscribers think iTV is a complement, rather than a substitute for, cable television.
     The research indicates that more than 80 percent of interviewees are interested in the service.
     The public response encouraged Hong Kong Telecom to start video on demand trials in 1994.
     The external affairs director of Wharf Cable, Mr. Garmen Chan, agrees cable will not be replaced by iTV.
     “Wharf Cable will not consider the coming iTV provider as our major competition since we are different in programming,” he said.
     On the other hand, Wharf Cable sued the government in 1996 for letting Hong Kong Telecom provide VOD services. Wharf Cable has a license to exclusively operate subscription television in Hong Kong for a set period.
     Wharf said that while the technology may be different, both services were competing for the same audience.
     However, in the court case, the judge ruled against Wharf Cable.
     Besides broadcasting films, sports, news, cartoons and documentaries, Wharf Cable produces programmes and provides a shopping channel.
     Though Wharf claims it does not have any special marketing strategies prepared to compete with iTV, it is eager to develop its own interactive services.
     “Because of technological progress, it is possible for cable TV to develop interactive services,” said Mr. Chan.
     At the moment, Wharf Cable is working on two major development projects. Said Mr. Chan: “We plan to open five more satellite television channels.
     “The development of optical fibre network will be one of our targets as well.”
     Once Wharf Cable has completed the development of its network, it will be able to cover 1.5 million households.
     “Whether iTV will affect our business is hard to say at the moment,” said Mr. Chan. “All will depend on the future development of iTV.”
     Prof. Ma Kit-wai of the Department of Journalism and Communication at The Chinese University of Hong Kong said that iTV will expand the broadcasting industry horizontally.
     “Although the development of the broadcasting industry in Hong Kong has reached such a stage that it is almost satiated, iTV offers an alternative to local viewers,” he said.
     Prof. Ma predicted that the younger generation will be affected more and sooner.
     “Youths are more ready to accept new technology. Their viewing habits may switch from the traditional one to interactive television,” he explained.
     He also expects another target audience in the middle-income levels, as they are more able and willing to pay the subscription fees, which are likely to be higher than fees for conventional cable television services.
     Prof. Ma thinks the launching of iTV will inevitably arouse competition. But he does not think it will replace the existing television platforms in the foreseeable future.
     One of the reasons is that the viewing habits of the general public cannot be changed in one or two years.
     Also, iTV and the traditional broadcasting platforms complement each other.
     Said Mr. Ma: “iTV concentrates on the interactive function, which implies viewers’ involvement.
     “On the contrary, the traditional service promotes the idea that watching television is a way of relaxation,” said he, “so both viewing formats, old and new, will yield benefits to different types of people.”

 Star commercials

November 1997

[Editorial] [Letters] [Answer] [News] [Social] [Photo] [Culture] [Education] [Channels] [Science] [Celebrity]

Comments   Editor-in-Chief   Electronic Editor