Michael Chan, Hsuan-Ting Chen, and Francis Lee
Chinese University of Hong Kong
The media environment is marked by the presence of a dominant free-to-air television broadcaster (TVB) along with a wide range of free and paid newspapers (including their websites), broadcast stations, and online news sites.
All sectors of the Hong Kong media face increasing challenges to generate revenues and maintain financial viability due to a fragmented audience, competition for advertising money and a continuing shift towards online news consumption. More than 80% of the population use online sources for news. The aggregator Yahoo! News is popular (43%), but an even larger proportion of respondents come across news stories via social media (60%). Print is the least used source at 48%.
Hong Kong newspapers have been hard hit. Falling circulation, declining ad spending, and competition from the free dailies resulted in the closure of two long-established brands: Hong Kong Daily News and The Sun, in 2015 and 2016 respectively. The top two mass-oriented newspapers, Oriental Daily and Apple Daily dominate the print market and have successfully moved their brands online. Free dailies including Headline Daily, AM730, Skypost, and Metro Daily continue to be popular sources of news offline and online, though the quality and professionalism of their content has been subject to some criticism. The South China Morning Post, established in 1903, is the sole English-language daily, and was acquired by the Alibaba Group in 2016. The newspaper subsequently removed the paywall so the online edition is essentially free even though it still charges for the print edition.
Online alternative news brands have grown rapidly in the past decade as dissatisfaction with the mainstream press, due to perceived political interference from China, has opened an audience niche for more opinionated news coverage. Some online news sites such as Stand News and PassionTimes are often critical of the government, while more recent entrants such as HK01 and Citizen News have a more general interest orientation. Although these online brands do have a sizeable audience, they are not recognised by the government as legitimate media organisations and so are banned from government press events. The Hong Kong Journalists Association has appealed for some of these brands to be given full media access privileges for the 2017 Hong Kong Chief Executive Election (especially to enter the press area at the venue where the election result is announced) but the government has stood firm.
In terms of ratings of online news providers, Apple Daily’s pro-democracy outlook means a high proportion of its users rate it positively for reliable and accurate news. By contrast, TVB is seen by many citizens as politically conservative. Some citizens even call the broadcaster CCTVB, referencing the state organ CCTV (China Central Television) in the mainland. Apple Daily was also rated particularly highly as best for being amusing and entertaining. This is likely to be closely related to its Motion News format, which uses videos, graphics, and computer animations to construct sometimes sensational, sometimes humorous, and sometimes satirical audio-visual news reports.
The television market also faces many challenges. The closure of cash-strapped Asia Television (ATV) coincided with the establishment of ViuTV, the free television service arm of the pay-TV service provider NowTV. Nonetheless, Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) remained the overwhelmingly dominant player in the free TV market. This is reflected in its top rating for offline and online news. However, TVB quit the pay-TV market following years of heavy losses, leaving NowTV and i-Cable as the only pay-TV providers. As of late April 2017, the parent company of i-Cable has found a new group of investors willing to buy the station.
Hong Kong’s only public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) remains an important source of news, particularly through its radio broadcasts. It established its online presence very early in 1994 and since then all of its TV and radio content has been available online. In 2016 it also became the sole provider of digital radio broadcasting following the decision of other providers to return their licences to the government rather than compete in a market that had few people willing to pay for digital radios.
Despite the proliferation of ‘free’ online content, Hong Kong ranks comparatively high for paid online content. This is mainly because access to prominent brands such as BBC, CNN, and Hong Kong Economic Times, require some form of subscription, and many online alternative news brands solicit donations from the public.
In longitudinal polls, the perceived credibility of most news organisations has been declining. While perceived commercial influence also affected people’s trust in news brands, in recent years, trust in news brands has been affected mainly by perceptions of political pressure and media self-censorship, with several mainstream media organisations being criticised particularly heavily by citizens.