HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - It is game over for Asia Television, after 57 years.
Hong Kong will not renew the troubled broadcaster's licence after it failed to provide a restructuring plan that satisfied the government.
The free-to-air broadcaster will be allowed to operate until April 1 next year, Commerce Secretary Gregory So told reporters in Hong Kong on Wednesday, after a meeting of the city's cabinet.
"ATV's managers and ATV couldn't give any concrete restructuring proposal before the deadline set" by the government, Mr So said. This is the first time Hong Kong has decided against renewing a broadcast licence, he said.
ATV is the world's first Chinese-language broadcaster and one of Hong Kong's two free-to-air TV stations. Founded in 1957 as Rediffusion and renamed ATV in 1982, the broadcaster launched stars such as Liza Wang, Leslie Cheung and Rosamund Kwan, and produced popular dramas such as Chameleon and Reincarnated in the 1970s, Dynasty and Rise Of The Great Wall in the 1980s, and My Date With A Vampire in the 1990s.
Owners of ATV have been seeking investors as the company struggled to attract advertisers and failed to pay wages to staff. Its impending failure may reopen a debate over competition and choice in Hong Kong, with thousands marching in protest in 2013, when the government rejected Hong Kong Television Network's application for a license.
"It is a dark day in Hong Kong," Mr Wong Ching, a major investor in ATV, said in an e-mailed statement. He said he was not surprised by the outcome.
The government's decision was announced after Mr Derek Lai, a court-appointed manager, said on Wednesday that ATV's majority shareholders signed an agreement to sell to an investor, whom he did not identify.
HKTV said no agreement or agreement in principle was reached by chairman Ricky Wong, on behalf of the company or otherwise, according to a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Wednesday. That was less than 24 hours after ATV said its owners will transfer controlling stakes to HKTV.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association denounced ATV for spreading misleading news, according to an e-mailed statement on Wednesday. The group is also concerned about a monopoly on free-to-air broadcasting and about press freedom.
Mr So also said the cabinet on Wednesday granted a 12-year broadcasting license to a unit of PCCW, which received preliminary approval in 2013 for a free-TV service.