Opinion

Bladerunner billboards, a failed TV licence bid and the Edward Snowden effect: Roid Sin on Hong Kong’s media scene

Trust in the media in Hong KongHong Kong’s media has been hogging its own headlines in recent months. The South China Morning Post won global fame with exclusive interviews with whistleblower Edward Snowden. A millionaire had a TV broadcast licence rejected. Free newspapers overtook paid ones. Skyscrapers could turn into giant billboards. And trust in the media has slipped.

But how does all this affect advertisers? Roid Sin, the CEO of media agency OMD Hong Kong, sat down with Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks to explain.

What do you make of the HKTV saga, which saw millionaire Ricky Wong’s licence bid rejected and the public and advertisers up in arms as a result? What does that tell you about the state of the TV market in Hong Kong?

Roid Sin

Roid Sin

The bottom line is, I believe that people in Hong Kong love to watch television and there is a continuing demand for video content. But the reality is, the quality of content on TV has been declining, and that has been reflected by falling ratings.

HKTV would give viewers more choice. It would also give media agencies another channel to consider. But whether or not HKTV would succeed would depend on programme quality, ratings performance and cost. And would HKTV broaden the reach of television or reduce share from rivals such as TVB?

Most TV channels appeal to the mass market, but where HKTV might have succeeded is through reaching an affluent audience with more buying power. From a media buyer’s perspective, that would have proved a compelling proposition.

After the TV licence bid failed, there was talk of HKTV offering a digital service through mobile devices. Do you think that could work?

HKTVPotentially, yes. Smart phone penetration is high in Hong Kong – around 60 per cent – and most people consuming content on mobile devices are young, mobile and affluent. But, again, HKTV’s success would depend on content quality and the business model; ad-supported or subscription-based.

If they used an advertising model, would they follow the TV spot model or take a programme sponsorship approach? To interest agencies, who are looking for an innovative approach, they would need to think of a better way to engage people on mobile devices than through traditional advertising.

A lot has been happening in the newspaper market. The sacking of the chief editor of Chinese-language paper Ming Pao, who splashed with a story about the HKTV saga for nine days in a row. And a survey that suggested free newspapers are now preferred to paid. What’s your view on the health of the newspaper market in Hong Kong?

From an advertising perspective, these days we’re putting more spend into free newspapers. While the circulation of paid newspapers is dropping, free newspapers enjoy a massive circulation and the CPM (cost per thousand) is better.

Trust in the mediaWhat about trust in the media? A survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong earlier this month found that trust in the media has fallen, and that while Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of press freedom, this seems to have no connection with credibility.

The overall reporting environment seems to be that whatever the government says or does, it will be surrounded by negative noise among the public and in the media. A few years ago, this wouldn’t have happened. When I was growing up, newspapers were more neutral in their reporting. Now that there is far more negative reporting, this creates the impression that the press is not to be trusted.

The coverage of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden hiding in Hong Kong did much to boost traffic to South China Morning Post’s web edition in June of last year. Now the English-language paper apparently harbours ambitions to be a global news brands and a window into China for the world through its website, scmp.com. Do you think that’s realistic?

Traffic on scmp.com during Snowden saga

Traffic on scmp.com during Snowden saga

It’s a bold ambition, and it could be achievable. In Hong Kong, the SCMP is a very well established and respected brand with a strong heritage. But readership has been stagnant in recent years, and the number of Westerners moving to Hong Kong has not increased significantly. So perhaps looking at how to attract an overseas readership through scmp.com makes sense, and from an advertising perspective this could mean attracting more regional advertisers. China Daily is a rival English language newspaper, but that is owned by the government, so lacks the credibility of the Post.

What about the news that a technology company can make it possible to cover entire skyscrapers with moving images via ‘video glass’ and projectors? Could Hong Kong soon look even more like the set of Bladerunner?

Hong Kong skylineAdvertisers and agencies are always looking for innovation in outdoor. Digital panels on the inside of the MTR [Hong Kong’s underground train network] have proved to be very successful once it was proven that they could capture additional revenue.

But from the advertiser’s perspective you have to be sure that the billboard will run in the right location. Buildings in Hong Kong are so tall that an ad could easily be lost out of sight if they are positioned at the wrong height. A few years ago, a 3D light projection in a Causeway Bay shopping mall went wrong and it was a costly experiment. If you run projections in high traffic shopping areas there is a risk that they are lost to light pollution.

And of course cost is a factor. To put a neon billboard on top of a tall building in Hong Kong would cost you HK$10m (US$1.2m) just to build the infrastructure. And it’d cost you HK$30m (US$3.9m) to rent over a minimum five-year period. ‘Video glass’ is a great idea, but there would need to be proof that it works before it would gain traction with advertisers.

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