Hong Kong government postpones complete TV digitisation to 2020

The HKSAR government has announced it has delayed its original target to switch off analogue TV services until 2020. However, the final date for the analogue switch-off (ASO) will be reviewed in 2017-2018.

Digital terrestrial TV (DTT) services were launched in the city in 2007. According to the government’s statement on the delay of ASO to 2020, as of this September, about 80% of Hong Kong households are capable of receiving DTT services.

“If we are to implement the ASO in 2015, a considerable number of analogue TV viewers – about 20 per cent of the population or some 480,000 households – will not be able to receive the digital broadcasts,” a spokesperson for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said in the statement.

“They would have to acquire a new digital TV set or install a DTT set-top box within the coming year to continue watching free TV broadcasts.

“The revised target date will allow more time for the remaining analogue TV viewers to switch to digital terrestrial television (DTT) services. It is more realistic.”

Chris Lee, buying director at ZenithOptimedia Hong Kong, said the delay will not have a major impact on Hong Kong's advertising and media buy industries.

"Clients are most concerned about whether consumers actually watch digital TV channels more than network coverage, which is quite widespread," Lee said.

"The audiences with purchasing power which advertisers want to reach mostly have digital TVs at home and are watching them."

In the TV industry, the delay of ASO will only affect the two free television stations Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) and Asia Television Limited (ATV).

Commenting on the government’s decision, a TVB spokesperson said in a statement: “We hope some of the spectrum thus vacated can eventually be used for enhancing the picture quality of our HD broadcast service.”

But the government has plans to make the freed-up spectrum available for mobile telecommunications services. However, in order to do that, the spectrum must be free from radio interference from neighbouring areas in Mainland China.

According to the HKSAR government’s statement, Mainland authorities indicated the end of 2020 was the earliest that Guangdong Province could co-ordinate to keep radio waves out of the spectrum.

“Prior to that, without technical co-ordination, unilateral implementation of ASO in Hong Kong will not yield any usable digital dividend,” the government spokesperson said in the statement.

“In view of the current DTT penetration rate and the arrangement for realisation of the digital dividend in Hong Kong, we should set the revised ASO target date at the end of 2020.”