Public hearing set to discuss Next TV deal tomorrow

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Mon, Jul 01, 2013 - Page 3

Media experts and representatives from civic groups and media associations are to present their opinions on the sale of Next TV Broadcasting at a public hearing tomorrow.

The TV network, owned by Hong Kong-based Next Media Ltd, was sold to ERA Communications chairman Lien Tai-sheng (練台生) in April for NT$1.4 billion (US$46 million) after suffering financial losses caused by its failure to be included in the majority of Taiwan’s cable TV services.

The National Communications Commission, the government agency in charge of reviewing transfers of ownership in the media sector, said that as the sale involves not just the acquisition of the news channel, but also the influence of cable TV operators and other important issues, it would hold a public hearing to ensure that it hears a range of opinions on the sale before making a ruling.

Aside from representatives from Next Media and ERA Communications, the two main stakeholders in the deal, the commission said it welcomes opinions from media experts and representatives of civic groups and media associations at the hearing.

Issues to be discussed at the hearing include the problems that might occur when programs provided by cable system operators and affiliated enterprises exceed 25 percent of available channels, the threshold stated in the Cable Television Act (有線電視法).

Participants are also set to discuss the potential increase in market influence, horizontally or vertically, if media firms increase the number of channels they control, or when they also own cable television systems.

The commission added that it would like to hear views from participants on the whether the diversity of sources of public opinion would be reduced if news channels were controlled by only a few companies.

The commission has said it is also concerned that the sale could affect Next TV employees, herald a drastic change in the nation’s media industry or compromise consumers’ interests.

According to the commission, Lien owns three cable television operators on the east coast, with about 96,000 subscribers, accounting for about 1.9 percent of market share.

He also owns, or acts as an agent for, 21 television channels, which is very close to the Cable Television Act’s stated 25 percent threshold.

Last month, the commission approved changes in channel lineup filed by 26 cable system operators, allowing 3 million cable service subscribers nationwide to watch Next TV news on channel 45.

Prior to the Next TV deal being finalized in April, Next Media owner Jimmy Lai (黎智英) had signed a memorandum of understanding to sell it to Lien for the same amount agreed last year.

However, Lai later decided to nullify the agreement with Lien and sell all of his Taiwanese print assets, along with Next TV, for a total of NT$17.5 billion to buyers including Want Want China Times Group chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明).

That deal was canceled after Tsai, who was set to acquire 32 percent of the shares of Next Media’s print assets, withdrew in March.