He started out helping his elder brothers
Runje, Runde and Renme set up a film studio in Shanghai in 1925. The
brothers later moved into Hong Kong, making and distributing films to its
chain of around 100 cinemas spread across other Asian markets like
Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
'A man who can live more than 100 years
and work in cinema and entertainment business for 80 years must have
something very extraordinary,' said Law Kar, a Hong Kong film researcher.
Mr Shaw rose through the ranks, and
eventually split from his brothers to set up his own studio in the 1950s
dubbed the 'dream factory', which ushered in a golden era of Hong Kong
'He's a great figure in the entertainment
world,' Mr Law added.
The Shaw studio produced up to a thousand
titles including melodramas, historical epics and gongfu classics like The
One-armed Swordsman, helping to redefine genres and lure new cinema-goers
not only in Hong Kong and Asia, but in the West.
It also pioneered so-called wu xia or
sword-play genre films which had frenetic fight scenes with mixed weapons.
'Shaw Brothers to us back then was
low-brow, very common, popular entertainment,' said Mr Law.
Ang Lee's Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon is a striking modern example of the genre. The Shaw influence
is also evident in the films of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and John Woo.
'He was not only my boss, but my idol. He
worked very hard,' said Cheng Pei Pei, one of the biggest starlets at the
time, who made 23 films with Shaw in the 1960s.
'He started very early in the morning,
reading scripts and he watched four to five movies every day . . . If he
thought a movie wasn't good, he might burn it. He was very serious,' said Ms
Ms Cheng's vintage film Come Drink With
Me - in which she plays a heroine warrior who stands up to a gang of bandits
- has reportedly caught the eye of Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein,
who plans a remake with director Quentin Tarantino - a known Shaw Brothers
While Mr Shaw was famed for his business
acumen and nose for spotting and grooming new talent, he famously turned
away a brash, young actor who came to see him in the 1960s.
This spurned man, martial arts legend
Bruce Lee, later teamed up with Raymond Chow, a former Shaw deputy turned
rival, to make The Big Boss in 1971, propelling him to stardom.
In 1980, Mr Shaw focused on television,
becoming the chairman of Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) that grew into
a successful TV and entertainment empire that remains a deep influence on
popular culture in Hong Kong and overseas Chinese communities.
While Mr Shaw's media mogul status, love
of Rolls Royces and reported dalliances with actresses projected an image of
glamour, the tycoon was also a private man who tended to shun the media.
'They're very, very low-key, they're not
the kind of people who want it spread around, what they've done,' said a
person acquainted with the Shaw family who asked not to be named.
'They are the simplest, most humble, most
ordinary people you would ever meet,' the person added.
Mr Shaw - who has an estimated net worth
of US$3.5 billion according to Forbes magazine - is also a noted
philanthropist, having donating millions to charity through his Shaw
Foundation, mostly to causes in China.
He also runs the so-called Shaw Prize,
sometimes referred to as Asia's answer to the Nobel Prize, which rewards
excellence in mathematics, astronomy and science, with a monetary prize of
US$1 million for each laureate.
Popularly known as 'Luk Suk' or 'Sixth
Uncle', Mr Shaw was born in 1907, the sixth child of a well-to-do family in
the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo. The precise day and month of his birth
is shrouded in mystery and has never been officially released, but media
reports suggest it is in October or November.
-- 2007 October 6 REUTERS
The Great Shawman
Think of Run Run Shaw
and it is hard to ignore his tremendous contribution to Hong Kong's film
industry. The media mogul turned 100 this week, making him one of the oldest
chairmen of a listed company.
Shaw was born in October 1907, one of
eight children of Shanghai textile merchant Shaw Hang Ngan and his wife Wong
To this day, Run Run Shaw is
affectionately known as "Luk Suk" (Uncle Six), being the sixth
child in the family.
He was raised in the mainland, but
received his education in American-run schools. His older brother, Run Me
Shaw, started the Tien Yi Movie Company in Shanghai in 1925, distributing
At age 19, Run Run Shaw followed his
older brother to Singapore to start a film market and establish the Shaw
Organization. In 1930, the brothers founded the South Seas Film studio which
later became Shaw Studios.
Run Run Shaw turned his focus to Hong
Kong in the 1950s, and in 1967 launched Television Broadcasts (0511),
growing it into a multibillion dollar TV empire ranking today as among the
world's top five television producers, of which he remains chairman. He is
also chairman of Shaw Brothers (0080).
Shaw became a Commander of the British
Empire in 1974 and was knighted three years later.
The film and television tycoon is also a
generous philanthropist, financing several schools in Hong Kong and the
mainland. He also set up the Shaw Prize, which has been dubbed the
"Asian Nobel Prize."
In 1932, Shaw married Wong Mee- chun, who
gave birth to four
children, sons Vee-meng, now 74, and Vee- chung, 68; and daughters Soo-mun,
73, and Soo-wan, 72.
His wife died in 1987, the year Shaw
Brothers stopped filming. Ten years later in Las Vegas, Shaw married former
actress Mona Fong Yat-wa, who had been his personal assistant at Shaw
Brothers and TVB.
Shaw's secret to longevity may lie in the
attention he paid to his health at an early age, say friends and colleagues.
He is known to regularly consumed expensive ginseng, costing him close to
HK$300,000 a year.
The centenarian also follows a strict
daily routine, waking up at 5am and going for an hour's walk around the
neighborhood, followed by a session of qigong - an aspect of traditional
Chinese medicine involving the coordination of different breathing patterns
with various physical postures and motions of the body, mostly for health
His neighbours often see Shaw walking on
the slopes with ease.
"He has years of experience in
qigong, and he also tells his workers to exercise more frequently and to
strengthen themselves," said TVB executive Virginia Lok Yi-ling.
"Mona Fong has even hired a qigong
master to teach us. In recent years, when I travel with Sir Run Run, he
would teach me ways to relax my legs and relax the muscle."
The health of the media tycoon came
under intense public scrutiny after he was admitted to hospital in late July
last year for what was reported to be pneumonia, sparking rumors that a
change at the helm of the Shaw empire was imminent.
At the time, many worried that he might
not make it to his 99th birthday. However, he was discharged from hospital
soon after, and in true showman style, was caught by paparazzi enjoying high
tea at the Island Shangri-La and The Peninsula, as well as dining at a
Japanese restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui.
"Luk Suk would always attend the
board meeting held every two weeks," said a former TVB executive.
"He would only sit quietly and
listen, but everyone would be very attentive and serious."
TVB general manager Stephen Chan Chi-wan
thinks he knows the real secret of his boss' longevity - it's his
lighthearted and humorous approach to life.
The one person who can keep Shaw in
stitches is Mr Bean, the likeable buffoon character played by British actor
Rowan Atkinson in TV and big- screen comedy productions.
"[Shaw] enjoys watching Mr Bean
very much," Chan reveals. "Not only that, but he also collects
calligraphy which he would show to everyone from time to time."
- 2007 October
Shaw Brothers sells ex- Singapura Theatre
site for $44.9 mln
Shaw Brothers Limited has decided to
sell the landmark former Singapura Theatre site on No 55 Changi Road to a
consortium for $44.9 million or $768 per square foot of potential gross
floor area. No development charge is payable for the freehold site, which
is zoned for commercial use with a 3.0 plot ratio under Master Plan 2008.
- 2010 November BUSINESS
Mona Fong Yat-wah, however, declined to comment on whether Shaw will sell
his stake in the company.
Fong did not elaborate further on Shaw's retirement plans.
Shaw, affectionately known as Luk Suk (Uncle Six), controls a 32.49
percent stake in TVB, Hong Kong's dominant free-to-air television
broadcaster, partly through his 74.6 percent stake in film studio Shaw
Shaw Brothers had said earlier that several parties had shown interest in
acquiring stakes in the studio but the company reiterated that Shaw, who
will turn 100 in October, has no plans to sell his share.
Meanwhile, TVB said it aims to turn around its 49 percent owned pay TV
business Pay Vision in three years.
"Three years are possible [to turnaround], it's a reasonable
projection as a stake owner," Mark Li Po-on, TVB's general manager,
finance and administration, told reporters after the company's annual
general meeting Wednesday.
Pay Vision, one of the four pay-TV operators in Hong Kong, brought a loss
of HK$163 million to TVB last year, compared to a loss of HK$187 million
shouldered by TVB in 2005.
"The loss we shared has been shrinking and I believe the result will
continue to improve in 2007 and 2008," Li said.
TVB reported a net profit of HK$1.1 billion last year with turnover
amounting to HK$4.1 billion.
Both net profit and turnover edged up 1 percent compared to a year ago.
TVB also plans to splash out HK$700 million on digital broadcast services in
Hong Kong, of which HK$400 million to HK$500 million will be booked in 2007,
The SAR government requires the city's two TV stations to offer the
services by the end of this year.
"I think the government will announce further details on the digital
standard in the coming two weeks," said assistant managing director
George Chan Ching-cheong.
Chan said the company will complete the construction of a transmitter at
Tsz Wan Shan by year end, with coverage of more than 50 percent of Hong
Digital broadcasting would involve high costs but the company could
TVB will launch a new channel for "high definition programs"
while its smaller rival Asia Television will open four new channels by
year-end, covering commercial news, cultural lifestyle, TV shopping and
English-language entertainment and education.
TVB shares closed Wednesday up 0.56 percent at HK$53.80.
STANDARD 31 May 2007
in the Picture
The gray dust of construction clinging to his
shoes, Lloyd Chao leads a visitor through one of the cavernous sound stages
in the new Shaw Studios production complex, perched on a windy hillside in
Hong Kong. In its heyday Shaw Bros. churned out hundreds of films for
Chinese-language audiences around the world, leading an industry that, by
the mid-1980s, made a city of 6 million the world's third biggest movie
producer. That's when Shaw began to phase out film production in favor of
TV. Though other studios filled the gap for a while, Hong Kong, which had
made 234 movies in 1993, produced only 64 last year. That makes the very
existence of Shaw's high-tech cinematic playground, which is scheduled to
fully open in half a year, a surprise in itself. But to Chao, a Hong Kong
native who joined the project 10 months ago, Shaw Studios is a $180 million
vote of confidence that the industry still has life. "The Hong Kong
film industry is going to come back, but in a different way," he says.
"It just has to evolve."
Evolve is something much of the industry has
failed to do. Piracy, video and aggressive foreign competition eroded the
market for the city's movies, while its once kinetic style grew stale. Yet
even as Hong Kong struggles through creative and financial doldrums,
Chinese-language cinema is poised to take off—as the increasingly
mainland-oriented Hong Kong International Film Festival will demonstrate
when it opens this week. Chinese films like Hero and House of
Flying Daggers have earned world-class box office, while the gradual
liberalization of the mainland market means the demand for Chinese-language
movies is only going to grow. If Hong Kong's smartest producers can leverage
the city's international financial networks, China experience and stable of
stars, then it could defend its position as the beating heart of Chinese
cinema. "There are tremendous challenges and tremendous
opportunities," says Nansun Shi, one of Hong Kong's most respected
producers. "We're at a crossroads and we need to get this right, in a
very short time."
Since the postwar years, Hong Kong had a virtual
monopoly on producing entertainment for the entire Chinese-speaking world.
All that changed in 1997. The Asian financial crisis dried up film financing
and permanently damaged the city's vital Asian markets; those of some
countries, like Indonesia's, have never recovered. The introduction of VCDs
and DVDs, legitimate and not, ate into box office. Fewer Asians were willing
to shell out $7 to watch a Hong Kong film with sub-Hollywood production
values when they could cheaply get their fix at home. With box office
disappearing, the only sure money in moviemaking came from video rights,
which meant an increasing number of films were made with a VCD expressly in
mind—not a formula for cinematic greatness. "Videos are like drugs to
us," says Peter Chan, a director and head of independent film company
Applause Pictures. "You can't get off them, because it's the only way
to make money off a film, but it's killing theatrical."
Faced with shrinking revenue and investment, the
Hong Kong film industry responded as threatened industries often do—it
forgot how it became successful in the first place. Gone was the
freewheeling spirit that fueled the creativity of the '80s and produced
international icons like Jackie Chan. There were exceptions, but too many
Hong Kong filmmakers began to churn out timid, formulaic comedies with the
same old stars. Audiences flocked instead to the high-budget Hollywood event
movies that are increasingly pitched at international audiences, and to
films from Asian nations like South Korea, where young directors weaned on
John Woo are making the kinds of dynamic movies Hong Kong used to produce.
"The export value of Hong Kong film is deteriorating," says Peter
Tsi, executive director of the city's film festival. "It's a little bit
pathetic that if we're talking about Hong Kong stars, we're still talking
about Andy Lau." But few new talents have surfaced. (The Actor in Focus
at this year's festival: Andy Lau.)
While Hong Kong-made cinema was forgetting how to
make money, mainland movies were striking box-office gold. Hero and Crouching
Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers all proved that
there's undoubted demand for good Chinese movies in Asia and beyond. But
here's the hope for Hong Kong: even though each of those films were shot in
the mainland with Chinese directors, they never would have been made without
Hong Kong. Most of the films' stars hail from the city, and all of the
movies were co-productions with Hong Kong companies that had experience in
making commercial films and marketing them internationally. "China
lacks all of the things Hong Kong is good at," says Shi. "We have
the intellectual, legal and branding knowledge, the marketing and packaging
and networking ability."
China needs Hong Kong. But—in film as in other
industries—it may not need it forever. So the city has to capitalize on
its status as a global financial hub immediately.
One positive sign is this week's Hong Kong-Asia
Film Financing Forum, which matches promising movie projects with investors.
Organizers expected 150 submissions—and received 280 from around the
region. "Hong Kong can really develop its status as a film-financing
center for Asia," says Raymond Yip, director of service promotion at
the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, which organized the forum. One
challenge will be getting Hong Kong's banking sector involved in film
financing. The button-down banks have long been leery of the flamboyant film
industry, but they've shown increasing interest.
Across the border, the mainland is finally
beginning to offer Hong Kong what the city has always lacked: a large,
domestic market for its films. New cinemas are being built in China every
day; the mainland box-office market increased by 50% from 2003 to 2004
alone, to $180 million. Piracy remains a concern, but the fact that a pair
of co-productions this past December—A World Without Thieves and Kung
Fu Hustle—were able to clean up at the box office shows that movies
can make real money in China. "This is the only film market in the
world where the economy is growing, where there are more people with more
disposable income every day," says Shi.
Hong Kong filmmakers know the promise China holds,
but making a movie that works in the mainland and in Hong Kong is no easy
task. One man who figured out how to straddle the border is Hong Kong's
Stephen Chow, whose Kung Fu Hustle took in $20 million on the
mainland and a record $8 million at home, and is on a pace for $100 million
globally. It's tough to copy Chow's style, but his film may provide a
blueprint for a changing industry. Shot in China with a cast and crew that
was mostly from Hong Kong, and with Columbia Pictures on board as a
co-producer, Kung Fu Hustle had the budget, the star and the story to
cross borders. In a globalized film market, that's what it's going to take
to be successful. "You have to know how to make an international
film," says Shi.
So from being the Hollywood of the Asian film
world, Hong Kong may become its New York, the place where deals are done and
money is raised. The decline in movies made in and about Hong Kong is
unlikely to be reversed—which has some producers wondering why Shaw Bros.
is building a $180 million film studio. But Lloyd Chao believes that
studio's cutting-edge facilities will be perfect for high-profile projects
from around Asia, including China. "It's going to be about quality, not
quantity," he says. Still, Hong Kong—and international
moviegoers—will lose something when the old system dies, as Peter Chan
knows. Chan, who built his name by making indie Hong Kong movies, has just
shot a $10 million Mandarin musical set in Beijing and Shanghai and
co-produced by the Hollywood backer of Million Dollar Baby. The film
could be bigger than anything Chan has ever done, but part of him misses the
way things used to be. "Hong Kong culture will inevitably be gone one
day," Chan says. "That's why it's important for me to still make
small Hong Kong films. If you make something, it stays on celluloid forever.
Like a memory." - From
the Mar. 28, 2005 issue of TIME Asia Magazine
Shaw Bros to revive movie
Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong) aims to return
to positive earnings before interest, tax and amortisation (Ebita) for the
year ending March 2005, as it plans to revive film production.
``Once we revive the film production, we
should be able to show a positive Ebita in 2005,'' executive director Louis
Page said after yesterday's annual general meeting.
Page said the company saw signs of
recovery and would restart film production in the coming year.
Page, also the managing director of Run
Run Shaw's Television Broadcasts (TVB), said the free-to-air broadcaster's
advertising revenue recorded a single-digit year-on-year growth in August.
As a result of the expansion in the scale
of the Movie City project, Shaw Brothers total capital cost was estimated to
be HK$950 million, and the company's commitment HK$332.5 million.
For the year ended March, Shaw Brothers
posted an operating loss of HK$9.89 million, against a loss of HK$7.71
million, mainly due to the production overheads, Page said.
Managing director Mona Fong said Shaw
Brothers was planning to make two action movies starring young pop stars in
the near future.
Page said Shaw Brothers did not have any
Shaw Brothers reported a net profit of
HK$143 million for the year ended March 31 as turnover fell to HK$62.44
million from HK$72.48 million. A final dividend of 20 cents per share was
During the fiscal year, TVB contributed
HK$176.35 million to Shaw Brothers, the company said.
Shares of Shaw Brothers rose 1.266
per cent to HK$8 yesterday. - by Anthony
Tran 22 September
FAR EAST ECONOMIC REVIEW
GOOD OLD AUNTIE QI
is facing the challenge of her life. There's a mob of villagers banging on
her door and her own children have turned against her. "One has to bear
the consequences of what one has done," declares the kindly matron as a
throng storms into her living room. Could it be curtains for the old lady?
Maybe. It's an upcoming
plot twist in Virtues of Harmony, a successful, two-and-a-half-month-old
situation comedy now being aired on Television Broadcasts, or TVB, Hong
Kong's powerhouse TV station and one of the leading Chinese-language
broadcasters in the world.
In a case of life
imitating art, there's also a real-life drama unfolding over at TVB itself.
Like the sitcom, the company is facing the challenge of its life, but here,
too, the final episode hasn't been aired yet. At stake is TVB's long-term
future. Can the company grow into a Chinese media giant that could become
Asia's answer to Disney or Time Warner? Or will it become just another local
television station in Hong Kong's smallish broadcast market, a perennial
re-run in investors' eyes and maybe even a takeover target once ageing
patriarch Run Run Shaw passes from the scene.
Over the past 34 years,
TVB has grown fat from a virtual monopoly of Hong Kong's television market-a
mature market with few growth prospects and declining TV viewership. Despite
owning one of the biggest Chinese-language programming libraries in the
world and boasting a fantastic roster of Hong Kong's hottest stars, TVB has
failed to grow beyond its home base or even explore other media markets
outside basic television production.
"The problem is that
TVB is a great company on paper, and historically it has generated strong
cash flow and has great Chinese-language content," says Vivek Couto, an
analyst at Media Partners Asia, a Hong Kong-based media-research company.
"But they just haven't been able to leverage any of their
Indeed. Despite its
dominance, TVB boasts few of the potential synergies being explored by the
big American media conglomerates who have entire divisions dedicated to
merchandising their creations through films, music, books, broadcasting,
cable, videos and toys. Its planned Hong Kong pay-TV operation looks in
doubt, while its dotcom and publishing ventures are feeble. It has no merger
or acquisition plans and there is very little cooperation with the Shaw
Brothers film studio, TVB's own sister company. In short, critics say, the
company lacks strategy and vision and is just a little too smug for its own
To be fair, it's tough to
argue with success. The company has a commanding 80% share of Hong Kong's
television market. And even during the Asian economic crisis and this year's
crushing downturn, TVB has been consistently profitable year after year.
"What exactly have we done wrong?" asks TVB Managing Director
Louis Page. "Where exactly have we gone astray? We have held on to what
we have and we are trying to expand our market share overseas."
For almost a decade, the
broadcaster has been trying to carve out a niche in Overseas Chinese
markets-but with only modest success so far. The reasons are manifold, but
in general the company has not been able to replicate the one thing it does
best: producing cheap, commercially profitable and highly engaging
television dramas. Outside Hong Kong, TVB is like a fish out of water- it
does not have the market dominance it needs and is just another broadcaster
in crowded, overseas cable-television markets.
In 1993, it launched the
TVBS cable network in Taiwan, which it has since expanded to Southeast Asia.
And in the past decade it began direct-to-home satellite transmissions of
its shows to the Chinese diaspora in North America, Europe and Australia.
True, the TVBS network
has managed to eke out a small operating profit in three of the past four
years. But the island's television market remains ferociously competitive-
each of Taiwan's 4.5 million households with cable receives 70 channels on
average while roughly half of all television advertising still goes to the
island's four terrestrial broadcasters. That means even in good years, the
pickings are slim. With Taiwan's economy in recession, there were no profits
last year and maybe there will be none this year.
TVB's efforts to
tap into the Chinatowns of America, Europe and Australia have been costly.
Rather than go through established cable operators in those countries, TVB
has been setting up its own direct-to-home satellite system which carries
with it expensive start-up costs.
But the company is really
betting on southern China, specifically Guangdong province just north of
Hong Kong with its 80-million-strong Cantonese-speaking population. If TVB
can get permission to broadcast its shows in China-where media control is
still a politically touchy subject-the company will hit solid gold, possibly
doubling profits overnight and leaving foreign media rivals in the dust. Of
course, that's still a big "if." No one can predict when China
will open its tightly controlled, and potentially lucrative, media sector to
foreign rivals. And many supposedly savvy regional broadcasters have called
it wrong on China for years. Hong Kong-based broadcaster STAR, for example,
has waited for almost 10 years to gain unfettered access into the mainland
Still, there's reason to
be optimistic. In the past three months, Beijing has given the nod to
several foreign broadcasters-in November, TVB itself inked a joint-venture
deal to begin producing television programmes with a subsidiary of national
broadcaster China Central Television. Britain's Pearson Group signed a
similar deal the same month, while in October media giant AOL Time Warner
and Hong Kong-based Phoenix channel were granted new broadcasting rights in
Guangdong. In December, News Corp. affiliate STAR was also given permission
to broadcast in the province legally. Given that the AOL Time Warner,
Phoenix and STAR channels combined claim less than 5% of the television
audience in the province, the deals are more significant on paper than in
reality. Nonetheless, the tone is encouraging.
"All the signals are
that China is getting ready to lift restrictions. We can definitely see the
direction," says Marcel Fenez, regional head of the entertainment and
media practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hong Kong. "If you had
asked me three years ago I would not have predicted when China would start
opening up. But now, in my view, China's media sector may open up in the
next three years or so."
When it comes to
Cantonese-language programming, TVB is a monster. Since it began operations
in 1967, the company has amassed a vast, 50,000-hour programming
library-enough programming to broadcast continuously for five and-a-half
years, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Each year, it produces another 6,000
hours of programming. It is arguably the largest television producer in East
Asia outside Japan, and the largest in the Chinese-speaking world.
From Malaysia to
Australia to Canada, wherever there are Overseas Chinese communities TVB
serials can be seen on local channels, picked off the shelf in local video
stores or bought by the batch in Southeast Asia's night markets. "Our
goal is to put our programming into every Chinese household in the
world," says TVB's Page. "Distribution systems are
expanding-whether it be satellite, cable, broadband-and we have the
In Hong Kong, TVB is as
close to a cultural icon as anything. Over the years, TVB has produced shows
to match the life and times of Hong Kong families and created local stars in
the process. In the 1980s, as Hong Kong businessmen were increasingly
travelling to southern China and taking mistresses in Guangdong province,
TVB produced family dramas pitting a businessman's legitimate family against
his illegitimate one.
It also adapted many of
Louis Cha's kung-fu novels to the small screen, in the process launching the
career of Hong Kong heart-throb Andy Lau. Its classic 1980s gangster drama
Shanghai Beach made Chow Yun Fat a household name. "TVB is an
institution," says Sanney Leung, editor of Hong Kong Entertainment News
in Review, a Web site focusing on the Hong Kong media industry. "There
is a saying: 'Where there are Chinese, there is Louis Cha.' Well, I would
add: 'Where there are Chinese, there is TVB'."
But the secret to TVB's
success belies the carefully cultivated glamorous image it projects on
screen. Behind the scenes, TVB is a gruelling, work-a-day production factory
where the hours are long, the work is hard, and the pay is low. The quid pro
quo is that TVB can make people famous. With its 80% share of Hong Kong's
television audience, the company is the best-perhaps only-path to fame in a
city which remains very much the centre of the Chinese media world.
"TVB has the golden
finger: if they point it at an artist, that person will become
popular," says Nick Cheung, assistant editor-in-chief of entertainment
for Apple Daily. "In general, its employees don't think it's a good
company. But what the artists can get there is fame. So after a few years
they will leave TVB to earn money. TVB can provide the fame, but not the
money." In fact, TVB's celebrity-making machine is so powerful that
it's not just newcomers who flock to the station. Even movie veterans who
have faded from the limelight will sometimes return to TVB to rejuvenate
flagging careers. Veteran actress Nancy Sit-who plays Auntie Qi in Virtues
of Harmony-is one example. There are others.
artists, they definitely want to start with TVB. Then afterwards they leave
TVB and go to movies. But sometimes it's the other way around. The artists
will start in the movies but aren't that well known, so they go to TVB to
get more exposure," explains Anne Ling, an analyst at HSBC in Hong
The company is coy about
its programming costs, but it's not hard to guess. In America, a typical
one-hour television production costs somewhere over $1 million to
produce-the normal range might be between $1.2 million and $1.6 million-and
a hit show like ER costs over $2 million to produce. As a rule, two-thirds
or more of the production cost is made up of salaries, with the biggest
chunk going to actors, writers and producers. In the U.S., an average salary
for a first-year actor in a successful daytime drama could be $8,000 a
At TVB, starting salaries
for actors and actresses begin at around HK$10,000 ($1,282) a month, or even
less. Stars with drawing power might take home double that, or about
HK$20,000 a month. The work schedule is tough and usually, after three or
four years with the company, actors and actresses will leave and seek out
better deals in movies, in Taiwan, in Singapore or even in China.
CLEAR HEAD START
From a bookkeeper's point
of view, TVB has a huge advantage when it comes to broadcasting in China, at
least in southern China. Where News Corp., STAR and AOL Time Warner all need
to acquire or produce Chinese-language programming from scratch, TVB already
has the stars and is already producing the hit dramas, sitcoms and variety
shows that make up the rich marrow of prime-time television. What's more,
those shows are already paid for and profitable, thanks to TVB's roughly 80%
grip on Hong Kong's $1.7 billion a year television-advertising market.
In fact, TVB is already
being broadcast in southern China illegally. Local cable operators in
Guangdong pick up TVB's terrestrial signals and rebroadcast its shows to
cable subscribers in the province. The problem is that the cable operators
snip out the TV commercials broadcast in Hong Kong and insert their own ads
instead. And because TVB does not yet have legal permission to broadcast in
China, there's not much it can do to complain. But when it does, TVB will be
laughing all the way to the bank. It already dominates the Guangdong
market-it is consistently the No. 1 rated channel in the province, and in
any given week will boast five or six of the top-10 shows broadcast.
According to AC Nielsen,
Guangdong's television advertising market is worth about $950 million a
year, just over half the size of Hong Kong's TV ad market. With around a 30%
market share, TVB could potentially pull in an extra $285 million a year if
it was allowed to broadcast in southern China. Even the most conservative
estimates put the size of the windfall between $40 million and $50 million.
Compared with expected profits of $76 million this year, the potential is
"It's all going to
happen over the next two to three years. It's only a question of time before
we are able to make money off our programming in China," says TVB's
Page. "This whole business is about content and we have the content.
Guangdong is hooked on TVB." Stay tuned.
END OF AN ERA
He has spent a lifetime
in show business, but TVB Executive Chairman Run Run Shaw tends to avoid
centre stage. No one can remember when he last granted an interview. There
are no official biographies of him. That's a pity, because Shaw's life makes
for a fascinating storyline. In his 94 years, he has lived more than most
men: he has been knighted, widowed, had a planet named after him, given away
over HK$1 billion ($128 million) in charity and built a personal fortune
estimated at somewhere around HK$8 billion.
Like the founders of
other media empires-take Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner or Steve Ross-Shaw is a
larger-than-life figure. And that's the curious thing about media empires
around the world: They tend to be the creation of charismatic founders but
frequently stumble after the passing of the "great man" who
created them. CNN has not been the same since Ted Turner sold out and
there's a succession question lingering over News Corp. when Murdoch passes
from the scene.
Shaw says he's
ready to retire, but he won't say when. His wife, 67 year-old former singer
Mona Fong is currently deputy chairman of TVB's board and Shaw's expected
successor. But who will follow her? "Of course there is a succession
issue now that he is 94 years old. Mona Fong is 67 years old, will she run
TVB for a few years and then sell?" asks Anne Ling, an analyst at HSBC
in Hong Kong. Who would buy it? Technically, Hong Kong prohibits foreigners
from owning more than a 10% stake in a television station. But that rule
could be flexible. In the past, both Rupert Murdoch and Singapore Press
Holdings have been seen as possible buyers of TVB. Others speculate
that TVB could be bought out by one of Hong Kong's other conglomerates, such
as Cheung Kong or New World Development. -
EAST ECONOMIC REVIEW
Asian TV Deal Collapses Amid Credit
HONG KONG -- Roiled financial markets claimed
another deal in Asia, as the company that controls Hong Kong's biggest
television broadcaster canceled the planned sale of a controlling stake, citing
"the present tumultuous situation."
The collapse of the sale of a stake in Shaw
Brothers Ltd., valued at around 10 billion Hong Kong dollars (US$1.29 billion)
when announced in May, reflects the extent to which Asia is affected by the
credit turmoil sweeping most of the Western world. While Asian corporations
haven't piled on debt in recent years like their Western counterparts, a sharp
downturn in stock prices and jitters among lenders has shut the financial spigot
Shaw Brothers owns 26% of Hong Kong's
dominant free-to-air television broadcaster, Television Broadcasts Ltd., whose
business has posted sturdy growth on the mainland. The deal would have
represented a final farewell between 101-year-old media mogul Sir Run Run Shaw
and his remaining piece of the empire he built.
Shaw Brothers didn't mention any prospective
buyers, but Chinese property company Country Garden Holdings Co. was previously
a leading contender to purchase Sir Run Run's stake. To help finance the
acquisition, Country Garden Chairman Yeung Kwok Keung had arranged for a HK$3
billion loan from Hong Kong property tycoon Lee Shau-kee.
Since the plans for the Shaw stake sale were
announced in the spring, Country Garden has had a slump in earnings that has
pounded its Hong Kong-listed shares. During the first six months of the year,
Country Garden's earnings fell 28.5% to 6.03 billion Chinese yuan (US$882.2
million). Its shares, which touched a high of HK$14 this time last year, closed
down 2.9% at HK$1.99 on Tuesday. Representatives of Country Garden couldn't be
reached for comment.
Property developers in China have been hurt
by a slowdown in Chinese real estate and government efforts to tamp down
excessive investment in the sector.
Country Garden wasn't the only entity thought
to be interested in purchasing control of Shaw. The deal had also attracted the
attention of private-equity funds, which saw the company as a lush target
because of its stake in TVB. Another possible buyer hasn't materialized, keeping
Shaw Brothers in the hands of its aged chairman. -
2008 October 15 WALL