Hong Kong’s online TV shambles

hong kong skylineI’ve just finished a feature slightly out of my comfort zone – Hong Kong’s online TV market, or lack thereof.

The Chinese SAR has a huge appetite for net TV – you just have to get onto an MTR, visit a dim sum restaurant or try and get past a local ambling on the pavement whilst staring at their phablet, to realise that.

The former colony also has an ideal set-up – 4G is commonplace; the locals are pretty tech-savvy early adopter types relative to the rest of Asia; and broadband penetration is amongst the highest in the world.

Yet thus far it still doesn’t have its own online TV service. Hongkongers have to get their content from mainland China or further afield to satisfy their lust for internet telly.

Local entrepreneur Ricky Wong tried his best with HKTV but hit a brick wall in the form of a government shamelessly protecting the vested interests of the region’s incumbent broadcasters.

It’s a shame because this model of broadcasting, whilst probably never fully replacing traditional modes, will definitely come to play a major part in our content consuming lives over the next decade.

Gartner’s Terick Chiu explained to me that it’s not just the online TV players and content producers who stand to benefit.

“In their efforts to drive engagement with consumers, both incumbents and new entrants are likely to invest in the technology of second-screen applications. These applications are built on top of automatic content recognition (ACR) technologies, which enable an application to detect content metadata — usually contained in a digital watermark — and synchronise the application with the on-screen programming,” he said.

“For service providers and advertisers, these second-screen apps will become an important element of the future of TV, given their ability to provide an ongoing stream of information about consumer preferences and interests. These apps also enable a form of e-commerce or ‘embedded merchandising’, which links a viewer to products/services that are featured in video programming”.

IDC’s Greg Ireland, meanwhile, argued that internet TV would “usher in a new wave of competition” in the broadcast industry – which should spell good news for viewers.

“One item to watch is how these services, or other new services, emerge as ‘true’ competitors to traditional pay TV,” he told me. “That is, will any begin to license linear content and offer a pay TV service of live and on-demand content entirely over the internet?”

It’s going to happen sooner or later in Hong Kong, as around the world, so the government might as well get out of the way and let it happen now.

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China’s Yulong Coolpad: One to watch for 2014?

coolpad logoIn the world of Chinese smartphone makers the name on everyone’s lips at the moment is Xiaomi, but how many of you have heard of Yulong?

Well, it’s a name which may well become more familiar to tech-watchers in 2014 if its sales predictions for the year turn out to be more than the usual new year marketing hype.

The Shenzhen-based firm, which is slightly better known under its Coolpad brand, said it’s hoping to shift 40 million 4G handsets this year in China, in addition to 20m 3G devices.

Some local media reports have the company claiming this will help it topple global leader Samsung in the 4G stakes, even though the Korean giant is currently way out in front in the Middle Kingdom with a market share of nearly 20 per cent – almost double that of Yulong.

They would appear to be a combination of mis-reporting and vendor hype, though, as Samsung told me it hasn’t even released any predictions on how many 4G handsets it will sell this year.

A Lenovo spokeswoman, meanwhile, said: “It’s not our practice to comment or make prediction on unannounced products.”

That aside, however, Coolpad has been gradually creeping up the smartphone rankings in its home country over the past few years, largely without the media attention that has greeted Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo and, of course, Xiaomi.

That might be because it has neither Xiaomi’s flair, Huawei’s big bucks, nor ZTE’s propensity to court controversy.

It’s currently third in the rankings just behind Lenovo, according to IDC stats for Q3 2013. If it’s to continue to climb it’ll need to make sure it’s competitively priced relative to Samsung, around the 1-2,000 RMB mark, IDC’s Bryan Ma told me.

Apart from that, “speed to 4G” will also count, he added. To this end, Yulong has already struck a deal with China Mobile to sell its TDD/FDD-LTE handset the Coolpad 8920 and there’ll certainly be more to follow.

So will the firm join Huawei, ZTE and others in aggressive overseas expansion? Well, it already is selling in markets like the US, but headway there has been more difficult given its low brand recognition.

It might have overtaken Apple in the Middle Kingdom last year but 2014 will be a tough year for Yulong and its parent company China Wireless to make an impact abroad – that is, outside of emerging markets where the appetite for cheap smartphones is greater.