Six months of protests, diving consumer spending and sentiment, falling ad spend and the first recession in a decade have caused Hong Kong's media industry to enter dangerous territory. Even as media companies have strived to pretend that it is business as usual, these factors have started to take a stranglehold, with job cuts looming and industry-wide reorganisations underway.
According to multiple industry sources, the news of TVB, Hong Kong largest broadcaster laying off up to 350 people (some contend this fugue could reach 800-1000) is symptomatic of wider troubles for this sector. While TVB's woes were exacerbated by a dud investment in SMI Holdings, a Chinese theatre operator, it also faced its first loss in a decade, catalysing job cuts.
“The uncertain outlook of Hong Kong is the most worrying,” Lee said in a memo to staff. “The social unrest shows no signs of abating. It is impossible to predict when social order will be restored and the economy will recover. In the face of this severe situation, all enterprises must take appropriate measures to ensure the business sustainability and retain core capabilities.”
TVB wasn't the only media company to feel the pinch. According to data from Next Digital's interim report for 2019-20, the firm's revenues fell by 15.9% to HK$556.3 million (six months ended 30 September 2018: HK$661.4 million), even as losses widened to HK$313.3 million for the period, compared with a loss of HK$287.5 million recorded for same period of 2018, representing an increase in loss amount of 9.0% or HK$25.8 million.
The publisher of the popular Apple Daily admitted in this report that the same swirl of factors heavily contributed to this decline. "In Hong Kong, social unrest has caused many advertisers to delay promotional activities and rein in spending," the company observed in the report.
Both companies--and several others Campaign reached out to--declined to comment for this article.
Industry watchers said the ongoing slump in ad spending and consumer confidence was among the worst witnessed in the past decade. While the first half of the year was relatively stable, the past five or six months have seen a noticeable deterioration. "Cosmetics and skincare, toiletries and household and entertainment led the decline in ad spends," said Jennifer Ma, Director of Sales and Marketing at Admango, a tracker of this kind of data.