Firms Aim to Make Hong Kong a Digital Hub


Hong Kong -- As Hong Kong marked the first anniversary of
the handover of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China, a loose confederation of
U.S.-based and local interests have unveiled proposals for a digital multimedia center to
rebuild the area's reputation as a broadcasting hub.

Hughes Electronics International, Hong Kong's Salon
Films and Hongkong Telecom have held discussions about creating a 38,000-square-foot
multimedia-production and editing facility in the Special Administrative Region of China,
as Hong Kong is known. The center is at the heart of a project that they've dubbed
"Hong Kong Interactive Media 2000."

The project is at least partially based on the view by many
in the local media industry that Hong Kong must revitalize its media and communications
industries. The SAR has lost out in recent years to Singapore as a regional media hub,
with the relocation of existing players like ESPN and Discovery Channel Asia to the
"Lion City," and the decisions by HBO Asia, Disney Channel and Sony Pictures
Entertainment's AXN to build operations there.

Fred Wang, a director of Salon, said he envisioned the SAR
as becoming a regional production center to bridge Asia's need for software and the
technical and program-making expertise of the United States.

"With Hong Kong's reputation as an international
city, our outstanding record in TV and movie production and our geographical location in
Asia, the SAR is ideally placed to take advantage of these leaps in [digital]
technology," Wang said. Movie and TV productions could be shot in China, the United
States or Europe and be digitally transmitted to Hong Kong for editing and postproduction
work without any decline in quality, he explained.

Interactive Media 2000 could also help to boost the
SAR's economy, which has slipped into recession, like the economies of several other
south Asian nations, said Joseph Ma, director of international development for Hongkong
Telecom. "The economy is closely linked with developments in telecommunications.
Hongkong Telecom has invested more than $US4.3 billion over the last decade into our
infrastructure. We have the largest individual teleport facilities in Asia, with 18
dishes. We are willing to play our part in this project," Ma added.

Although the project has the unofficial endorsement of
Kwong Ki-chi, secretary of the Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau, there are
no concrete proposals looming. Despite the enthusiastic comments on the part of the three
companies, they have not put forward any significant funding to support Interactive Media

Hughes Electronics International's president, Gareth
Chang, warned that there is a long way to go before the project becomes a reality, and
that Hong Kong has to radically alter its mind-set both in the way that it governs and in
its educational policies.

Hong Kong has focused too much on financial and investment
industries, at the expense of creating sectors that are able to develop in the
digital-multimedia field, Chang added. "We produce a lot of lawyers and accountants.
It seems to be time to produce something more suited to the coming millennium," he

He pointed to a need for the SAR to change its educational
policies in order to create a source of talented young people to work in media. In
addition, the Hong Kong government must abandon its traditional noninterventionist policy
and actively nurture new technological developments, he said.