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What's Behind the Success of Satirical Media in Hong Kong?

Screen capture of MostTV's three-minute satirical news program.

For years, Hong Kong's media industry has struggled to turn a profit in the digital age and maintain editorial integrity at a time when free expression is increasingly under pressure. In fact, cases of conventional organizations successfully pivoting toward a digital-first business models has been very rare and the initial public offering (IPO) application of satirical outlet 100 Most is one of the rare cases.

On July 26, Most Kwai Chung Limited, the operator of popular satirical media outlets TVMost, a online video outlet, and 100Most, a Chinese magazine with a Facebook outlet of more than 1.1 million followers, submitted draft listing documents to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

The IPO application revealed that between 1 April 2016 and March 31, 2017 the company brought in HK$95 million (approximately US$12.15 million) in revenue — the majority of which originated from digital media advertising — resulting in a gross profit of HK$58 million (approximately US$7.42 million). That represented a 74 percent increase over the 2015-2016 financial year.

The company was founded by three young people, Roy Tsui, Chan Keung and Bu, in January 2010 with less than US$1,000 in start-up funding.

Though the media company positions itself as an advertisement production house, it has accumulated a following through viral content that satirizes current affairs with a pro-democracy or “localist” political slant (localist refers to the movement which promote local values and culture over those of mainland China). In fact, the Chinese name of its two media outlets, “Most” or “Mou Gei” (毛記), is a parody of the city’s mainstream television station Television Broadcast (TVB) or “Mou Sin” in Cantonese. A number of its popular programs, including a daily three-minute satirical newscast, are also parodies of TVB’s programming.

The success of the TVMost and 100Most has stirred some online discussion. Some netizens says that other journalistic sites should learn from Most’s business model to survive in the market. However, others see them as high-quality content farms and are worried that the curation of entertainment and news into viral content could further curb the space for serious journalism.

Investigative journalism platform Initium organized an online discussion about Most’s new media business model. Below is a selection of the comments.

@Lamwaai supported Most100’s satirical news strategy:

我覺得100毛是年輕而有趣的新聞媒體,它給了壓力下生存的年輕人一種全新的可能性吧

I believe that Most100 is youthful and funny news media. It has provided young people who are under a lot of pressure to make it in life with a new possible [career path].

@sixstrings was also in favor of Most100’s satire and explained the socio-political context of its success:

抽水和政治戲仿在香港文化中一直有脈絡,100毛那種一切都可以惡搞的姿態,戲仿香港電台節目的二次創作,很可能是三位創辦人在電台出身時培養的觸覺。他們懂得怎樣切入時事才會有香港人看,懂得找觀眾。
我認為100毛沒有「主導」公共討論,至少100毛沒有表現出這樣的企圖。它只是在政治娛樂找到自己的定位,也許腦細們也沒有預計到這樣的成功。100毛的惡搞受歡迎,背後應是社會無力改變現實,只能在戲謔中找快慰。

The culture of spoofing and political parody has local roots. The three founders had the experience in working at Hong Kong Television and Radio Broadcast [a Hong Kong government-funded broadcaster] in the production of parodies, perhaps there they developed their sense of a popular strategy to engage with current affairs and attract audiences.
I don’t think Most100 has led the public discussion, or at least it does not seem to have such intentions. It just is situated in political entertainment. Probably even the founders had not anticipated such success. The reason why Most100’s parodies are so popular is related to the reality that people cannot change society and so they can only take pleasure in satires.

@Mr Kwan saw the adverse effect of Most100’s satirical news on serious journalism:

現在網絡與手機盛世的時代,似乎大家都覺得內容(content)應該是免費的,不應該像昔日那般(即紙媒主導的年代)是付費的。當一旦看到需要收費才能看的內容,就很下意識地離開尋找其他免費的替代源。[…]
慢慢,整個電子媒體都在爭用戶流量來讓廣告收益作爲媒體營運的主要來源。[…]爲了流量,新聞都娛樂化,標題黨化,情色化,取巧化 […] 而100毛的成功崛起,正是因爲站對了這個大衆品味的風口。[…]
由於100毛的內容成功是基於時事熱話的二次創作,我的觀察是,大衆慢慢地將100毛當作另類時事與新聞去看“新聞” […] 其實對新聞傳播而言,不是一件好事。

We are now in era of internet and mobile communication, people think content should be free and should not be paid for (unlike the conventional newspaper). However, when they come across content that is not free, they look for a substitute. […] Gradually, the digital media sector has come to depend on page views for advertising income. […] In order to boost page views, tactics that rely on entertainment, sensational headlines, pornography among others are used to package news […] The success of Most100 reflects popular tastes […]
While Most100’s content is parody of current affairs hot topics, gradually, the public sees Most100 as alternative news and consumes the content as “news” […] This is not a good development for journalism.

Lam Yin Bong, a media worker, argued in Stand News, a non-profit media outlet, that people should not mix the business of new media production with journalism:

新聞媒體轉型失敗,並不代表100毛的成功,是新聞媒體可以/應該學習的方向。
其一,100毛(及其他類似平台)對「新聞」過份簡化和情緒化的操作方式,就是抽水,休閒笑笑無妨,作為嚴謹的一手資訊來源絕不可取;其二,其集中二次創作、忽略一手資訊的定位,和發掘一手資訊以監察社會的新聞媒體角色,本來就有衝突;其三,又很老土地說,我無法想像新聞媒體,為財團「度橋」賣廣告。

We could say that the news media has not found its way. That does not mean that the success of Most100 is something that news media can or should learn from.
First of all, Most100 (and other similar platforms) has simplified and sensationalized news. We can consume the parody as entertainment but should not see it as a source of news information. Secondly, its marketing strategy of remixing others’ information as content is at odds with news media which positions itself as the watchdog of society by digging up first-hand news sources. Thirdly, being old school, I cannot imagine any news media taking up the role to help corporations develop ideas for selling their product.

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