Previous month:
February 2004
Next month:
April 2004

ESPN, Cable TV and the English Premier League

The Sunday Morning Post reported that Cable TV has won the exclusive rights to show the English Premier League (EPL) in Hong Kong for the next three years. On the face of it, this means (as the SMP pointed out) the end of the intelligent pre-match coverage on ESPN and the return of hysterical fast-talking presenters in brightly coloured jackets. Or does it?

An open letter to Cable TV

Dear Sirs,

I have read that Cable TV has won the exclusive rights to the EPL for the next few years, but hope that you will bear in mind the wishes of all expat (and many local) football fans. The coverage provided by ESPN and Star Sports is now excellent, with intelligent pre-match and post-match discussions involving former players and managers, and highlights and discussion programs during the week.

I assume that you paid so much for the rights in order to prevent your rivals such as Galaxy and Now Broadband TV from being able to show EPL games. I hope that you will not spoil this triumph by depriving Hong Kong viewers of the coverage from ESPN and Star Sports that rest of Asia will continue to be able to watch.

Perhaps you can agree a deal with ESPN whereby you continue to have exclusive rights to their channels. If not, perhaps you can offer Cable TV viewers a different version of ESPN and Star Sports with full EPL coverage, whilst anyone watching the channels on other services would miss out. Obviously you would be able to offer your own EPL coverage in Cantonese so that viewers have a choice.

In what is becoming a fiercely competitive market, Cable TV needs to have an edge, and exclusive EPL coverage give you that, but you will also be aware that viewers now have alternatives that may be significantly cheaper and so Cable TV also needs to offer a premium service. For most football fans, the EPL coverage from ESPN and Star Sports would constitute a very strong reason to subscribe. Its absence might constitute a compelling reason to cancel.

Best Regards
Ordinary Gweilo


Update: Giles thinks this might be good news for rugby fans. In truth, it's anyone's guess what might happen to ESPN and Star Sports.

The history is something like this. For a long time, Star Sports was available free of charge by satellite and covered the Five Nations/Six Nations, Formula One and other sports. When the EPL deal was signed, the channel was picked up by Cable TV and for a few months they had two different services (with EPL soccer on Cable, without on satellite) before they terminated the satellite version. ESPN had the rights to the Monday night EPL games (early Tuesday morning here) up until 1998 or thereabouts, and the channel was on Cable TV. Then when Cable TV won the exclusive rights, ESPN ceased to be available in Hong Kong, returning only when they won the EPL rights (in 2001?).

One question is whether Cable TV will continue to carry ESPN and Star Sports, and another is what they will do in Hong Kong when they are showing EPL games in the rest of Asia. It may not be feasible to offer a totally different schedule just for Hong Kong, so you could find that the Six Nations matches still get shown with a delay! Or you might even find that Star Sports is only available through Galaxy or Now Broadband or not at all. Anything is possible!

Not a drop to drink

Many years ago, when I first went on holiday to France, I was told by friends that the tap water wasn't safe to drink.  When a Frenchman of my acquaintance heard that this was a common view amongst Brits, he was most upset and insisted that French tap water was just as safe as English tap water.  Which it is. 

Hong Kong's tap water is is also safe to drink, but only because after it is imported from China it is treated with chemicals.  Most people then filter and/or boil the water (to remove the chemicals).  We do both, as this picture shows.  The thing on the left is a ceramic filter, and at the other end is the pot in which we then boil the water.  In the middle are the jugs of chemically treated, filtered and boiled water fresh from the rivers of Guangdong.

Given the state of many of China's rivers, bottled water is understandably quite popular, but here most of it is distilled rather than natural spring water.

One of the oddest products is Bonaqua (from the Coca-Cola company), which is described as 'mineralized water'.  At first I assumed that this was just a strange piece of wording and that it was mineral water in the accepted sense, but actually it is distilled water with added minerals.  The picture of the mountain is obviously intended to make you think that it is clean and natural, and I guess I'm not the only one who was fooled.  Coca-Cola recently launched a similar product (Dasani) in the UK, but have had to withdraw it because there was a problem with some of the calcium they added.  It's very popular in the US, and both Pepsi and Coca-Cola are, of course, keen to diversify away from their flagship products into healthier products such as water and juice (Pepsi own Tropicana, Coca-Cola own Minute Maid), snacks, etc.

In Hong Kong, Watson's Water decided that they had to compete with Bonaqua, but Watsons Water with Minerals doesn't pretend to be something that it is not -they simply give you the choice between distilled water with or without minerals.  Incidentally, I have been told a few times that distilled water is not good for you, and a few years ago Watsons Water took out adverts in the SCMP and elsewhere to counter these claims.  If I recall correctly, they also argued that the minerals in most so-called mineral water were of no real value, a point they presumably ignored when launching their new product!  Personally, I always drink tap water if it is available, safe and palatable, or otherwise natural mineral water.

Still on the subject of water, a few years ago, Perrier suffered a major setback when it was discovered that there was benzene in its product, which in turn led to the revelation that the bubbles were not totally natural but added as part of the production process (from gas that occurs naturally in the spring).  In some countries you will notice a very convoluted description of the product because they are not allowed to describe it as naturally sparkling.  Sales have never recovered from the PR disaster accompanying this problem. 

Talking of product claims, I am always amused to see that in Thailand, Evian mineral water is described as coming from "thousand year-old hills".  Modern hills presumably being better than ancient rock formations.  Meanwhile, one popular brand of purified water in Thailand is called Carlsberg, just to add to the confusion.  Which is enough about water for one day, I think.

Don't lose your passport in China!

Ron has a very interesting post about the dangers of losing your passport in China. This time it wasn't him that had the problem, but apparently something similar did happen to him a long time ago, so he was happy to help out.

The SCMP has published a few horror stories about people who have lost both their passport and Hong Kong ID card in Shenzen and been stranded there for several days. It's obviously not a good thing to have happen!


Is this the worst-designed website of any major organization in Hong Kong? The entry page is bad, but if you select 'English' the next screen is even worse. It looks as if an assortment of pictures and links were scattered randomly across the page. Spectacularly awful.

Screensavers - what's the point?

I remember a long time ago when it was a good idea to have a screen saver on your PC. I have seen screens that really did have an image etched into them because that was what they were displaying almost continuously. Now, computer applications are designed differently and screen technology has improved significantly, so it is no longer a problem.

Yet people still load stupid screensavers on to their PC. My all-time favourite was an office where I worked in the UK that had a corporate screensaver with a slide show of pictures of their products, their unlovely sixties office building and their even less attractive board directors. This monster ate up most of the processing power of the PC when it swung into action, and yet it was installed throughout the company.

Where I am currently working, the lady who sits in front of me has a screensaver that displays pictures from (I think) Switerland. When I am sitting there trying to think about something, I can see this wretched thing cycling through its small range of photographs of mountains and snow and cows (and motorways), and it has an hypnotic effect. My train of thought comes to a shuddering halt and I start thinking about the mountains and the snow and the nice visual effects as each new slide appears. Drives me mad...

End of season dinner



(being held early due to unforeseen circumstances)


Main course
Humble pie
Lancashire hotch-potch
Tim Howard's Porto catch of the day

Hard Cheese
Sour Grapes

L'urine de Rio, Carrington 2003
(a hard-to-swallow sample vintage)

Guest speakers
Kevin Keegan
Arsene Wenger

Please note that the club's European Tour scheduled for April and May has been cancelled.

[Thanks to Jim for sending it to me - not sure where it came from originally, but there about 50 million suspects in the UK.]

It writes itself

"As long as I keep focusing on French perfidy, Beijing's ham-handedness and Thai girls, this site practically writes itself. Watch."

Indeed, Conrad, indeed [link deleted - site no longer available].

Conrad is foaming at the mouth because Spain's new prime minister was quoted in The Guardian expressing an opinion on who should be president of the United States:

Spain's prime minister, José María Aznar, and Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, are unequivocal in their support of Mr Bush, as are many eastern European countries and former Soviet republics. But opinion in Spain, as in Britain, is divided. The Spanish opposition leader in the general election this Sunday, the socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, said yesterday: "I think Kerry will win. I want Kerry to win."

Hardly headline news - right-wing leaders want Bush to win, left-wing leaders want Kerry to win. Of course, were Mr Zapatero to have said that after he had become prime minister then it would have caused controversy. Heads of government do not express opinions on who they want to win in other country's elections. However, I think we all knew that Margaret Thatcher was a fan of Ronnie Reagan, and Tony Blair got on well with Bill Clinton even if they were careful exactly what they said about each other.

I think Conrad should take back control of his site before it writes more nonsense like this:

While Spaniards may have shown themselves amenable to outside interference in their elections, Americans are not. This little monkey needs to keep his mouth shut.

Right. The Spanish people only voted for the socialists because their country was bombed - or could it have anything to do with the prime minister taking his country to war when 90% of the population were against it? Democracy is like that sometimes, however much George Bush loves you.

As for interference in the US election, perhaps Conrad has forgotten that neither the Democrats or the Republicans have yet nominated their candidates for president, the election itself is more than six months away, and this 'endorsement' will probably do Kerry more harm than good.