It's hard to believe it now, but there was a time when PCCW's Now TV service looked as if it was going to be a genuinely innovative competitor to Cable TV. Now they are the market leader and Cable TV have apparently given up, so they seem to have lost interest in innovation.
OK, so at first glance it looks impressive. Yes, they have High Definition (HD) and on-demand, neither of which Cable TV can offer. Now TV even has HD on-demand. And yet...
Their on-demand service is decidedly patchy. The strongest area is soccer, and, yes, it was excellent to have every single game from Euro 2008 available to watch whenever you wanted. This season they have also had every Champions League game (from the group stages onwards) on demand. No complaints there, but Cable TV have the rights to the Champions League from next season (and the World Cup in 2010), so we are not going to see much more of this.
The EPL on-demand service is much less impressive. Yes, there are a few games available each week, but it's a random selection rather than all of them, and they are only available until the next round of matches.
HBO has a small selection of films available on-demand, but this is a limited selection from their schedule of mediocre and ancient movies and TV shows (not totally their fault - HBO Asia is subject to standards of taste and decency across the region, and they are a long way from those of premium cable in the US). However, they could use the on-demand service to offer shows in Hong Kong that they can't broadcast elsewhere. But they don't.
Now TV also has a weird service that provides top US drama shows on-demand in HD. Sounds perfect until you discover these are old series that were on TVB Pearl about 2-3 years ago and on the US networks a year or two before that. When they can offer the current series before TVB then I might be interested.
Perhaps the most interesting service that they provide is the facility to record shows (on their servers) so that you can watch again in the next 7 days. However, this only covers EPL games and the output from the News and Business channels. So they have the technology for the service I want (and would pay for) - the facility to record any programme from any channel - but they don't offer it (presumably they will say this is for copyright reasons). Neither do they offer the service that Cable TV provide of letting you program your decoder box to show a particular programme so that you record it. Nor do they have a SKy+ type box.
High Definition is also a bit of a joke. Now Sports HD has a few EPL games and there are some from Italian Serie A, but so far that's it - and I am not convinced that this is true HD.
What else is in HD? Well, there's National Geographic and Discovery HD, and Voom (whatever that is). Oh, and the History Channel has a HD version, because that 30 year old footage looks so much sharper in high definition. They also seem to be broadcasting Sunday Taipan in HD on Now Hong Kong (channel 100).
So what's missing?
Well, what about BBC HD? They have such a channel in the UK and Australia, showing drama and documentaries (and sport in the UK). It would certainly be a big improvement on the existing "BBC 5", but that may be part of the problem. BBC Lifestyle and BBC Knowledge have an awful lot of old stuff that wasn't made by the BBC or even broadcast on any of the main BBC channels in the UK, whereas a lot of the BBC shows that might be on BBC HD have been sold to other broadcasters (Michael Palin's New Europe was recently on TVB Pearl, which also shows Hotel Babylon). Meanwhile BBC Knowledge was showing the first series of The Apprentice (again) when UK viewers were watching the fifth series.
A lot of US shows are made in HD, but Star World, AXN and the rest are not in HD. Actually, I'd settle for the higher picture quality you get on the digital TV version of TVB Pearl, which is much clearer than anything on Star World. How difficult could that be?
Movies in HD? Wouldn't that make sense? Again, there's no sign of that happening.
I'm sure there are many complex reasons why PCCW can't offer viewers what they want, but the harsh reality is that it's now very easy to download any TV show or movie you want, and that's what they have to compete with. Star World were showing American Idol within a few hours of the US network, and that's a step in the right direction but an isolated example.