Career Path

Led by curiosity

By Mary Luk

Television production
Programme acquisition
Isabelle Tsang
Channel manager - sports CABLE TV

One of the most memorable achievements in the career of CABLE TV sports channel manager Isabelle Tsang was winning the exclusive rights to broadcast the World Cup live last year. However, such achievements do not just happen overnight.

"Our success lay in many factors," she recalls. "Our sincerity and profound interest had touched the World Cup agent. Another decisive factor was our wealth of experience in broadcasting major sporting events live." As one of the chief negotiators, enterprising Ms Tsang says the agent was also impressed by their experience of handling a sports channel which carries more than 1,000 football matches a year.

However, Ms Tsang took a rather roundabout way to success. After graduating from an institute of education in the late 1980s, she became an English teacher for several years before deciding to try her hand in something new - the media field. In 1991, she made a formal application and landed a job as a copywriter for Thai Sky Cable TV, which had an office in Hong Kong. After a 12-month stint, she joined the TVB Pearl channel as a programme acquisition officer.

"I became interested in acquisition after finding the market has different types of programme on offer. I knew I could do many things," she says.

Her talent was quickly spotted and she was invited to continue working in acquisition at CABLE TV in 1994. Following her promotion in 2002 to channel manager - sports, Ms Tsang now supervises a team of 30 and takes charge of the operation of the channel, in addition to her sports programming acquisition duties. Today, she flies to Cannes, in France, twice yearly to attend TV programme trade fairs to build up her source of programme suppliers. She either looks for famous brands such as Warner Brothers productions or programmes that could create a fashion or sensation or appeal to the audience. While her acquisition duties also cover sports programmes, Ms Tsang admits that she is no sports expert and originally knew very little about football.

"You don't need to be an expert in order to buy sports programmes. Sometimes, you don't even have to know how the sport is played," she explains. "What you need is to pick up the right top-grade events that appeal to a Hong Kong audience."

Ms Tsang's favourite programmes are documentaries profiling sportsmen. "You'll be surprised to learn that a sportsman has hobbies very different from his profession. Most have other ambitions, as they realise their professional life-span is short," she says.

"We don't know what the other [side] is thinking; we keep guessing each other's strategies. It's tough, but I enjoy it and I've made many friends in the industry"

Patience and persistence

According to Ms Tsang, local universities do not offer degree courses that are relevant to TV programme acquisition. What entrants into the profession have studied may not necessarily be relevant to the job, she says, noting that it is, however, vital to have a good command of English, both written and spoken, in order to communicate effectively with foreign programme distributors.

"You must also enjoy watching videos, be outgoing, have wide exposure and a strong sense of curiosity and be interested in everything. Patience and persistence are the prerequisite for hammering out negotiations with programme sellers," she points out. "Life is very tough working in a television station. You have to work irregular hours, even in the middle of the night."

The most rewarding part of the job, Ms Tsang says, is the whole negotiation process. "We don't know what the other [side] is thinking; we keep guessing each other's strategies. It's tough, but I enjoy it and I've made many friends in the industry."

China Opportunities

Mainland China has an entirely different set of rules and regulations from Hong Kong for its television industry people to follow. The operation and culture of mainland TV stations are also different from those in Hong Kong, according to Ms Tsang, who says that a local TV acquisition programme officer would find it difficult to work in the mainland market.

As CABLE TV's main market is still Hong Kong and the nature of Ms Tsang's job means that she is not required to be in touch with the mainland, she has little information about TV professionals working in China. However, last month CABLE TV successfully obtained a licence for its satellite channel - Horizon - to broadcast in China with limited access and she is waiting to see if she has a role to play in the mainland market in future.


Taken from Career Times 04 July 2003, p. 22
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