Peter Lam’s suicidal impulse

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Peter Lam, HK Tourism Board and Lai Sun Chairman and movie theatre owner, is in the press today encouraging the government to make his developer peers turn over space to, well, mostly him. This is a terrible,self-serving idea that could spread a poison in our polity.


Peter Lam of Lai Sun – and thereby eSun and Multiplex Cinemas Limited – is egging on the government to force developers to reserve space for cinemas. As the biggest operator of cinemas in Hong Kong, it is a brazen move that would lower rents for a few cinema owners like him. This is a terrible idea that  needs to be nipped in the bud.

In the Policy Address 2016, the government stated:

“The Government is actively considering the option of requiring developers to include cinemas in their development projects as appropriate in the terms and conditions of the land lease.”

For the love of God, why?

Supposedly it would be to support local film-making. However, in practice, it would just mean cheaper rents for rent-seeking business people  like Peter Lam.

The current land lease and fees system already demands the developers, whose fees fund our education, healthcare and welfare, include space for bus stops, open space and the like to serve the public policy fashions of the day.

It is incomprehensible how forcing developers to take a haircut so Peter Lam can make more money showing Star Wars and One Night in Taipei, at greater margins for him, helps anyone.  Mr Lam’s claim, as reported in The Standard, that “More competition may even bring a drop in ticket prices,” is laughable.  Ticket prices have never come down in Hong Kong. Counterfeiting and competition from portable devices and online video (Hello Netflix!) have moved movies into the high end of entertainment. People pay zero to see bad movies they can download, if they have that much time to waste.

The only way local movie creation is supported is if the government also forces Peter Lam and MCL to reserve masses of screen time for a wide range of low end, low budget fare that nobody wants to watch anyways. If they did, they would pay full fare for the cinematic experience.  Mr Lam would no doubt protest that as an infringement of his property rights as a business operator.

That is exactly what he is asking the government to do – force someone else’s uncompetitive product into their premises.

Why not demand that all of MCL’s cinemas have to show ads for political journals like Harbour Times to support the media industry? Ads for locally designed apps to displace paying customers (farewell Fancl ads, finally) to support innovation? Maybe Lai Sun related hotels and F&B outlets should be forced to buy only local food to support the government’s New Agriculture Policy.

Of course, none of that  should happen and developers should not be forced to take any business, or business category, into their premises to support government aims. The people will vote for what should be where with their dollars – or the developers will pay the price, and fix their mix.

And if Hong Kongers make great movies, people will choose to see them over mainland or international fare. Investors will back them and cinema operators will screen them.

Hopefully Mr Lam was just having a bad day and had a momentary loss of reason when speaking to the media at a Lai Sun event yesterday.  If  not, he must have what Milton Friedman called the  “Suicidal Impulse of the Business Community” – the tendency to promote government intervention while poisoning the overall business environment.

As word gets out,  Mr Lam will probably be getting the cold shoulder from the developer community. His ideas should be getting a frostier reception from the entire business community and all of Hong Kong. Hands off our businesses, Mr Lam.