‘Millionaire’ frenzy sweeps money mad Hong Kong

HONG KONG, Reuters

Who wants to be a millionaire?

Everyone, it seems, in money mad Hong Kong where even too much is not enough.

The local version of the worldwide television quiz “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, awarding up to HK$1 million (US$128,200) to the winner, has become a smash hit since its debut on May 7.

“It’s exciting to watch people win money,” said Mary Lee, a 59-year-old housewife who watches every episode. “I also want to learn from the questions.”

Even Hong Kong’s deputy leader and former financial chief, Donald Tsang, is a keen viewer, according to one newspaper.

The show has worked miracles for broadcaster Asia Television (ATV), siphoning audiences away from arch-rival Television Broadcasts Ltd (TVB), usually well ahead in ratings.

A recent “Millionaire” episode, featuring celebrity guests, overshadowed TVB’s beauty pageant, a perennial rating blockbuster. The quiz has jacked up ATV’s advertising revenue by 40-50 percent, and fees for the “Millionaire” prime-time slot by three to four times.

Bookshops are selling a trivia pursuit book published by ATV to capitalize on the game’s success.

The show began in Britain in 1998 and has proved a runaway success with versions in almost 80 countries. Smacking of gambling because contestants must risk part of their prize for greater reward, the show appeals to Hong Kong’s avid punters, who wager on anything from horse racing to soccer.

“Hong Kong people love the kind of game that has a certain gambling element as well, in a sense that you’re gambling with your own money,” said Joseph Cheng, a professor in political science at the City University.

Thousands of the territory’s 6.9 million people have fought to get in the quiz, swamping phone lines.

Host Ken Chan has shot to stardom. Inundated with offers to appear in advertisements and sponsorships, he may become a millionaire himself, according to gossip magazines, before any contestant hits the jackpot.

The “Millionaire” appeal has also sparked a quiz frenzy.

TVB is fighting back by launching a version of another global quiz hit from Britain, “The Weakest Link”, with a top prize of HK$3 million, the highest ever in Hong Kong. It debuts in August.

The “Millionaire” was created by Celador International Ltd. and “The Weakest Link” by the British Broadcasting Corp.