Imagine turning on your TV set to listen to a Madonna album, order a pizza, and then choose a Steven Spielberg flick with which to settle down for the evening.
That futuristic scenario will become a reality for Hong Kong TV viewers next month, when Hong Kong Telecom IMS, the country's largest Internet service provider, launches the world's first commercial interactive television service, or ITV. The company hopes to sign up 300,000 subscribers by 2000.The new service should further bolster Hong Kong's status as a regional leader in technical innovation and market liberalization in telecommunications and information technology.
ITV's commercial success could also create myriad sales opportunities for telecommunications firms serving the region.
''This is a very key account for us in Hong Kong. If the service lives up to their expectations, there could be large growth for us in other accounts in the area,'' said Paul Courturier, vice president of international operations of Efficient Networks Inc.
The Dallas startup company was chosen among a slew of competitors to supply adapters for transmitting ITV over telecommunications lines.
London-based Buena Vista International Television, a division of Walt Disney Television International, is also bullish on ITV's potential. It signed an agreement Dec. 5 to license video-on-demand rights for live action feature films to Hong Kong Telecom IMS.
BUYING FROM . . .
Apparel and clothing accessories, electrical machinery and parts, textile products and office machine parts and equipment.
Principal exports to the United States
Apparel and clothing, electronic integrated circuits, re-export products and office equipment parts.
Principal foreign markets
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, China, United States and European Union.
There are no export subsidy programs.
Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corp., Hang Seng Bank Ltd., Bank of East Asia Ltd., Dao Heng Bank and Nan Yang Commercial Bank.
Fixed rate: US$1 = 7.8 Hong Kong dollars (allowed to float within a narrow band).
Cantonese and English are the official languages.
GMT +8, EST +13.
Public holidays/business hours
1998: Jan. 1, 28-30; April 6, 10-13; May 30; July 1; Aug. 17; Oct. 1-2, 6, 28; Dec. 25-26. Business hours: Mon.- Fri. 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.
The Kai Tak international airport is served by 60 airlines. Another international airport is scheduled to open next year at Chek Lap Kok, near Lantau Island.
SELLING TO . . .
Consumer goods, raw materials and semi-manufactures, capital goods and foodstuffs.
Principal imports from the United States
Electronic integrated circuits, automatic data processing machines, powered aircraft, red meat and poultry.
Potential growth imports from the United States
Non-agricultural: computers and peripherals, aircraft and related parts. and security and safety equipment. Agricultural: poultry, fresh fruit and red meats.
Barriers to trade
There are no import tariffs. However, there is a steep tax, ranging from 40 percent to 60 percent, on new car purchases.
Principal foreign suppliers
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, China, Japan and European Union.
The population grew 2.5 percent to 6.3 million in 1996.
Before you go
U.S. travelers must carry a passport. A visa is needed for stays longer than 30 days. For more information, contact the Consulate General of China, 520 12th Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10036. Telephone: (212) 330-7409.
INVESTING IN . . .
Hong Kong is a free-market economy with no incentives or disincentives for foreign investors. There are no import tariffs, taxes are low and investment regulations are transparent. There are no restrictions on foreign investment except in telecommunications, broadcasting, legal services, financial services and aviation services.
Textiles, clothing, tourism, electronics, plastics, toys, watches and clocks.
Financial services, shipping, trading services, manufacturing, infrastructure and regional service centers.
Despite Asia's current economic woes and a possible economic slowdown in the fourth quarter, at press time the government was sticking to its 1997 economic growth target of 5.5 percent. However, officials have lowered this year's inflation forecast from 6.5 percent to 6 percent.
The labor force was 3.1 million in 1996. Wages are set by the free market.
The business profit tax is 1 percent for individuals and unincorporated businesses and is 16.5 percent for corporations. The property tax is 15 percent. There are no taxes on capital gains, dividends or interest.
Foreigners may purchase real estate.
Hong Kong is one of the world's largest shipping centers. Last year, the eight container terminals at Kwai Chung comprised 19 berths. Most roads are concrete or asphalted. Traffic congestion is a problem, but the country's hilly terrain and high building density limit the potential for expanding the road network. The national railway system is fully electrified and includes freight service into China. Hong Kong's air cargo capacity will double next year with the opening of the Chek Lap Kok Airport near Lantau Island.
One Stop Unit, Hong Kong Government Industry Department, 14th Floor, Ocean Centre, 5 Canton Road, Tsimshatsui. Telephone: 852-2737-2223. Fax: 852-2737-2577.