This comes after Taiwan's regulators denied Mr Lai a licence for a news, entertainment and information television channel. The National Communications Commission is concerned about the apparently sensationalist content of some of Mr Lai's Next Media publications.
Presenter: Claudette Werden
Vivek Couto, Media Partners Asia; Professor Alan Knight, Asian Media Information Research Centre; Michael Logan, Next Media Animation
WERDEN: Jimmy Lai's Next Media is one of the world's biggest Chinese language media groups. 3D animation, the type seen in video games, is a popular and at times controversial online feature of the Hong Kong business tycoon's media publications. Next Media animation content editor, Michael Logan, says an animation staff of around 200 produce up to 40 computer generated virtual cartoons daily, ranging from a few seconds within a conventional domestic news story to an entire piece, caricaturing popular international events like Chelsea Clinton's wedding, Apple iPhone's antenna problems to the colourful Tiger Wood's affair.
LOGAN: Between the three properties, the Hong Kong Apple Daily website, Taiwan Apple Daily website, and Next TV, which is the broadcast TV station, we produce 8-9 minutes of animated content each day, say like there's a crime scene or bus accident, there are always accounts based on eyewitness or police reports of what happened and using photographs from the scene they can reconstruct what happened and that gets sent off to the animator, and the animator produces the animation within a three hour turnaround time.
WERDEN: From child labourer to textile trader and media baron, billionaire Jimmy Lai was born in mainland China's Guangdong province in 1948. He made his initial wealth from the international clothing label he founded, Giordano, and later moved into publishing, combining racy tabloid with popular mass market news, as described by Professor Alan Knight, member of the Singapore based Asian Media Information Research Centre and senior academic at Sydney's University of Technology.
KNIGHT: You know, lurid stories about police, crime and sex and violence and things like that - so, they've got a tradition in Hong Kong of being right in your face as far as journalism is concerned. Now, I can understand that authoritarian regimes could see this as a bit more than challenging.
WERDEN: And if we look at the animation, is that the way news is heading now?
KNIGHT: Television news already relies heavily on constructed images, we use a lot of computer graphs, we use a lot of computer information, animation is a logical way to go, provided it's accurate and it's done in an ethical manner, just another technique for journalists. Of course, the temptation is to go a bit too far. In some ways animation is less than a problem than digitally altered images because with animation at least you know at this stage, it's cartoons, whereas with some of the ways images are manipulated, it takes an expert to work out that they've been constructed to influence your opinion.
WERDEN: An outspoken critic of China, Mr Lai moved to Taiwan in 2001, applying for licenses to launch five television channels. He received approval for just two - a movie, and a sports channel. Taiwan's National Communications Commission rejected his license application for a news, entertainment and information channel, citing concerns about the graphic depictions of sexual and violent crimes in Taipei and Hong Kong. Asia media analyst, Vivek Couto, says the NCC decision is an unusual precedent as it limits competition in what's considered to be one of the most competitive and free media markets in Asia. But he says launching online has given Mr Lai a strategic advantage.
COUTO: You've got rising levels of broadband penetration in Taiwan, approaching 70 per cent household penetration, and there is a sizeable online audience and the internet in Taiwan has [about] 15 per cent advertising market share and it's the only medium that's grown consistently over the last three or four years, so on a macro level it has some sense.
WERDEN: Is this channel and this focus on animation aimed at a younger audience?
COUTO: Yes, I think it is aimed at a younger audience and I think that's a good point, because the demo in Taiwan for media television and advertising particularly is focusing on the youth demographic and I think they see that as a future for media buyers and media owners, particular in news and entertainment are trying to target that group.
WERDEN: Mr Lai's pro-independence stance and pursuit of free speech has made him politically unpopular both in Hong Kong and Taiwan. His supporters say that's the reason behind the license refusal. Despite fierce competition from media rivals and pro-Beijing groups, Mr Lai's Apple Daily websites remain popular in both countries and his supporters say it will be users who will judge for themselves the content quality of Mr Lai's new online station and its virtual component.