New dawn for South African pay TV
South African pay-TV consumers will soon have a choice between many new broadcast channels—this after the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (Icasa) awarded pay-TV licences to four new players during a press briefing in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
The companies granted licences were Telkom Media, E-Sat, On Digital Media (ODM) and Walking on Water. MultiChoice Africa was also awarded a licence but this was said to be a mere formality. The initial bidders totalled 18, according to Icasa.
The authority said that in three weeks’ time it will give reasons for its decision to award licences to these four companies.
ODM general manager Vino Govender said his company plans to be operating fully by mid- to end-2008. “ODM believes in providing a satellite channel that will allow choice and affordability,” he said.
Icasa said that it will await public input until October 1 and then evaluate the smaller groups by mid-November and the bigger players by mid-December. However, they can be “up and running by December”.
The licence hearings, held in June, were fraught with interested parties trying to cut others down to size.
E-Sat is a sister company of e.tv. During its presentation, HCI CEO Marcel Golding admitted that if e.tv were to remain sustainable in South African broadcasting, it would have to exist in a multichannel environment. It proposed a 21-channel pay-TV package based on movies, sport and a 24-hour news channel.
Details of its secured funding were kept confidential but, with shareholders such as HCI and Venfin and its experience in broadcasting, it was expected that E-Sat was aware of the huge capital expenditure that would be required. Its business plan looked solid and was cautiously conservative, while its presentation was professional.
ODM proposed a 40- to 50-channel service that would range in price between R149 and R369 for a full offering. South African consumers will be glad to hear that it also proposed a system where users would pay only for what they want, which would allow subscribers to create their own bundles.
ODM appeared to have secured more than R1-billion in start-up capital through its shareholders, Absa and the Development Bank of South Africa. Its shareholders include the Congress of South African Trade Unions’ investment arm, Kopano ke Matla, and the Industrial Development Corporation, as well as the African subsidiary of European satellite giants SES.
Walking on Water
Walking on Water, a niche broadcaster, proposed taking the home entertainment industry “to a higher level by enriching homes and building families on a rock-solid foundation, Jesus Christ”. It said it aims to offer a wide range of programmes based on “Christian lifestyle principles”, saying that 80% of the South African population is Christian. It plans to deliver its content via satellite.
This newly formed Telkom subsidiary loomed large over the subscription-broadcasting applicants. Two factors made Telkom Media a strong contender. The first was its comprehensive fibre network that gives it the ability to deliver content to homes effectively and cheaply, and the second factor was the R7-billion that it had been allocated to get its subscription broadcasting, video-on-demand and television-via-broadband services up and running.
Telkom Media has hired former South African Broadcasting Corporation and e.tv head of news Jimi Matthews to head up its new, 24-hour news channel. Besides the news channel, Telkom Media’s 15-channel bouquet is set to offer middle-income consumers a range of sports, movies, music and educational channels for less than R100.
MultiChoice is firmly rooted on the African continent and broadcasts in more than 50 countries. For the past 10 years it has provided its South African subscribers with a wide array of movie and sports channels on the DStv platform. Besides offering existing pay-TV and internet subscriber services to more than one million customers, it intends adding up to 30 video and audio channels to its existing DStv bouquet.