Icasa plans to open up pay TV market

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) is taking the lead with its plans to open up the pay-TV market amid objections by MultiChoice, the dominant pay-TV operator in the country.

In May, the communications regulator held oral hearings in an inquiry about subscription television broadcasting services.

In a bid to break the monopoly on the pay-TV market and to facilitate the entry of new players, Icasa is considering introducing a raft of measures, including shared sports rights and shortening contract periods. Icasa spokesman Paseka Maleka said on Monday the regulator was analyzing the submissions. “We will subsequently publish the draft findings document for further consultation. The plan is to publish the final findings document by March 2019,” he declared.

In its submission to Icasa in May, MultiChoice said should the regulator proceed to introduce more regulations it would virtually destroy the company’s business and hand the South African market to the online streaming giants such as Netflix. It said it had lost in excess of 100,000 DStv premium subscribers in the previous financial year due to the unregulated competition it faced from online streaming services.

MultiChoice stated that Netflix and other international streaming companies “do not pay tax” in SA or broadcasting licence fees. It said new rules should also apply to over-the-top services.

Icasa said it was yet to be convinced that streaming services could be blamed for MultiChoice’s loss of business.

In 2014, Icasa issued five new pay-TV licences to increase consumer choice. That brought the total number of pay-TV licences to 10. The new licence holders included Close-T Broadcast Network, Mindset Media Enterprises, Mobile TV, Kagiso TV and Siyaya Free to Air. Siyaya subsequently opted to provide a channel, MojaLove, on MultiChoice’s DStv. In 2007, it had awarded four licences: to e.Sat, e.tv’s sister company; Walking on Water; Telkom Media; and the then TopTV, now known as StarSat. Only TopTV launched its services but faced headwinds and eventually applied for business rescue.

Late in 2017, Icasa published a discussion document on its inquiry into subscription television broadcasting services. It said the inquiry aimed “to determine whether there are competition issues in the sector which require action to be taken by the authority through the imposition of pro-competitive conditions on relevant licensees”.