China’s Multichoice rival?

ODM, the Johannesburg-based pay-TV broadcaster which trades as TopTV, is suffering financial problems. Luxembourg-based SES owns 20 per cent of the business. A rescue plan is being mounted by China’s StarTimes Group, itself backed by serious cash investments from China’s Africa Development Fund (ADF) and the China Development Bank.

Up until late 2012 the Chinese had reportedly invested more than $100 million into various StarTimes ventures. Last September an executive at the ADF spoke about having earmarked a further $50 million for television-related investments in Africa, with – if needed – another $400 million available for suitable projects.

ODM has been stretched financially for some time and recently closed two of its channels (Top Movies+24 and Top Junior).

A meeting is scheduled for April 26th between creditors and shareholders to review the company’s options. ODM’s major shareholders include the Industrial Development Corp, First National Media, Kopano Ke Matia, the National Empowerment Fund and SES. Debts of more than ZAR 200 million ($22m) are mentioned in the South African press.

Set against this South African problem it is recognised that StarTimes is doing an increasingly good job in challenging the Multichoice/DStv pay-TV operation (itself backed by conglomerate Naspers). StarTimes has launched pay-TV services in about 10 African nations, notably Nigeria where it has a claimed 900,000 subscriber homes out of a total across Africa of some 2.3 million.

Local reports say that StarTimes could pay ZAR 30 million to the Development Bank of South Africa, a key creditor as well as another ZAR 50.8 million to clear the secured portion of DBSA’s claims, and if the meeting agrees will form a new company ‘NewCo’ which would settle outstanding debts, trim existing programming contracts and consider job losses in accordance with local regulations.

On the upside StarTimes has made no secret locally in saying it believes a revitalised TopTV could mount a successful rival service to Multichoice/DStv. StarTimes talks of “halving” pay-TV prices for its bouquet, and expanding the number of channels on offer. StarTimes says it has 2300 people working in Africa on pay-TV.

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