An initiative by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to open up the pay-TV market has had an unenthusiastic response with fewer applications for licences than expected.
Initial hearings for Individual Commercial Subscription Broadcasting Service licences began July 24th and continue until July 26th. The five prospective licensees are: Kagiso TVd, Siyaya Free to Air, Mindset Media Enterprises, Close-T Broadcast Network Holdings and Mobile TV.
In the previous pay-TV hearings, held in 2007, five licences were awarded from a slate of more than 20 applicants. These were e.tv subsidiary e.Sat, Telkom Mobile, religious network Walking on Water-TV (WOW) and On Digital Media (trading as TopTV). Existing licensee Multi Choice completed the list with a licence conversion.
Neither Telkom Mobile nor WOW took off, while e.Sat dropped its plans to become a pay-TV operator in its own right and sold a dedicated news channel to DStv instead.
The state of the South African economy and difficulty in accessing finance for pay-TV start-ups has been blamed for the poor response this time around, while the uncertain fate of TopTV, which is seeking a rescue package after investing more than R1.2 billion since its 2010 launch, is another deterrent factor.
Dominant operator MultiChoice has secured most premium content on an exclusive basis, leaving few crumbs for prospective competitors.