Multichoice and Sentech could remain the dominant forces in pay-television at least until the end of next year, as licence approvals are put on hold so as not to "undermine" the communications department's implementation of the digital migration strategy.

This could also mean applicants would have to wait for the end of a moratorium, or change their applications to utilise cable as opposed to satellite delivery, according to the department's draft strategy document released last week.

"Other than the licensing of the existing subscriptions operators, MultiChoice, M-Net and the introduction of new cable-based subscription services, other subscription television services using spectrum, including satellite and terrestrial means, are not to be licensed... and shall be subject to a moratorium until December 31 2008," the document reads. This is likely to entrench the power of the current players.

"If the strategy is implemented it is likely to further entrench MultiChoice's status as dominant player in the pay-TV market and will also give Sentech time to set itself up as a market force with control over the country's terrestrial-based broadcasting network," said Renaissance Specialist Fund Managers portfolio manager Khulekani Dlamini.

At the beginning of next year, the department said, it would review whether such a moratorium should be extended. The department said its draft strategy aimed to give 90% of South Africans access to digital television by November 2011, when the analogue signal would be switched off. The department previously announced it would switch on the digital signal in November next year, giving just three years for roll-out.

The department did not commit to subsidising the cost of set-top boxes required to decode the signal. It estimated, however, there were 4,5-million people unable to afford a box "at any cost". Department spokesman Albi Modise said the strategy would be open for stakeholders' comment until April 5.

Business Day

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