TELECOMS

THE ALL-NEW, SINGING AND DANCING TELKOM

Telkom South Africa is about to go all “triple play”,  aiming to become a one-stop news, communication and entertainment shop. Soon you will be able to turn to Telkom for all your sporting, movie, music, news, communication and entertainment needs.

Telkom’s planned offerings -- available through its new offshoot, the R7billion Telkom Media -- include flexible satellite television bouquets, a video-on-demand service, a 24-hour news channel with its own staffers and 20 mobile broadcast units, multiple sports channels, television delivered via broadband and other additional web-based content available on demand.

Think of Telkom Media as the ultimate convergence company in a digitising world. It is SABC, e.tv, DStv, Supersport, your local video store, your ISP offering broadband access and web content provider rolled into one.

Telkom Media is Telkom’s strategy to combat dwindling voice revenues, and is in line with moves by international telcos who have positioned themselves as “triple play” operators in the search for new revenue streams. A “triple play” operator delivers voice, broadband and video services straight to your home for one monthly sum.

Earlier this week, acting Telkom CEO Reuben September appointed Telkom’s chief of corporate affairs, Mandla Ngcobo, as the CEO of Telkom Media. “Telkom Media is born out of the notion that voice revenue is dwindling,” says Ngcobo. “The idea of Telkom Media is to own the home, to own all the entertainment in the house through a triple-play package, a one-stop shop.” Telkom Media’s chief of strategy and operations Rikus Matthyser says it has identified a huge gap in the pay-TV market.

“We have identified that 75% of households in South Africa have TVs, yet only 11% of those use DStv,” he says. “So 64% of the TV-owning market doesn’t have access to paid TV. We believe it is on the basis of two criteria. One, that the programming is not suitable for that middle market and, two, that pricing in the market is out of the reach of middle-income earners,” says Matthyser.

Telkom Media’s answer was to design a bouquet of 15 channels that middle-income consumers can subscribe to for less than R100. Matthyser says its research shows that this should make pay-TV affordable for another 40% of South Africans. “On top of that, you can buy additional tiers that give you more movies, for example, or more sport,” says Matthyser. This 15-channel bouquet includes a 24-hour news channel that is being set up by veteran news producer Jimmy Matthews, who has worked at e.tv and the SABC. Matthyser says Telkom Media has a sizeable budget available to it in order to secure the best sport, movie, music, entertainment, news and educational content available.

Telkom may have applied alongside 17 other hopeful applicants for one of the new subscription broadcasting licences that are to be issued by communications authority Icasa, but it is not restricting its offerings to pay-TV.

“IPTV, cable TV, satellite TV and mobile TV are all ultimately TV,” says Matthyser. “I may want to watch the goal on my mobile phone because I missed the game, but I know that I have the game at home on my PVR -- and if I want to see the match stats, I can go on to the web. “Ultimately, it’s TV. How you deliver it to the customer is irrelevant. It’s about the customer having access to multiple platforms to suit their lifestyle.”

Customers opting for Telkom’s Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) offering will be able to receive TV content through their broadband line, but this will in all likelihood be for the higher-income subscriber because of its pricing.

IPTV subscribers will be able access content on demand, whether it is the latest video release or a docu_mentary that screened a week ago. They will also be able to purchase event-based content, such as paying to watch a chosen team’s soccer games for the week.

IPTV also offers various interactive features, such as personalised recommendations based on previous usage, personal video recorders, access to consumer-generated content and the ability to check the bill on screen.

Matthyser says that while subscription broadcasting licences are only going to be awarded in August or September this year, Telkom Media is well on its way to getting content available online.

Consumers will be able to access Telkom Media content online by Christmas, but the subscription broadcasting offerings will only be available nine to 12 months after licences are awarded.

An Icasa spokesperson says public hearings for the subscription broadcasting licences will be held from May 24 2007, and that the number of licences to be awarded has not been determined yet.  According to the Icasa spokesperson, the regulator does not yet have a regulatory framework in place for broadband delivered content.

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