South Africa: Pay-TV viewers are promised more choice by next March

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Variety is in store for South African viewers when three more pay-TV channels hit the small screen by March next year. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) initially received about 18 applications from independent pay-TV operators and five were shortlisted by the end of last year.Only three licences have been issued so far – to MultiChoice, Telkom Media and On Digital Media.

The other two operators, Walking-On-Water and E-Sat, are still engaged in talks with Icasa to receive their final go-ahead. Icasa media and stakeholders liaison manager Sekgoela Sekgoela said the three licence holders were expected to start operating by the first quarter of 2009. Sekgoela said each licence was valid for 15 years. “The licensing of new pay-TV operators means that the viewers will have more choice with regards to content. The competition brought by the new players will ensure that quality content is produced and presented to viewers.”

Vino Govender, chief executive of On Digital Media, said for the first time in SA pay-TV subscribers would not be subjected to a “one-size-fits all” TV bouquet. He said they would offer content in the main genres of news and knowledge, movies, family and sport, kids, music and cultural programming. “Subscribers will be able to create their own bouquets based on their personal viewing preferences and in this way there will be no channel wastage.”

Govender added that the price structure would vary between R149 and R349 per month, depending on the level of choice selected by the subscriber. MultiChoice, which has over one million subscribers, said they would continue doing what they have been doing for the past 13 years and more. It would introduce cheaper channel bouquets to ensure that lower income groups became subscribers. Prior to legislative changes in 1999, MultiChoice was not required to have an operating licence.