South Africa: TV Groups Oppose SABC On Sport Rights

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Multichoice and M-Net have slammed the SABC's attempts to garner more commercial sports matches for free-to-air TV. In a joint presentation to the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) on Friday, the two groups said the SABC had often failed to broadcast the sports events of national interest that it was offered, or to which it had the rights .

Icasa has asked broadcasters to discuss possible amendments to existing sports broadcasting regulations. On Thursday last week the SABC suggested to Icasa that in addition to events already listed as those of national interest -- most of which feature the national teams -- major domestic cricket, rugby and football matches should also be listed as such and offered exclusively to free-to-air broadcasters. This would mean only the SABC and e.tv -- which broadcasts limited sport -- would compete for these rights.

But MultiChoice and M-Net, in a detailed critique, listed several examples where the SABC had not broadcast matches in which it now expressed an interest. This included some events listed as being of national interest .

The SABC has also suggested that Icasa should compel federations to unbundle their rights into various packages, including a package for free-to-air broadcasters. But according to the Premier Soccer League (PSL), which made its presentation earlier in the week, when it unbundled broadcast rights in 2007, the SABC did not even tender for the package, MultiChoice and M-Net said. The two companies were also against the public broadcaster's suggestion that major PSL matches be listed as events of national importance, saying that nowhere in the world were any of the matches of a country's premier soccer league listed in this way, including the English Premier League and Serie A, Italy's premier league.

Even when the SABC did hold rights to popular matches, these were not always shown live. The SABC held exclusive rights for the live broadcast of the Moroka Swallows versus Orlando Pirates match on February 13 last year, which started at 7.30pm. The match was broadcast on a delayed basis after 10pm, when most potential viewers would have been asleep.

A similar situation occurred with the Orlando Pirates versus Sundowns match on November 26 last year, the two companies said. They listed further examples in both cricket and rugby where the SABC had not broadcast important matches, including those featuring the national team.

Should the SABC's suggestion be approved by Icasa, the public broadcaster would enjoy a monopoly position, being able to acquire rights far below their commercial value and sub- licensing those rights to other broadcasters at or above their commercial value, MultiChoice and M-Net said.

Business Day Johannesburg 26 January 2009