Fight the power : African Pay-TV channels come together to bid for Premier League rights

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With death of GTV, it seemed that the Pay-TV market would go back to the historic duopoly of Multichoice (in Anglophone countries) and Canal Plus (in Francophone countries). But the idea that Hi-TV’s CEO Toyin Subair trailed at DISCOP in February - a competitor consortium to bid for the English Premier League rights - looks like lighting the blue touch paper for a second round of intense competition. Russell Southwood spoke to some of consortium’s members after their first meeting with the English Premier League in London to sound them out on whether the idea would be accepted.

Whilst GTV’s acquisition of the English Premier League Pay TV rights showed that they were quite effective at denting Multichoice’s dominance, in the end they were not the knock-out punch that had been hoped. Perhaps fearing acquisition or commercial annilhation as the only independent operator with the English Premier League (EPL) rights (for Nigeria), Hi-TV’s CEO Toyin Subair floated the idea of a consortium of African Pay-TV operators coming together to bid for the rights when they come up for sale again. They see these football rights as the driver of local content.

The idea is to allow every African country to bid for the EPL rights and thus give each country a bite of the associated revenues that come with their acquisition. But it will also allow also those participating in the consortium to share satellite capacity and get much better deals on their set-top boxes : in short, it creates the outline of a competitive alternative to Multichoice and Canal Plus. Subair explained that he was currently paying $180,000 for a satellite transponder which could be shared with all consortium members when there was common programming, with opt-outs for local slots.

Subair said it would allow each country to get the sponsorship income associated with showing the Premier League : »There are three companies sponsoring the Premier League in Nigeria and that covers the costs. Local advertisers add value because it’s country specific. »

The Consortium members who met with the English Premier League on Tuesday this week were in an optimistic mood. According to Justin Addo of SkyyTV in Ghana (which currently claims 25,000 subscribers for its 8-channel bouquet) : »They didn’t say no. If it’s Pan-African they will consider it. Something similar has been done in Asia and where there are smaller countries, they can be given the rights at a lesser cost ». An offer has to be made by the end of August and the deal will be finalised in November. From the EPL’s point of view, provided certain commercial conditions can be met, what’s not to like ? Whoever heard of a rights seller who didn’t like a market with more than one buyer ?

The Consortium says that 18 members have signed up but not all want to be seen to be doing so publicly. Those who have publicly committed are : Yes TV, Star TV, Total Acces, Skyy Media, Kiss FM, Zuku TV, VOX Africa, Next Generation Broadcasting, Imanle Africa, and several former GTV representatives (including one from Sierra Leone). Rolande Kammogne, CEO, Vox Africa said « a bridge needs to be built to francophone Africa : »The EPL has the potential to grow in francophone countries. » Five Francophone countries have signed up and in the Portugues-speaking territories, Angola has come on board.

The idea is to get two companies in the larger territories and one in the smaller territories : the overall aim is to increase Pay-TV penetration by offering affordable access to the EPL. They were asked : would they be approaching anyone in South Africa ? One Consortium member responded : »Yes. If they have the balls to do it, yes. »

For the Consortium, win or lose the Premier League rights, it will just be the first outing for the Consortium. They want to go after other other football rights like the Bundesliga and maybe other non-sports related rights. For as Subair put it : »If we want to talk to Disney, they won’t talk to us because they sold their rights to one company. CNN is only exclusive to one company in the African territories. Our problem is not exclusvity but market foreclosure. »