South Africa: Icasa Offers New Licences for Radio Stations

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Three new commercial radio stations are likely to be licensed early next year, in Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban, while new TV services are inching closer. The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) yesterday said it had issued a formal invitation to apply for these licences. Public hearings are likely towards the end of the year, as applications close at the end of September.

Analyst Rajay Ambekar of Cadiz African Harvest said the invitation to apply had been expected. Due to licence regulations, which restrict the number of radio stations a company can own in geographic markets, the licences were likely to bring in new players and foster competition.

Primedia and Kagiso are the two largest commercial radio station owners in SA. Primedia, which owns 702 Talk Radio and Highveld Stereo in Gauteng, as well as Kfm and Cape Talk in the Western Cape, may apply for the Durban licence as it is not active in that market.

Kagiso owns a number of radio stations, including East Coast Radio and iGagasi in KwaZulu-Natal, Jacaranda in Gauteng and other provinces, and Heart 104.9 in Cape Town. The company is known to be keen to snap up any new licences .

Another possible player is African Media Entertainment, which has stakes in AlgoaFM in the Eastern Cape, Ofm in Bloemfontein and Mpower in Mpumalanga. Ambekar also suggested that media company Avusa, which has no radio interests at the moment, could also apply for a licence.

Icasa has published draft digital terrestrial TV regulations, which will allow additional TV channels on the digital signal. SA has already begun the process of digital migration, where TV signals are broadcast in both the existing analogue format and in the new digital form. Existing broadcasters will receive incentive channels to compensate for the costs of sending out a TV signal twice during this period. On November 1 2011, the analogue signal will be switched off and only digital TV will be available.

Icasa has set aside three multiplexes -- where digital signals are combined into a single data stream -- for digital TV. The first will be used for public broadcasting, including the SABC and Eastern Cape community station Trinity Broadcasting Network.

A public value test will be applied to any channels wishing to broadcast on this multiplex. The SABC will have to include two regional channels as part of this multiplex. In the second multiplex, commercial free-to-air services will be included. E.tv will be able to use 60% of the multiplex, with one other channel to be allocated to another broadcaster. Of the third multiplex, 50% will be reserved for M-Net, conditional on its ability to switch all its subscribers from analogue decoders to digital decoders within a year. One channel within this multiplex, which only pay-TV services can use, remains to be allocated.

Business Day