South Africa: Sentech launches free-to-air platform

Broadcast

Sentech, the government-owned broadcast signal distributor, launched its free-to-air satellite television platform, called Freevision, yesterday.

The launch has overtaken that of Openview HD, which is being offered by Platco Digital, e.tv’s sister company, later this month.

The new platforms, which are expected to offer multiple channels, will operate as alternatives for customers who cannot easily afford MultiChoice’s subscription-based platform, which manages the M-Net channel and DStv.

Setumo Mohapi, Sentech’s chief executive, said the company would not derive revenue from Freevision.

“We are not going to make a cent or pursue any cents from advertising. What sits in front of customers at home should be managed by broadcasters,” he said, adding that this was part of its public mandate.

More than 30 channels, including the SABC and e.tv, community broadcasters such as Bay TV and 1 KZN as well as entertainment, educational and special interest channels and radio stations would be accommodated on the platform.

The operating model allowed for multiple broadcasters and content providers to operate off the Freevision platform, including single-channel broadcasters and pay-TV operators that might want to access the Freevision services, Mohapi said.

Freevision would replace Sentech’s old Vivid platform, which Mohapi admitted was a disaster.

Vivid was intended to be made available to the broader public but it later fulfilled the service of broadcasting television channels to rural areas that could not ordinarily receive a television signal.

Freevision will use Intelsat 20, the same satellite that DStv broadcasts from.

Customers would only pay a once-off fee to buy and install the satellite dish and service.

The Freevision dish, decoder and installation should be made available for R1 350, but manufacturers were offering the equipment and installation at varying prices.

Ryan Solovei, the executive director at Telergy Connect, one of the decoder suppliers which sourced the boxes from Durban-based manufacturer Altech UEC, said his firm would sell the boxes from R999 through various major retailers and furniture stores.

Tiisang Tisane, the financial director at Beyond TV, another decoder supplier to Freevision, said its high-end decoders, which included provisions for internet access, would cost in the region of R1,000.

The infrastructure has been designed so that every channel that will be available on digital terrestrial television (DTT) will be immediately available on the Sentech platform. This removed potential costs from the broadcaster, he added.

Marcel Golding, the chief executive of Sabido Investments, which owns e.tv, spoke at the launched event and decried the rise of pay-TV.

He said five years ago 87 percent of all households in the country were accessing free-to-air television. That figure was now 68 percent “and the projected outlook is that free-TV households will be less than 50 percent of South African households by the end of this decade”.

He said this meant that more people relied on pay-TV as their primary means of access to information and entertainment, to the detriment of the free-to-air channels whose primary source of income was advertising, and advertisers were concerned with viewership levels.