South Africa: TopTV on pause – indefinitely


Marred with financial woes and failure to attract viewers, TopTV hits another snag and cannot relaunch as Starsat until certain “processes” are through.
TopTV - SA's only pay-television alternative to MultiChoice's DStv - continues to struggle to get off the ground and on air with its revamped product, a year down the line from voluntarily initiating a business rescue process.

This comes amid an indefinite postponement of what was supposed to be the launch of the new TopTV - Starsat - following an "extensive restructuring" of the satellite TV offering, which has failed to garner much traction since it started broadcasting in May 2010.

Now, the very company that emerged as TopTV's redeemer earlier this year - Chinese digital pay-TV provider StarTimes - is reportedly plagued by financial troubles.

TopTV holding company On Digital Media has refuted reports coming out of Nigeria (one of the countries in which the Chinese company has strong presence) that StarTimes has fallen on hard times, but says "regulatory processes" have delayed the launch of Starsat.

ODM's plan was to relaunch TopTV as "high-definition TV via a standard decoder on a digital platform", within this week. The pay TV licensee now says it will "hopefully" launch within this year. Financial misfortune?

StarTimes, which has a significant presence in Africa, stepped up to become TopTV's critical equity partner in May. Since then, little has been communicated around the new platform, or the pornographic package ODM was given the green light for, in April.

Nigeria's PM News last week said there were indications that StarTimes is facing a financial crisis that is deterring it from operating optimally in Africa. The publication says the Chinese Entrepreneur, as well as China Daily, have cited StarTimes president Pang Xinxing as saying the company has slowed its African operations due to a lack of funds.

However, ODM says Xinxing was merely referring to the need for stronger financial partnerships between broadcasters and governments to improve access to digital terrestrial television (DTT).

"Reports suggesting that StarTimes is facing financial difficulties in its Africa operations are incorrect. Industry media have quoted [Xinxing] referring to the difficulties facing the rollout of DTT on the African continent. This is within the context of the International Telecommunications Union's directive for African countries to migrate from analogue to digital by June 2015."

ODM notes that the "overwhelming majority" of its international creditors and shareholders voted for StarTimes to turn the company around - something that would not have occurred had there been any indication that the multinational company was in any form of financial difficulty.

Meanwhile, OpenView HD - a free-to-air platform by etv sister company Platco Digital - went live on schedule yesterday and, at the end of last month, Sentech officially unveiled its universal access direct-to-home satellite platform service, Freevision.

Openview HD's offering consists of 10 new channels, as well as SABC1, SABC2, SABC3 and etv - and is available for a once-off fee of about R1 600. Freevision offers over 50 channels - including 15 audio (radio) stations and is available for a once-off fee of R1 350.