BOTSWANA ENDS MONOPOLY ON DIGITAL TV

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The good news has come. The monopoly in the Botswana digital satellite pay TV market is over. Black Earth Communications (BEC) has entered the fray after its application passed muster at the National Broadcasting Board (NBB) last week.

The company has won the rights to operate Black Entertainment Satellite Television (BEStv) out of Gaborone and in competition with long time player, Multichoice.

So far Multichoice-DSTV enjoys not only a monopoly in the pay TV market in Botswana but Africa and the entry of BEStv is likely to heighten competition. When contacted, BEStv spokesman, Andrew Jones said they are delighted by the development and they look forward to operating in the African market. "With the offer comes terms and conditions which we will begin negotiating shortly. We are very optimistic that these matters will be settled very quickly and that we will be up and running as licensed operators this year," he said.

He reiterated that BEStv is going to give Mutlichoice stiff competition. "The days of monopoly rule are over and I take Multichoice's words at face value when they say that they welcome competition. I think we both agree that with competition comes many benefits for the market and for the consumer. I believe that most consumers will opt to add on our service to whatever service they already have, rather than eliminate one service for the other. But they do need a choice of different options and that is what we are going to bring," Jones said.

He added that BEStv will be targeting the emerging black middle class. He emphasised that they are not really concerned with race but lifestyle. "We want the black middle class and we are confident that they will want us once they see what we have to offer, which is really good information, entertainment and service. But that doesn't rule out the white market because let us face it, black people have been watching and enjoying white entertainment forever. So why can't the opposite be true. We are not pointing to race so much as lifestyles in defining our market and these days and times, many different lifestyles are emerging," Jones said.

He expressed gratitude that they have made progress in getting the licence. He said that his company can start the next level of building the infrastructure and finalising the service provider management team and entertaining offers from the capital market. He hopes that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) will give BEStv fair treatment. "In a short while, there will be two players operating as licensed broadcasters out of Botswana, BEStv and Multichoice. What we are saying is that if Multichoice got permission from ICASA to operate in the South African market, as licensed operators outside Botswana why can't we," he said.

BEStv-BEC applied for a pay TV licence with NBB in November to end the 10-year monopoly of Multichoice. BEC applied for the licence on behalf of BEStv. A few weeks ago, the applicants were thoroughly grilled by NBB in Gaborone. BEStv had promised to give good competition to Multichoice and start by offering viewers between five and 10 channels at less than P100 a month. Once in place BEStv promises to scale up very quickly to a service that will offer between 100 and 300 new channels not currently available on the Multichoice DSTV with no significant rate increase.

Mmegi/The Reporter