DStv rival Super 5 Media falls apart - TechCentral

DStv rival Super 5 Media falls apart

Super 5 Media, once one of SA’s most promising new pay-TV operators, is coming apart at the seams.

TechCentral can reveal exclusively that management has gone to ground amid signs the company, once regarded as the strongest potential competitor to incumbent MultiChoice and its DStv service, is collapsing.

It appears Super 5 Media, once known as Telkom Media, has no CEO. And employees are abandoning it in droves.

TechCentral has learnt from several separate and independent sources that the company has let go of most of its staff, many of whom are still waiting to be paid three months after they accepted voluntary retrenchment packages.

A former employee, who was recently retrenched, says other employees have been placed on forced leave for three months — without pay.

Mandla Ngcobo, who is still listed as CEO on Super 5 Media’s website, told TechCentral on Tuesday that his contract with the company expired at the end of March, and that he can no longer comment on developments there.

“[March] was the date stipulated on my contract when I came to Super 5 Media from Telkom. I simply didn’t renew it.”

Telkom, Super 5 Media’s original controlling shareholder, had installed Ngcobo as CEO. Telkom sold its stake in 2009 to Shenzhen Media SA after it decided that pay-TV was not its core focus.

Telkom reportedly sank R470m into the business before selling it for a pittance to Shenzhen Media. Super 5 Media is now 75% owned by Shenzhen Media, with 15% held by Anant Singh’s Videovision Entertainment. MSG Afrika and WDB Investment Holdings hold 5% each.

Shenzhen, which has no relation to the Chinese-based company of the same name, is 80% held by Briss Mathabathe’s Imbani Holdings. The remaining 20% is in the hands of the Sino-African Development Group, a business owned and led by a colourful Chinese businessman, Philip Xiao.

Tian du Pisanie

Since Shenzen took control of Super 5 Media last year, it’s consumed more than R100m in additional operating expenses, Xiao told TechCentral in an exclusive interview in May.

Ngcobo says that as far as he knows Super 5 Media has not appointed a new CEO to replace him. Company director and shareholder Tian du Pisane made no indication in the same May interview that Ngcobo’s tenure at the company had ended.

Du Pisane has ignored repeated attempts by TechCentral to contact him via his cellphone and e-mail in recent weeks. Messages sent to his office e-mail address this week bounced back. However, sources say he is still works there.

Xiao, meanwhile, will not confirm the trouble at the company. He tells TechCentral there will be clarity on Super 5 Media in the next few days.

“I can’t say anything at the moment,” Xiao says.

A former staff member, who took voluntarily retrenchment recently, has blamed Xiao in part for the shambles at Super 5 Media. “He had his own ideas about what should happen at the company and the rest of us had our own ideas,” he says.

The former employee says that despite taking the voluntarily severance package, he has not been paid out. None of the former staff members TechCentral spoke to were willing to be quoted on the record for fear they will not receive their severance pay.

Another ex-employee describes the situation at Super 5 Media as “a joke”.

“It’s a f***-up of gigantic proportions,” he says. “This thing was doomed from the start. I don’t think Super 5 will ever launch.”

The ex-employee says bitterly that he ultimately blames Telkom for the mess. “I blame Telkom for pulling out. They hired the best people in the industry, including Jimi Matthews [head of news at Super 5 Media], but it’s strung these people along. Telkom are the ones really to blame. They messed up people’s lives.”

Another staff member, who left in a second phase of voluntary retrenchments at the beginning of July says: “We were supposed to be paid by 25 July, but nothing has come into our accounts.”

Mandla Ngcobo

The employee says staff members who didn’t take the second retrenchment offer have been placed on forced leave. “They even had the audacity to bring in Yunus Shaik to address the staff on this.”

Shaik is the brother and one-time legal advisor to Mo and Schabir Shaik.

According to the employee, some people are still going into the office. “I don’t know why. The Internet access at the office has been disconnected and as far as I can tell the phones are not working either.”

A source close to the company has confirmed that it no longer has connectivity. There was also no response at Super 5 Media’s switchboard number this week.

The company’s problems don’t end there. It appears minority shareholders, including Videovision Entertainment, have refused to sign a shareholders’ agreement with Shenzhen Media.

Earlier this year, Du Pisane told TechCentral that the dispute involved a shareholder loan made to the minority shareholders by Telkom, which Shenzhen Media wanted to claim back.

He said then that the loan was worth about R500m and Shenzhen was hoping to get back 25% of it. “Telkom funded them temporarily on the understanding they would return that capital,” Du Pisanie said at the time.  — Candice Jones, TechCentral

9 Comments

  1. Scarlet Pimpernel on

    From a promised R 7 billion in 2007 to … can’t pay the phone bill in 2010. Nice going, guys. Broadcasting sector vitalised indeed.

  2. The silence from Mahlamba-Ndlopfu and the Ministry of Communications on the shenanigans at Super 5 Media, is deafening.

    It’s almost as if our government is just paying lip service to the question of media diversity and independence.

    It’s also shocking that the original owners of the project, that is, Telkom South Africa, have splugered so many millions, but on the eleventh hour and prior to launch were allowed to “jump ship”.

    The R470m that was reportedly spent by Telkom Media, during Reuben September’s term, is not a drop in the ocean, and someone should take the rap for wasting so much in tax payer’s money.

    Authorities don’t need a GPS or even a commission of inquiry for this, there’s one throat to choke, and all fingers are pointing in the direction of September and his team at the time of project initiation and implementation.

    The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, ICASA, is also very silent on the latest developments at Super 5 Media.

    As the institution that awarded the broadcast license to Telkom Media, and effectively to the new owners, Super 5 Media, their urgent intervention is of utmost importance at this crucial moment.

    It goes without saying people’s lives and careers have been ruined by this failed project. I mean all those media professionals who took years working hard and building reputations as respected journalists, are now in limbo and it’s almost impossible to find a jobs, especially in an economy that has just emerged from a recession.

    The media industry has been doing badly in the last few years, especially in the wake of one of the biggest employers in electronic media, the SABC,having shed so many jobs in recent months. So many media professionals are job hunting, and the employment space is just too congested for anyone to find a job just like that.

    I therefore call on ICASA to intervene. There’s still a gap on the electronic media space and awarding the same (Telkom Media) license to another company would go a long way towards addressing the pay TV monopoly in South Africa. And, why do we have to always look “East” for local businesses to get off the ground? It’s like we are buying into some new form of

    Don’t we have local companies that can invest in this sinking ship called Super 5 Media, thus saving scores of people from losing their jobs?
    business locally?

    It would be interesting to see how things will pan out at Super 5 Media in the next few days, but it looks very hopeless, especially for the average employee.

    From the reports, it seems the company’s head honcho looks set on deserting his employees too with July salaries still unpaid. There’s a clear-cut violation of labour laws and news that one of the Shaik brothers, Yunus, is advising Mr Philip Xiao, is disheartening, considering how “ruthless”, the Shaik brothers can be.

    The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, is also not sympathetic towards employees. Reports indicate that previously, when the company embarked on its first retrenchment drive last year, the CCMA appeared to have a very “cosy” relationship with Super 5 Media management, and company director at the time, Tian du Pisanie.

    All the poor employees can do now is to seek alternative employment, or wait and see, while the China-man makes up his mind.

  3. Until there is a huge shake up in government and business rights are handed out to business people instead of BEE companies and individuals with gavernment contacts this sort of thing will continue to happen – no surprises here.

  4. And DSTV will just continue to rip us off further. I’m currently looking to getting TOP TV, and would also have had a look at this group, pity that they are going down the drain….

  5. Its very simple. Open up the sector to foreign investment. If the government is too concerned about bad media make sure the license holders cannot do any news broadcasts. As simple as that. India has done that successfully and is reaping the benefits.

  6. Is anyone surprised? I wonder how people such as the CEO of Telkom get such high paying jobs. I wouldn’t let him watch over my laundry basket. The fool has no sense of judgement!

  7. What happens to the license. Can ship not be saved for a local channel there is enough sport and documentary content the SABC is failing to take advantage of. let us talk.

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