Free-to-air broadcaster e.tv has slammed M-Net for suggesting last week that the country would be better off scrapping plans to build set-top boxes for digital terrestrial television, saying the pay-TV operator is acting out of self-interest only.
M-Net’s director for legal and regulatory affairs, Karen Willenberg, told TechCentral last week that the country should instead consider the use of cheaper “digital converters” — which cost R350 or less — rather than full set-top boxes that could cost R700 or more.
E.tv chief operating officer Bronwyn Keene-Young says M-Net and its sister company MultiChoice, which operates the DStv satellite pay-TV platform, want to ensure that SA has “as weak a free-to-air platform as possible”. By arguing against set-top boxes, Keene-Young says M-Net is hoping to prevent its free-to-air rivals from launching compelling multi-channel alternatives.
Keene-Young says MultiChoice is enjoying strong growth in its DStv Compact bouquet precisely because consumers are demanding multi-channel products. The move to digital terrestrial television will afford free-to-air broadcasters like e.tv the opportunity to offer rival products.
If free-to-air providers are forced to rely on simple digital converters, they won’t be able to offer the kind of services M-Net’s terrestrial pay-TV platform will be able to provide, such as quality electronic programme guides and interactive services.
Keene-Young says e.tv and other free-to-air terrestrial broadcasters won’t necessarily be able to offer high-definition broadcasts if they have to rely on simple digital converters. “There’s no guarantee these will be able to pick up HD channels,” she says. “The whole free-to-air platform will be weakened as a multi-channel prospect. We have to have a strong platform to compete against the DStv Compacts of this world.”
She adds that M-Net/MultiChoice is the only company raising objections at the SA Bureau of Standards over a specification for set-top boxes. “They are delaying the process because the SABS works by consensus. It’s in their interests to delay because they are growing fantastically on DStv Compact. As long as people are looking for a multi-channel platform, Compact is currently the only place they can go.”
Keene-Young says e.tv has been ready to launch its digital multi-channel offerings since April 2010. “If MultiChoice’s objections are sustained, we’ll be in a Catch-22 situation,” she says.” We’re just never going to move on.” — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral
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