The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) wants to license new pay-TV operators to compete with incumbent MultiChoice, which owns DStv, and recent entrant On Digital Media, with TopTV, despite little interest shown by other players in launching commercial services following the previous round of licensing several years ago.
The authority has issued invitations to apply for commercial radio and subscription television broadcasting licences. If any of the expected new bidders launch commercial pay-TV services, these will be the first fresh offerings in the market since TopTV was launched in 2009.
Already, one player — a consortium operating under the name Mobile TV — which had previously applied unsuccessfully for a mobile television broadcasting licence, has said it will submit an application to Icasa to launch pay-TV services as well as digital radio services using digital audio broadcasting (DAB) technology. DAB is a newer competitor technology to analogue FM broadcasts that consumers are more familiar with today.
Icasa isn’t limiting the number of applications it will entertain, saying instead that the number of licences it will eventually issue for subscription broadcasting services will be determined by the number of applications that comply with the requirements set out in its invitation to apply.
The authority’s GM for licensing, Sipho Tsotetsi, says that when MultiChoice and e.tv received licences in 2010 to offer mobile television products, some bidders objected that they were not given access.
Tsotetsi says those wanting access to spectrum had to have a broadcast licence. Unlike before, though, successful new applicants will not be confined to mobile broadcasting, but will have full-service licences, allowing them to compete, if they choose to do so, across the board with existing licensees thanks to a technology neutral approach by the authority.
Mobile TV founder and chairman Mothobi Mutloatse says the company will submit an application for a licence and is encouraged that Icasa will not restrict the technology platforms successful licensees can use to offer services.
Mutloatse is a big proponent of a Korean broadcasting technology called digital multimedia broadcasting, or DMB, and of DAB radio. He says Mobile TV plans to offer a radio broadcasting network based on enhancement of the DAB standard, known as DAB+, and will offer access to this network to other SA broadcasters interested in offering their radio stations digitally.
Mobile TV says it ready to begin offering pay-TV services as it has been trialling the DMB technology, in particular, for a number of years already.
Consumers will surely welcome new competition in SA’s pay-TV market, which is still dominated by DStv. TopTV was the only one of four companies licensed several years ago to compete with DStv but it appears to have had a hard time gaining critical mass. TopTV founding CEO Vino Govender recently left the company amid talk that it’s struggling to gain traction.
Other successful licensees — namely Super 5 Media (formerly Telkom Media), eSat (a sister company of e.tv) and Walking on Water Television (WowTV) — failed to launch commercial products for various reasons. WowTV and Super 5 Media still claim to be planning to bring products to market.
Icasa has said it will soon hold public hearings to decide what to do about licensees that fail to launch commercial offerings. Tsotetsi says it may introduce shorter periods of time during which licensees must either commence broadcasts or have their licences revoked. — Craig Wilson, TechCentral
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