The controversial channel supply agreement between the SABC and MultiChoice has run its course, with the two broadcasters signing a new deal that allows SABC News and SABC Encore to continue to be broadcast on DStv.
The companies signed the original, five-year deal — worth R550-million to the SABC — in 2013, when Hlaudi Motsoeneng was chief operating officer at the public broadcaster.
SABC chairman Bongumusa Makhathini last year described that agreement as “unlawful”.
Last year, leaked minutes of a meeting between the SABC and MultiChoice showed that MultiChoice executives made it clear to SABC bosses that the channel supply deal would not go ahead if the SABC refused to agree to a clause that it would not carry its free-to-air channels on any terrestrial digital platform that used encryption.
At the time, MultiChoice and rival e.tv were engaged in a rancorous battle over encryption.
E.tv wanted it, saying it was necessary to secure better programming from international content providers.
MultiChoice, on the other hand, was strongly opposed, arguing that including “conditional access” (a method of controlling set-top boxes, which is typically employed by pay-TV operators) in the five million boxes that would be subsidised by government for poorer households, would allow prospective competitors an unfair entry into the market. It argued encryption was not in the interests of consumers or the country and ran counter to international best practice.
MultiChoice South Africa chairman Nolo Letele later said of the leaked minutes that the pressure the company exerted on the SABC was “part of a sales pitch and negotiating tactic, as is usual in negotiations”. It was always MultiChoice’s “intention to do a deal with the SABC, as the public broadcaster, and we would have done so, irrespective of what the response was to our request for that specific clause to be inserted”, he said.
The pay-TV broadcaster has consistently denied that there were improper dealings in formulating the original channel supply agreement.
‘A new start’
The SABC said on Thursday that the new agreement with MultiChoice “follows extensive discussions between the parties” and that it “will give their relationship a new start”. SABC CEO Madoda Mxakwe reportedly described it as a “clean deal”.
“DStv customers will continue to enjoy around-the-clock news coverage from SABC News on channel 404, while SABC Encore on channel 156 will allow viewers to indulge in nostalgia, airing old favourites and classics,” the SABC said. “The SABC archives, which it uses to produce SABC Encore, remain the wholly owned property of the SABC.”
“The SABC welcomes the new agreement with MultiChoice, which will bring certainty to our viewers and our staff,” said Mxakwe said in a statement. “The board and management of the SABC are satisfied that the agreement meets both the commercial and governance needs of the SABC. The SABC looks forward to delivering high-quality channels into the future.”
MultiChoice South Africa CEO Calvo Mawela said in the same statement: “We are pleased to be able to continue to carry these channels on DStv. We have a longstanding relationship with SABC and are happy that we have reached a mutually beneficial agreement.”
The terms of the new agreement, including its duration, have not been disclosed.
Meanwhile, the SABC has confirmed to TechCentral that MultiChoice and the public broadcaster have also “agreed to engage on the ‘must-carry’ channels SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3”. MultiChoice South Africa CEO Calvo Mawela in May hit out at the SABC’s call for it to pay to carry its public service channels on DStv, saying it would not do so if the must-carry regulations were amended or scrapped.
Mawela’s comments came after public hearings convened by communications regulator Icasa into the pay-TV sector in South Africa, where a team from the SABC — led by chief operating officer Chris Maroleng — argued strongly that the must-carry regulations, which required MultiChoice and other satellite pay-TV providers to carry the SABC’s three free-to-air channels, were unfair. Commercial broadcasters were exploiting the situation to their advantage and to the financial detriment of the SABC, it said.
That the parties have agreed to “engage” on the issue may signal a softening in MultiChoice’s stance. — © 2018 NewsCentral Media