TopTV chairman and acting CEO Eddie Mbalo is “shocked” that the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) wants to introduce new pay-TV operators just a few years after licensing a range of new players, one of which collapsed.
“I’m shocked that after having awarded these new licences, and after only one of those [TopTV] launched, Icasa is still thinking there’s a need for more,” Mbalo says.
Of the new licences issued in the second half of the last decade, most failed to launch services. One of them, Telkom Media (now Super 5 Media), collapsed after investing more than R500m preparing for launch when Telkom pulled the plug. E.tv sister company eSat elected not to launch a product, while Walking on Water Television has gone quiet about its plans.
Mbalo doesn’t believe the market can necessarily sustain more pay-TV operators, especially in light of the fact that the number of channels available through free-to-air broadcasters is expected to mushroom when the country moves from analogue to digital terrestrial television. Because digital technology makes much more efficient use of spectrum, it will allow broadcasters to expand the number of channels they offer and could pave the way for new free-to-air players.
“I’m not sure the people [at Icasa]are actually aware of what is real outside,” Mbalo says. “What about allowing the only [pay-TV broadcaster] to have launched to stabilise first? To reopen the whole process will make us look like a joke as a country.”
TopTV, still the only company that has launched pay-TV services in competition with incumbent player DStv, owned by MultiChoice, has struggled to gain traction in the market since it introduced its first channel bouquets two years ago. Mbalo admitted in a recent interview with TechCentral that of the 360 000 decoders it had sold, only about half were active. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral
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