On 6 September South African free-to-air commercial broadcaster e.tv made a presentation to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in Johannesburg stating that the current the draft regulations for digital terrestrial television (DTT) threaten the future viability of FTA television.
The presentation was premised on e.tv’s desire ‘to prevent the ghettoisation of FTA TV’ and questioned whether satellite pay-TV platform DStv or FTA TV will become the primary television platform for the majority of South Africans once the country migrates to DTT.
In existence for 14 years, e.tv is currently South Africa’s only private commercial FTA TV broadcaster and claims a viewership of over 16 million people daily, second only to FTA public broadcast channel SABC1.
At the ICASA presentation e.tv maintained that the draft DTT regulations will further entrench DStv’s already powerful position and will weaken the prospects of a successful DTT platform. It also accused DTT regulation over the past four years as being ‘arbitrary and lacking in consistency’.
e.tv questioned why pay-TV broadcaster M-Net, which has a terrestrial footprint of under 65,000 households, has been given 40% of DTT multiplex 2 by ICASA against the 50% given to e.tv (with 8.3 million households). In other words, e.tv’s household base is 128x the size of M-Net’s but its multiplex allocation is only one quarter more than that of M-Net.
“This is the 5th time in four years that e.t has made a presentation to ICASA on the issue of DTT,” said e.tv. “In the meantime with all the dithering, pay-TV’s dominance has grown – four years ago 13% of South African households had pay-TV and that figure has now grown to 31%. DStv has an ad revenue share of 44% and audience share 25% – all of which threatens the potential success of FTA services on the DTT platform.”
In addition e.tv compared the cost of a fully installed DStv set –top box (R499) against a FTA DTT STB (R800), which will have a maximum of 19 standard definition channels as opposed to DStv’s premium offering of 102 channels, 15 of which are HD.
“The challenge for the regulator to fulfil its mandate is to prevent DStv from becoming the primary multi-channel platform in South Africa,” stated e.tv.
It further maintained that it will be impossible for to provide HD services in DTT under the proposed licensing framework The capacity provided to e.tv on Mux 2 would enable it to broadcast only two HD channels including its current service (and neither of those could be sport).
“By allocating e.tv only 50% of a multiplex in circumstances where additional spectrum has been made available by the Authority, it discriminates against e.tv as a terrestrial broadcasting licensee which competes for audiences and advertising against DStv,” said e.tv.
The broadcaster proposed the following DTT multiplex framework during dual illumination when both analogue and DTT signals will be broadcast: Multiplex 1: SABC and public radio; Multiplex 2: e.tv and commercial radio; and Multiplex 3: 25% to M-Net to dual illuminate the M-Net channel in HD with the balance to be shared among incumbent pay-TV licensees.
e.tv also made a case against the local content quotes in the draft DTT regulations. “The quotas are quite simply unaffordable and also contrary to the industry standard for multi-channel television, which is based on repeat ratios and formulas. It would cost any channel – whether e.tv, SABC or a new service – a minimum of R100m per annum per channel to comply with this quota in a manner which is cost-effective but which also does not affect the audience attractiveness of its service.
“The cost of these three hours alone would exceed the budgeted of the total 24-hour schedule of many of the individual DTT channels,” claimed the broadcaster.