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FREE TV IN ‘CRISIS’, SAYS e.tv BOSS

E.tv CEO Marcel Golding says South Africa’s free-to-air television broadcasting industry requires “urgent regulatory attention and intervention” to help it deal with the threat posed by subscription-based alternatives.

E.tv CEO Marcel Golding has warned that South Africa’s free-to-air television industry is in “crisis” and has said that “without urgent regulatory attention and intervention” there will be a “rapid if not irreversible decline in the quantity and quality” of programming and choice in the years ahead.

Golding was speaking on Monday at the launch of Sentech’s new free-to-air satellite platform, Freevision, which will carry as many as 38 free channels over Intelsat’s IS-20 satellite. Freevision will carry channels from the SABC, e.tv and other broadcasters.

The e.tv boss said that five years ago, free-to-air broadcasts were watched by 87% of South African households. This figure, he said, has now declined to 68% and that projections suggest that by the end of the decade, the number will have fallen to less than 50%.

For the free-to-air sector, this means more and more advertisers will be flocking to pay-TV channels to the detriment of free-to-air channels, which solely rely on advertising for their success and prosperity,” Golding said.

“Quality, multi-channel television is only available to those who can afford pay TV. Ironically, despite all our efforts to bridge the digital divide, television broadcasting, the most basic source of audio-visual information, has been dominated by subscription television.”

He said that both e.tv and the SABC have said that the public broadcaster’s “funding difficulties arise directly out of the competition of pay TV for advertising in circumstances where advertising is surplus to pay TV, which makes huge profits from subscriptions”.

“The repeated and unacceptable delays in the launch of [digital terrestrial television, DTT] have deprived South Africans of something they should expect as a democratic right, which is access to free, quality, multi-channel television. Instead they have to rely on the alternative,” he said.

He said there was an “absence of effective regulation of pay TV” and that this, when combined with the repeated delays in launching free-to-air DTT, had resulted in the “unassailable dominance of a pay-TV player, which experts forecast will even grow if we don’t do something about it”.

“How is it we allowed a situation where free TV has essentially become ghettoised?” he asked. “Free-to-air television service will increasingly become hostage to the commercial interests of pay-TV operators and will be unable to finance free, quality programming that is available to all South Africans…

“The irony of this is that on the pay-TV channels, the most watched channels are SABC and e.tv. Multi-channel free-to-air platforms will assist in the growth of free-to-air TV, but without firm, decisive regulatory intervention, such efforts will be insufficient to stem the rampant growth of pay TV to the detriment of the free-to-air sector as a whole.

“Free-to-air operators and policy makers must work together to make brave decisions that will reverse the decline of the sector and ensure that quality, multi-channel television is available to all South Africans.”

During his presentation, Golding did not elaborate on what regulatory and policy changes he would like to see implemented to help free-to-air broadcasters.

Source: TechCentral – Duncan McLeod