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SABC, e.tv SEEK MORE LEVEL FIELD AFTER MIGRATION TO DIGITAL

In a bid to fend off competition, e.tv and the SABC have appealed to the regulator to conduct a regulatory impact assessment before it issues new terrestrial TV licences

IN A bid to fend off competition, e.tv and the SABC have appealed to the regulator to conduct a regulatory impact assessment before it issues new terrestrial TV licences, arguing the introduction of new players threatens the viability of existing broadcasters.

Free-to-air broadcaster e.tv has also asked that M-Net be given fewer channels than planned under the new digital terrestrial television system.

The SABC and e.tv yesterday asked the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to issue new licences only after 2015, when the analogue signal is switched off.

Icasa is holding hearings on the digital terrestrial television draft regulations this week.

The TV industry is migrating from analogue to digital broadcasting, a move that will result in additional TV channels for existing broadcasters — excluding satellite pay-TV providers MultiChoice and TopTV. It also paves the way for new entrants.

In its presentation yesterday, e.tv said introducing additional free-to-air players would weaken the platform by lessening the spectrum available to existing broadcasters, and so fragment available revenue.

The SABC warned that new entrants may create a “complex and unpalatable” environment for existing broadcasters, which had to contend with migration.

Philly Moilwa, the SABC’s GM for policy and regulatory affairs, said the SABC was not against new players, but asked that this occur after the completion of migration and after Icasa had conducted a market and regulatory impact assessment to determine whether there was a need.

He said Icasa should ensure it “protects the integrity and viability of the public broadcaster in the migration” to a digital platform.

Bronwyn Keene-Young, e.tv’s chief operating officer, said that in order to promote competition, existing free-to-air players had to be able to maximise the advantages of digital video broadcasting transmission (DVB-T2).

DVB-T2 is the European technology that SA has adopted.

“Market research is required before any new entrants can be licensed. It would be wasteful to allocate capacity when there is no basis for understanding whether the market can even support new players,” she said.

Khalik Sherrif, e.tv’s chief commercial officer, said the challenge for free-to-air TV in SA was that while cost of free-to-air TV had grown at an average of 12,3% over the past few years, annual advertising growth was only 8,6%. He said pay-TV also continued to eat into the advertising revenue of free-to-air TV.

“The more channels that are introduced, the less money each channel will earn in revenue.

Too many channels render (digital terrestrial television) an unviable option … channels need a relatively high revenue base to be profitable,” he said.

In asking that M-Net be given fewer channels than planned under the digital system, e.tv said M-Net’s subscriber numbers had fallen to 85000 from 175000 in the past three years.

The free-to-air broadcaster said the M-Net channel was made up of content from existing DStv channels, so no diversity or additional content investment flowed from the channel.

M-Net and DStv are part of the Naspers stable.

“There is no public-interest value in allocating yet more terrestrial spectrum to an entity that has purposefully acted to drive its viewers off its terrestrial platform to the satellite platform of its sister company,” e.tv said.

E.tv CEO Marcel Golding said e.tv was “frustrated and anxious” about the continuing lack of certainty on digital terrestrial TV.

He said the latest debate was taking place against the backdrop of dramatic changes in the South African television market. “The free-to-air TV market is shrinking, which is affecting the revenue base available to support free-to-air channels,” he said.

Source: Business Day – Thabiso Mochiko mochikot@bdfm.co.za