They ‘re building a digital satellite media distribution business where others fear to tread. THOUGH the invitation to tender for the second national telecommunications operator may be issued before year-end, there’s no clear end in sight for the telecoms regulatory quagmire that has persisted in SA since liberation was first mentioned Despite this there are a few companies in the fast converging media and telecoms industries that have been able to establish a niche for themselves. Private satellite TV company TBM communications (three blind mice, if you were wondering) multicasts digital media (mostly ads) over satellite to flat screen TV’s in shopping malls, airport lounges, indoor cricket venues and soon almost 100 gyms countrywide. Their R60 000 a shot plasma screens, backed up by a PC for the back connection, isn’t suited to garage forecourts, but fits well at most other points of purchase – they are now even inside ad agencies’ offices. Says CEO Pierre van der Hoven: “As a closed network telecoms operator, we’ve not been affected by the happenings on the regulatory front and the controversy over the multimedia licence our satellite provider Sentech may or may not be receiving.” Earlier drafts of the new telecoms Bill handed State signal distributor Sentech blanket rights to broadcast multimedia content (and services that it termed “Internet through television”). This is putting in danger everyone from value added networks operating on Telkom’s network to M-Net’s Big Brother TV show and MultiChoice’s plan for interactive TV. While other players have blamed the regulatory vacuum for withholding investment, TBM has since its inception in February sunk R15m into developing its network, which was funded by its backers, black empowerment company Hosken Consolidated Investments, which owns 68% of TBM through its holding in venture capital company Limitless and TBM management. TBM recently won the right to sell ads around 600 sites inside ABSA branches on a rival network. Not that the going hasn’t been tough. “The slump in ad spend is real,” Van der Hoven says. As for applying their low-cost model to video conferencing, the technology that everyone is revisiting after the 11 September attacks in the US, Van der Hoven says that theirs is really a one-way system. Rats!

Source: Finance Week New Media – Frik Els