THE newly launched free-to-air digital satellite television service OpenView HD expects 5-million out of a potential 10.7-million television households to sign up for the new offering.

“We are targeting 2-million viewers in the next two years and plan to break even in the first five years with 5-million viewers,” OpenView HD’s MD, Maxwell Nonge, said during the launch on Wednesday.

South Africa’s largest satellite provider, MultiChoice, already has 6.8-million subscribers in South Africa, while Top TV, launched by On Digital Media (ODM) in 2010, has yet to top the 200,000 active subscriber mark, not to mention the 800,000 it needs to break even on its initial investment of R1.2bn.

Mr Nonge said there was room for new entrants. “South African broadcasting exists in a landscape of limited competition and we believe there are huge opportunities to grow digital television in Southern Africa.”

OpenView is run by Platco Digital, a subsidiary of Sabido Investments (Pty) Limited, which also owns

The service, which starts operations on October 15, will begin with a bouquet that includes the three main SABC channels (1, 2 and 3) and (which will be broadcast in high definition format), as well as 12 new channels.

The new channels include eKasi+, eAfrica+, eMovies+, Zest TV, ASTV, Deen TV, eToons+, Mindset TV, Da Vinci Learning, English Club, Spirit World Channel and Inspiration TV.

As a free-to-air service OpenView has a slight advantage over its competitors MultiChoice and Top TV; customers pay a once-off installation fee of about R1,599 (variable depending on retailer) and no additional monthly subscription fees.

Mr Nonge said once a viewer was connected they would have access to the service “forever”, and even as new channels were added the initial fee would go down. “The main revenue source will come from the channels themselves,” he said. “They, in turn, will generate revenue from advertising.”

It comes as no big surprise that there are no sports channels as DStv has already tied up all the most lucrative sporting rights (soccer, cricket, rugby and, recently, NBA basketball).

DStv also recently acquired the rights to 24 hour news services from the Gupta-controlled Africa News Network ANN7 and the SABC.

Ironically, DStv also broadcasts News Channel Africa along with and the main SABC channels.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa recently held hearings for a potential five new pay-TV operators. These are Kagiso TV, Mobile TV, Close-T Broadcast Network, Siyaya TV and Mindset Media.

Being a satellite service, OpenView HD will be using the same SES-5 technology that Top TV uses. The signal will cover the entire country, including remote rural areas. If customers are already Top TV subscribers they will not need to get a new satellite dish. DStv subscribers, however, will need to fit a new dish. Either way a new set-top box (decoder) will be needed.

With the government’s new digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform on the cards, consumers may end up having to purchase as many as four decoders.

As part of a global agreement to free up radio frequency spectrum existing free-to-air analogue TV services will be moved to a digital platform managed by signal distributor Sentech.

The government’s roll-out of DTT has been plagued by delays, as stakeholders can not agree on the technology to be used on the set-top boxes.

Head of business affairs at Sabido said the new OpenView platform was not competing with DStv. “We don’t see this as opposition to DStv,” he said.

“We see it as complementary. By this time we had expected digital terrestrial television to be running as we needed to go multi-channel.”

Maria Phillips, CEO of media agency Mindshare, said on Wednesday OpenView might be able to reach its ambitious targets. “I think it’s very exciting because its now open to a larger portion of the population who don’t have to pay monthly subscription fees.

“They will build audience quicker in this way. But what counts the most is content. If it is poor they won’t stand a chance. I think has always had enormous vision, they are entrepreneurial and if anyone can do it they can,” she said.

Researcher at Media Monitoring Africa Lethabo Dibetso agreed, and said the new platform should support quality local content.

“It’s a welcomed development but it’s pointless having a plurality of platforms when the quality of the programming leaves much to be desired,” he said.

“We need content that is going to deepen and promote democracy, reflect our diversity as a country, educate and inform,” Mr Dibetso said.

Source: Business Day – BDLive – Zweli Mokgata