Bidders vying for 1st private, general web

JOHANNESBURG — Seven consortia, including one involving French private TV network TF1 and another taking on board Canadian company United Television Intl., are in the bidding for South Africa’s first private, uncoded generalist network.

The country’s audiovisual regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), said all seven bids were received Friday, the deadline for applications.

A decision on who runs the new, still-unnamed web is due to be made by the IBA before March 1998, with broadcasting starting late next year or early 1999.

The seven applicants are Community Television Network (CTN), Island Television Consortium, Station for the Nation, Midi TV, Afrimedia, Free to Air Television and New Channel TV.

TF1, which is the leading terrestrial channel in the Gallic territory, as well as a shareholder in France’s Television Par Satellite digital consortium, has taken a 20% stake in New Channel TV.

2nd largest

TF1 will be the second-largest of the consortium, behind the black empowerment group National Empowerment Corp., which has a 30.1% stake.

If TF1, which is backed by the giant Bouygues construction group, is part of the winning consortium, it will mark the first time the company has invested in a generalist channel outside its home turf. The company is partnered with pay TV giant Canal Plus in pan-European service Eurosport, and TF1 chairman Patrick Le Lay recently told Daily Variety that he is looking to invest in digital platforms outside France.

New Channel TV, however, is up against CTN, another powerful black empowerment consortium which has teamed up with Canada’s United Television Intl., a specialist in producing quality local productions.

The CTN bid is 89% South African, 44% of which is owned by blacks and 11% of which is owned by foreigners.

CTN chairman Moss Leoka said this week that the Canadians would drive the station’s training program. He said CTN would use digital technology that would allow it to divide its signals into 30 “windows” simultaneously and help it meet the IBA’s stringent requirement that the new station reach 75% of South Africa’s geographic area and cater for all 11 language groups. CTN, he added, expected to employ 905 people, including 105 journalists.

(Michael Williams in Paris contributed to this report.)

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