S. African TV sets licensee

Time Warner is minority partner

South Africa has just awarded its first commercial TV license to a consortium that involves Time Warner as a minority partner.

The territory is one of the last English-speaking territories to authorize commercial broadcasting — and is thus set to become an attractive outlet for Hollywood movie and TV product.

License was awarded Monday by the regulatory Independent Broadcasting Authority to Midi Television, which plans to broadcast under the logo E TV.

WB claims a 20% stake

Time Warner unit Warner Bros. has a 20% stake in the new station — the maximum allowed a foreign shareholder.

The new TV station will be called E TV and will be the first privately owned channel freely available on a terrestrial signal to all South Africans.

Three publicly funded channels operated by the South African Broadcasting Corp. (SABC) and a private pay TV station called M-Net are currently in operation.

New efforts abroad

Taking stakes in commercial broadcasters and satellite services abroad has become part of the strategy of several of the Hollywood majors, though the WB stake in South Africa’s Midi has some unique features.

“The fact that South Africa is an English-speaking territory and in some respects ‘a new country’ with a growing middle class disposing of discretionary income made this particular opportunity a compelling one for us,” Warner Bros. Intl. TV president Jeffrey Schlesinger told Daily Variety. There are very few mainstream terrestrial broadcasters abroad in which taking an equity stake is even an option these days.

Continuing to do business

Schlesinger said that his division would actively supply the new broadcast player in South Africa with product but that WB Intl. TV would also continue to do business with the local established players, SABC and M-Net.

Other partners in Midi are Hoskins Consolidated Investment, Vula Communications and the Mineworkers Investment Co., the investment arm of South Africa’s powerful National Union of Mineworkers.

The local team that put together the Midi bid consisted of a racially diverse group headed by David Niddrie and Jonathan Procter, the latter the former managing director of Bop TV, a black entertainment satcaster in Africa.

Spearheaded from London

On the Warner Bros. side, the bid was spearheaded by Schlesinger from Los Angeles and his London-based team of TV execs, Josh Berger, Simon Cox, Dallas Lewis-Lloyd and Donna Brett.

Public hearings into the bids began on Jan 19 and lasted for seven weeks.

Execs of Midi TV are expected at this week’s Mip TV trade show in Cannes, where they are to be one of the hot customers for U.S. product.

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