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M-Net keeping door open longer

South African paycaster luring in potential subs

JOHANNESBURG — Technical “glitches” have increasingly allowed non-subscribers to paycaster M-Net to tune into primetime shows in recent weeks in what is being seen as a deliberate ploy to entice viewers to sign up ahead of the closure of its open-time window next April.

The terrestrial paycaster has a daily free-to-air open time window from 5-7 p.m. during which non-subscribers can view its programming, a concession granted to the channel when it started broadcasting 15 years ago to allow it to market itself and build up viewership as the first pay channel in South Africa.

But this bonus time is set to come to an end next year with the planned opening up of the pay TV market in South Africa, long dominated by MultiChoice, which runs both M-Net and the DStv satellite service.

To level the playing field for new entrants to the market, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa in June 2005 ordered M-Net to close its open-time window from April 2007. Icasa put out a call in January for applications for new pay TV licenses.

For several weeks viewers have been able to continue watching M-Net for some after 7 p.m. before the signal is scrambled. These sneak peaks have lasted for between 20 and 90 minutes, particularly on Sunday evenings, when the hard-hitting news actuality show “Carte Blanche” follows open time, coinciding with the English news on SABC and e.tv.

Suspicious competitors and potential entrants to the pay TV market believe it is a ploy to entice new subscribers, but MultiChoice rep Caroline Pritchard denied this last week, saying the extended open times had been a result of “technical glitches” and “software errors.”

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