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S. Africa preps new channel

Viewership has doubled and is up for grabs

JOHANNESBURG — As South Africa readies for the October launch of a free-to-air TV channel, newly released figures show the viewership that will be up for grabs.

According to the South African Advertising Research Foundation, the South African Broadcasting Corp. has about 22.9 million viewers glued to its three channels nightly — almost double the 11.5 million viewers the SABC boasted in 1994.

The new channel, e-TV, is also likely to scoop up some of the 1 million viewers who currently subscribe to pay-station M-Net. But media analysts predict e-TV, run by Midi Television, will have to fight hard for its viewers, as the SABC is way ahead in the program acquisition stakes.

The SABC advantage will be temporary, however. Midi Television, which has Time Warner shareholding, will be unfettered by many of the constraints on the pubcaster and is promising a dynamic, commercially driven 24-hour service within a year of launch.

Midi Television won the license for the new channel against stiff opposition from six other consortia, most of which also had foreign backing.

The license is being contested by two of the unsuccessful consortia, Free to Air and French-backed New Channel, both of which have said they are taking the decision of the Independent Broadcasting Authority on review.