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South African cablers’ big sports play

Channels offer exclusives to lure subscribers

JOHANNESBURG Borrowing a page from the playbook of Euro payboxes, South African cablers are offering more sports as a lure to subscribers.

The latest example comes from Supersport Intl., the sports arm of pan-African satcaster MultiChoice, which has acquired the exclusive satellite rights for sub-Saharan Africa for all the matches in soccer’s 2008 European Championship as it squares off against new pay TV rival Gateway Television.

Just a week earlier Supersport announced that it had signed an exclusive $6 million, four-year sponsorship and broadcasting deal with the Kenya Premier League.

London-based Gateway Communications launched GTV in Africa, excluding South Africa, in July as a lower-cost alternative to consumers who cannot afford long-dominant South African-based MultiChoice packages.

It has invested $285 million in its rollout across Africa, and is already available in Kenya, Uganda, Botswana, Tanzania, Rwanda, Mauritius, Zambia and Ghana.

At the outset, market research had indicated that affordable live soccer was what African viewers wanted, according to GTV founder and managing director Julian McIntyre.

Its first coup was to secure a three-year deal for broadcasting rights in sub-Saharan Africa for 80% of the English Premier League, the most watched soccer league on television worldwide. It has since followed this up with a deal for the broadcast of the Italian Serie A.

It has signed sponsorship/broadcast deals with the soccer associations of Uganda and Tanzania, which include being involved in the development of the sport in these countries, and said its strategy was to get involved with the development of soccer across the continent using such deals.

“GTV aims to be the home of football in Africa, and that means investing in the sport nationally and putting your favorite local teams on TV,” says McIntyre.

But now Supersport has come out fighting by signing its own sponsorship/broadcast deals — with the Football Assn. of Zambia last month and last week with the Kenya Football Assn. — as well as snapping up broadcast rights for the popular European Championship.

GTV offers 15 channels at around $20 a month, at least $10 less than MultiChoice’s entry-level package, although this offers 50-plus channels.

MultiChoice is also facing fresh competition in its home base of South Africa. Its two-decade pay TV monopoly is about to end after four pay TV licenses were granted in September.

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