South Africa to get pay TV choice

On Digital Media license challenges MultiChoice

JOHANNESBURG — The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa issued a pay TV license to On Digital Media on Monday, paving the way for it to go on air next year and finally opening up the market so long dominated by pan-African satcaster MultiChoice.

ODM — whose shareholders include Kopano ke Matla (trade union federation Cosatu’s investment arm), the Industrial Development Corp. and the African subsid of European satellite giant SES — was one of four companies awarded licenses in October.

The other three are e.sat, Telkom Media and Christian broadcasting service Walking on Water.

But e.sat, sister company of free-to-air broadcaster e.tv, has withdrawn to concentrate on becoming a channel and content provider for MultiChoice, while giant telco Telkom has decided to concentrate on its core biz and has put Telkom Media up for sale.

ODM said its selling point in its battle against MultiChoice, which has some 1.4 million subscribers in 50 countries, would be its “pay for what you want” subscription, which lets viewers pick the channels they want and pay accordingly.

It would have a 40- to 50-channel service with a monthly subscriber price ranging between $20 and $55.

“For the first time in South Africa, pay TV subscribers will not be subjected to the usual ‘one size fits all’ type of pay TV bouquets,” said ODM director Vino Govender. “ODM’s subscribers will be able to create their own bouquets based on their viewing preferences. Subscribers will only pay for what they want to watch.”

He said ODM had been in negotiations with content and technical service providers that it could not conclude until the pay TV broadcast license was issued.

“Now that the regulatory element of the business has been finalized, we are in a position to do so,” he said. “The operational side of the business will commence within the next 60-90 days.”

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