On Digital Media is hoping an a la carte model will help its satellite pay platform TopTV gain a foothold in South Africa against established MultiChoice’s DStv.

“The pay TV market in South Africa has been monopolized for far too long by one player,” On Digital CEO Vino Govender says, adding that TopTV “will offer the public a choice” that was missing before.

The May 1 launch ends DStv’s 15-year monopoly in the market, and will feature more than 50 channels across a broad spectrum of programming, with content sourced locally and internationally, including the MGM Channel, MSNBC, Fox Entertainment, Discovery Science and BBC World.

On Digital execs say the pay-as-you-go model provides a competitive advantage over DStv, which offers its 2.4 million subscribers packages at higher cost.

Top TV targets lower-income households, which Govender says would bring pay TV services to a segment of the population currently underserved. The company has identified an untapped market of 3.8 million potential customers who it says will be able to afford its tailor-made packages.

“TopTV subscribers will be able to select packages to suit their viewing needs according to their budgets,” Govender says.

On Digital’s pricing plans begin at R99 ($13) a month while DStv’s popular Select package, which offers a similar entry-level option, costs $20 monthly.

DStv has an advantage in the HD market, though On Digital execs say TopTV plans to include HD, PVR and on-demand services in the future. These services weren’t included in the rollout because they did not suit the needs of Top TV’s targeted client base, few of whom own HD TV sets, company execs say.

TopTV’s debut is the first challenge to MultiChoice’s monopoly since the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa opened up the market to competition — but it won’t be the last.

Icasa has awarded a pay TV license to Super5Media, formerly Telkom Media, which is expected to enter the pay TV arena later this year. The company has released few details of how its packages will be priced, but has confirmed it will operate a bouquet model similar to MultiChoice’s.

For South African customers, the payoff will come in more competitive pricing and more diverse viewing options.