Choosing your own DStv channels – Here is where we stand

MultiChoice said it will not be forced to let subscribers choose their own channels, according to ICASA’s draft findings document on its inquiry into the subscription TV market in South Africa.

“This is the process that started in 2016 when ICASA published a notice of its intention to conduct an inquiry into the state of competition in the subscription broadcasting services sector,” the regulator said.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) published its draft findings on Friday, 12 April.

“The draft findings are published for further comments, subsequent to which ICASA will publish the final findings.”

Depending on the outcome of the final version of its finding document, ICASA said it may consider developing regulations, possibly in the form of additional licence conditions on broadcasters.

“A separate public consultation process would be followed in that case.”

À la carte model

As part of its inquiry into South Africa’s pay TV market, ICASA considered requests from consumers to force broadcasters like MultiChoice to offer an à la carte model for channels.

“The Authority’s consumer survey revealed that consumers are looking for value for money services. There is general dissatisfaction with the service being offered,” ICASA said.

MultiChoice has confirmed this, stating that its Premium subscribers are under financial pressure and dissatisfied with having to contend with re-runs.

With subscription TV prices increasing without there being a corresponding increase in the value subscribers get for their money, consumers are calling for the ability to only pay for the channels they want to watch.

“While it may be an appealing proposition, the Authority notes that it would take technical configuration and re-engineering of business models by current subscription broadcasters,” ICASA said.

Citing India and Canada’s à la carte models, ICASA noted that only a few countries in the world have implemented such models, with inconclusive results in terms of benefits to consumers.

“The Authority will embark on a separate process should it become necessary to introduce an à la carte option for the South African market.”

ICASA said that for now, the remedies it is proposing to increase competition in the subscription broadcasting space should lead to increased access and lower prices.

ICASA’s proposals

As a result of MultiChoice’s dominance in South Africa’s pay TV market, ICASA said it is proposing various license conditions to address the market failure.

ICASA said that most stakeholders support the following remedies:

  • Reducing contract duration —Maximum of 5 years, without automatic renewal.
  • Rights splitting — Rights-owners must split their rights and sell them to more than one broadcaster.
  • Unbundling — Sports rights must be sold on open tender, allowing for more than one buyer, with no “excessive exclusivity” and no automatic contract renewals.
  • Wholesale must-offer — MultiChoice must offer its sports rights to other broadcasters on a wholesale basis.
  • Limiting access to the number of Hollywood movie studios — ICASA wants to limit the number of studios a broadcaster may enter into exclusive agreements with.

In addition, ICASA said that it has identified set-top box interoperability as a potential license condition to impose on MultiChoice. This would allow decoders to work with various pay TV operators, rather than requiring a separate decoder for each.

Now read: How ICASA plans to break DStv’s monopoly in South Africa

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Choosing your own DStv channels – Here is where we stand