DStv only has space for 11 more channels — if it cuts four from E-tv

MultiChoice has hit back at eMedia’s arguments over satellite bandwidth capacity being a reason for the pay-TV broadcaster dropping four E-tv channels from its DStv bouquets.

The companies are battling before the Competition Tribunal after eMedia complained about DStv cutting the eMovies, eMovies Extra, eExtra, and eToonz channels from its channel line-up.

DStv originally planned to suspend broadcasting the channels at the end of March 2022, when its five-year carriage agreement with eMedia expired.

eMedia argued on Monday that DStv had incorrectly claimed that it did not have sufficient capacity on its satellites to host E-tv’s channels.

It also said that MultiChoice backtracked when eMedia’s calculations proved this was not the case.

However, on Tuesday, MultiChoice legal counsel Michelle Norton said that eMedia had misconstrued MultiChoice’s justifications for dropping the channels.

She explained that eMedia’s founding affidavit claimed MultiChoice had no constraints regarding the channels it could carry on DStv.

That’s why MultiChoice’s responded with an explanation that satellite bandwidth limited its channel capacity.

Norton said MultiChoice did not suggest they didn’t have enough capacity for E-tv specifically, but only that DStv’s satellite space had to be used prudently because of its scarcity.

MultiChoice wanted to use the capacity occupied by E-tv to enhance its offering, improve growth, and carry three SABC channels that it would be forced to include under South Africa’s must-carry regulations.

Norton said eMedia’s subsequent responding affidavit then “shifted the ground” because its experts had chosen to calculate capacity on one of the satellites used by DStv — Intelsat IS-20 — to prove there was enough room to broadcast E-tv’s channels.

Artist’s impression of the Intelsat IS-20 satellite

eMedia’s experts estimated that DStv supposedly had enough satellite capacity for 230 high definition channels on IS-20, and that it was only broadcasting 155.

These calculations suggested it could carry another 75 channels and that the four being removed only occupied 1.7% of the capacity.

eMedia also said MultiChoice had additional capacity available on Intelsat IS-36, raising a new complaint.

MultiChoice refuted eMedia’s experts’ estimation as completely inaccurate, instead stating there was only space for another four channels on IS-20.

MultiChoice said to ensure the matter with the tribunal could be heard on time, it only responded with a 4-page affidavit explaining errors in the calculations on this satellite.

eMedia then hit back in a 20-page document accusing MultiChoice of hiding the fact that it was using the IS-36 satellite for E-tv’s channels and calling the affidavit a “cooked up afterthought”.

MultiChoice’s expert defended his stance, stating he did not intend to obscure the capacity on IS-36 because he was only asked to deal with the bandwidth on IS-20.

The real numbers

MultiChoice eventually provided full calculations, which showed it only had space for four channels on IS-20 and ten on IS-36 in the next five years.

These exclude the new SABC channels it must add following negotiations between DStv and the public broadcaster.

Norton said these negotiations could be finalised “any time now”, contrary to eMedia’s claim that the channels could still take long to begin airing.

After accounting for the SABC’s channels, that leaves DStv with 11 free channels for the duration of its long-term carriage agreements, which is the next five years.

Continuing to broadcast the E-tv channels would cut this down to 7.

MultiChoice emphasised that the rejection of the four E-tv channels was based on an assessment of their distinctiveness and appeal, which fell short of MultiChoice’s commercial requirements.

eMedia has argued that DStv provided it with unrivalled exposure and potential for revenue, due to its dominant market position.

It alleges it could lose around 19% of its advertising revenue should DStv proceed with dropping the channels.

But Norton pointed out that viewers could access the four channels on several platforms.

Three of the channels had been broadcast on Openview for four years before E-tv and DStv signed their five-year carriage agreement in 2017. The remaining channel — eMovies Extra — was also available on Openview since 2016.

Openview continued to broadcast the channels during their time on DStv.

Norton also argued that Openview had an estimated 2.7 million subscribers and a market share of 35%, which was not insignificant.

eExtra has also been on the packages of another major satellite service in the country — StarSat — since April 2017

In addition, the channels are available via free-to-air digital TV broadcasts, which are expected to see increased adoption with the analogue switch-off at the end of June 2022.

Norton added that eMedia’s video streaming service eVOD was another platform where the channels could be distributed.

MultiChoice has also denied that it has refused to supply the channels but contends that E-tv was instead seeking an obligation to buy.

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DStv only has space for 11 more channels — if it cuts four from E-tv