Openview goes to war against DStv

eMedia and MultiChoice are at war over sports rights as South Africa’s TV viewership dwindles, but the hostilities between the two broadcasters date back a decade.

Openview, owned by eMedia, is a free-to-view satellite TV service that offers South Africans various channels as an alternative to MultiChoice’s pay-TV product, DStv.

Competition between the two has caused them to butt heads over recent international sports tournament’s broadcasting rights and channel carriage contracts.

The latest conflict involving the broadcasters concerned a complaint made by eMedia that MultiChoice, which acquired exclusive rights to the T20 Cricket World Cup, only opened a tender for free-to-air broadcasters to bid for sub-licensing rights five weeks before the tournament’s start.

eMedia said bidders were unlikely to receive confirmation of broadcasting rights until less than two weeks before the event.

It explained that this would not leave enough time to secure sponsors, arrange advertising, and adjust programming schedules. As a result, it declined to bid.

“eMedia views the issuing of these late invitations to tender by MultiChoice as undermining fair competition and ignoring a recent Competition Tribunal order designed to prevent such restrictive practices,” the broadcaster said.

However, this is not the first time these two have butted heads.

2023 Rugby and Cricket World Cups

The “recent Competition Tribunal order” eMedia referred to came after conflict erupted between the two companies during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

MultiChoice’s SuperSport and the SABC had reached a last-minute agreement reportedly worth R57 million to broadcast sixteen Rugby World Cup matches live, including every Springbok game.

Part of the sub-licensing deal restricted the SABC from broadcasting the content on any third-party platforms it didn’t own, including Openview.

However, the rugby was available on all other platforms in South Africa, including StarSat and digital terrestrial television.

Despite the SABC calling the restriction “anti-competitive” and “irrational”, it struck a similar deal with MultiChoice later that year for the Cricket World Cup rights.

eMedia took MultiChoice to court and took out full-page advertisements in the Sunday Times, Rapport, and City Press announcing its legal action.

MultiChoice hit back, saying that eMedia wanted a free ride without making any effort to secure its own sports broadcasting rights or sub-licence the exclusive rights it paid top-dollar for.

It also said broadcasting rights could drop by more than 80% when sold on a non-exclusive basis.

eMedia denied this and said MultiChoice’s argument was a red herring, as the “SABC was paying for free-to-air rights, and the rugby should be available on all free-to-view platforms.”

“To suggest that SABC needs to pay more to show it on Openview does not make sense as there is already no exclusivity in the rights,” eMedia’s Group Executive for Legal and Business Affairs, Philippa Rafferty, told MyBroadband.

The High Court ultimately did not rule on the case’s merits, but ordered it struck off the roll. In response, Openview’s owners launched an all-out legal assault by taking MultiChoice to the Competition Commission and filing fresh legal papers.

Openview’s owners dropped the second court case after a few days. Six months later, the Competition Commission awarded an interdict in eMedia’s favour.

The digital TV decoder feud

Part of South Africa’s migration to digital terrestrial television involved distributing set-top boxes (STBs), allowing people without satellite TV to watch the new digital signal on their old television sets.

Having adopted the DVB-T2 standard, eMedia argued that South Africa should encrypt the new digital signal to prevent government-subsidised STBs from being scalped in countries using the same standard.

MultiChoice said that doing so would needlessly increase the cost, and argued that the concerns could be mitigated in other ways.

Both arguments, it turned out, were smokescreens.

MultiChoice was sensitive about the encryption issue because it would have allowed E-tv owner eMedia a subsidised entry into South Africa’s pay-TV sector.

Signal encryption is essential if you want to offer a pay-TV service, and MultiChoice felt it was unfair that E-tv would not have to fund the development and distribution of its own pay-TV decoder.

DStv dropped four eMedia channels

Following a Competition Tribunal hearing in 2022, MultiChoice dropped four of eMedia’s channels without further warning to viewers — eExtra, eMovies, eMovies Extra, and eToonz.

The Tribunal ruled against eMedia’s appeal to keep the channels on DStv platform.

eMedia approached the Competition Tribunal after MultiChoice renewed its channel supply agreement with the company and refused to include the four channels.

This dealt a major blow to the company as Openview and eMedia’s channels on DStv accounted for 21.9% of the company’s advertising revenue, bringing in R468.1 million.

MultiChoice disputed eMedia’s allegation that it switched the channels off without adequate warning.

eMedia later secured a Competition Tribunal interdict, forcing MultiChoice to restore the channels. The Tribunal extended the interdict for six months in December 2023.

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Openview goes to war against DStv