The public hearings to select South Africa’s new Pay-TV operators claimed further casualties this week, with yet another applicant withdrawing and another breaking into tears under cross-examination.
The hearings, held by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), were fraught with interested parties trying to cut others down to size.
The most aggressive applicant this week was E-Sat’s lawyer Dan Rosengarten, whose cross-examination of Q-Digital Cable Vision’s CEO Majota Kambule, also known as Phat Joe, resulted in the TV and radio star being reduced to tears.
When the hearings began last week 18 applicants were vying for the valuable subscription broadcasting licenses that will give them an opportunity to make their fortune in the billion-rand pay-TV industry.
The 18 have been reduced to 16 with the withdrawal of Worldspace SA, following instructions to Icasa by Minister of Communications Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri to allow Worldspace to continue broadcasting without a license.
This was followed this week with the withdrawal of Multichannel Television, which abandoned its application before it had even presented its proposal to the Icasa panel.
Although the panel should be lauded for its thorough interrogation of the applicant’s proposal, its task was made that much easier by rigorous cross-examination by Rosengarten.
Q Digital Cable Vision was not the only applicant to see its proposal implode this week: the Absa- and MTN-backed Max TV bid also came under heavy fire when it failed to produce proof of secured funding and the people behind Black Earth Communications (BEC) bit off more than they could chew with their radical proposal for “The TV that cares”.
BEC’s product offering, which included a prison TV network, a drug channel and channels dedicated to HIV/Aids and Afro-environmental issues, was interrogated by other applicants, who felt the product was better suited to a public service channel.
Goal Technology Solutions’ application was struck a deadly blow when Icasa pointed out that the Electronic Communications Act stipulated that Power Line Communication technology could not be used for broadcasting purposes.
However, the hearings sprang back to life on Tuesday with two professional presentations by On Digital Media (ODM) and E-Sat, a sister company of e.TV.
E-Sat’s panel, which included HCI’s Marcel Golding and John Copelyn, were confident and cocky as they faced questions from the Icasa panel and fellow applicants.
The Icasa panel appeared to be concerned about the advantage that E-Sat’s broadcasting experience and its e-TV structures would afford it, and raised a number of issues regarding cross-subsidization.
Once again confidentiality was the buzzword this week, with substantial portions of the E-Sat application unavailable because it had been granted confidential status.
Members of the Icasa panel became visibly frustrated during the week as the confidential nature of certain sections of the applications prevented them from interrogating the proposals more vigorously.
At one point counsellor Marcia Socikwa vented her annoyance by saying that the regulator would have to reconsider grants of confidentiality as they prevented the panel from doing its work properly.
ODM raised the stakes with its presentation on Tuesday afternoon when it wheeled in more that eight state-of-the-art television screens presumably to make it easier for the Icasa panelists, who had to strain their necks to peer at the large screen that had sufficed for other applicants.
They then packed the front rows with ODM staff and officials dressed in black suits and matching ties.
ODM’s proposal was highly professional, a fact that could be gauged by the limited cross-examination by Rosengarten.
ODM’s programming offering appeared sound and Socikwa lauded its research, describing it as “amazing”. It did, however, face a grilling over its BEE status.
The hearings wrap up next week with the Telkom Media presentation, after which applicants can expect a lengthy wait until the successful licenses are announced.
Attempts by the Mail & Guardian to contact Kambule (Phat Joe) were unsuccessful this week.