The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has confirmed that it will soon begin oral hearings on competition in the subscription-tv market in South Africa.
In a notice published on the Authority’s website, Icasa said that it had received 18 submissions from interested parties and all indicated that they are interested in making oral presentations.
The presentations are expected to be heard from 7-11 May and will include statements from broadcasters such as Multichoice and e-tv, major telecommunication players (including Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and Cell C), as well as various sporting bodies including Cricket South Africa, the PSL and the South African Rugby Union.
This diverse group of players is important as Icasa has made it clear that it wants to tackle competition issues in the sector and whether it needs to step in and impose new pro-competitive conditions.
According to a discussion document published in August 2017, the regulator said it was concerned about the uncompetitive nature in which paid-for television subscriptions had first-access to certain shows, its exclusive rights to sporting events (cricket, rugby and soccer) and the high barriers of entry into the paid-for space and whether certain companies have a monopoly.
The six pro-competitive conditions it proposed to enforce on these monopolistic companies include:
1. Shortening exclusive contracts – including reducing contract times for premium content.
2. ‘Unbundling’ – Unbundling sports rights to more than one buyer. These rights would then be sold under an open tender, allowing for more than one buyer, may not be not exclusive (ie longer than three years), and may not be automatically renewed.
3. Rights splitting – Similar to the unbundling sports rights, Icasa proposes that a rights owner split their content rights and sell them to more than one broadcaster.
4. Imposing a wholesale-must-offer – Citing the case of Sky in the UK, Icasa proposes introducing a wholesale-must-offer on sports channels, which requires an operator to sell sporting content to other distributors at regulated prices.
5. Opening up the network – One of the ways to encourage new players in the market who cannot afford the initial startup capital would be to open up the dominant firm’s network to these operators, said Icasa. The prices and access to this network would also be regulated.
6. Introducing set-top box inter-operability – The current market of DTH (Dish to the Home) subscriptions require that a different set of hardware and configurations are required to access different operators. While this will require further investigation into the technicalities of the hardware, Icasa proposes that one of the ways to open up competition would be allow inter-operability between operators and allow them to use each other’s equipment.