More delays in store for TopTV as shareholders head to court

2013-10-22 11:43

Shareholders – including former On Digital Media (ODM) CEO Vino Govender – plan to take the Woodmead-based South African satellite pay-TV operator to court to prevent the StarTimes business rescue plan from proceeding any further.

The shareholders seek an urgent court interdict to prevent what they see as wholesale changes to the TopTV service, which could mean the end of ODM should South Africa’s broadcasting regulator not eventually approve the StarTimes bail-out application.

First National Media Investment Holdings and Atchuthandandan Moodley who together have a combined interest of 21.1% (20.4% and 0.7%, respectively) are adamant to stop the business-rescue plan being implemented by StarTimes from going any further.

The urgent court interdict will be brought on October 29. If granted, it will further delay ODM’s already delayed relaunch of its severely damaged TopTV brand into StarSat – which was supposed to happen last week and was postponed to November.

With a court application and the interdict due to be heard in the South Gauteng High Court, it now appears that a November launch of StarSat is also out of the question as conflict rages behind the scenes at TopTV.

The ODM shareholders voted on April 30 2013 for China’s StarTimes – already operational in several African countries – to take over a 20% share in the beleaguered company. What it means in reality is that StarTimes acquires an effective 65% economic interest in ODM.

A fifth of the shareholders have, however, been very concerned that ODM will be “irreparably damaged” if the StarTimes business rescue plan goes ahead, but isn’t successful. Meanwhile, some flaws in the implementation behind the scenes have already become very visible to not just shareholders but also to ordinary commercial TopTV subscribers.

“Currently, the business-rescue plan is the best opportunity for ODM, which is in a vulnerable position, to be rescued,” say the shareholders, unhappy with what they claim are “significant aspects of the business-rescue plan which appear to be permanent”.

Massive drama has already been playing out behind the scenes at the company, once again rocking the struggling ODM as StarTimes’ presence started to be felt over the past two months.

It’s been playing out for TopTV subscribers on their TV screens with weird new unexplained content, as well as high frustration and a consumer backlash over a new billing system that was introduced and instantly malfunctioned.

The ODM shareholders say that StarTimes is under financial stress of its own and that if StarTimes’ business-rescue plan proceeds, it will increase the risk of failure.

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