Icasa to probe SA pay-TV market

What is digital terrestrial television. Picture: City Press
What is digital terrestrial television. Picture: City Press

Johannesburg - The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) is launching a competition inquiry into the country’s television subscription market.

The regulator made the announcement on Friday and said it has established a committee to look into South Africa’s pay television market.

Katharina Pillay will chair the committee while she will be assisted by deputy chairpersons Nomvuyiso Batyi and Botlenyana Mokhele.

South Africa currently has two main pay-TV providers: MultiChoice and Chinese backed StarSat (formerly known as TopTV).

China’s StarTimes snapped up TopTV in 2015. This came after TopTV entered business rescue to avoid bankruptcy.

“This inquiry is intended to address concerns raised by industry stakeholders as well as for the authority to determine why despite multiple attempts to introduce competition in the subscription broadcasting market, only two licensees have been able to launch services and the two entrants have been plagued with sustainability challenges and the others yet not begun operations,” said Icasa in a media statement.

“It is important for the authority to understand the challenges faced by new market entrants so that it can address the regulatory impediments where required, and create an enabling environment for the introduction of competition,” said Icasa.

Icasa further said in its statement the the impending switch to digital terrestrial television will “create new opportunities for market entry”.

But Icasa said these “opportunities can only be exploited in a market that enables competition”.

South Africa has faced several delays with its digital migration project as it missed a key International Telecommunications Union (ITU) deadline in June last year.

Court battles have also ensued over whether set-top boxes - the devices used to decode digital signals for analogue televisions - should be encrypted or not.

Nevertheless, government has started to distribute subsidised set-top boxes for up to 5 million poorer households.

Meanwhile, Icasa said its probe into the competitiveness of the pay TV sector in South Africa is expected to begin next week and be completed within the financial year.

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