MultiChoice, minister take TV encryption fight to ConCourt

DStv remote control. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
DStv remote control. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town – MultiChoice and the Department of Communications have launched appeals against the Supreme Court of Appeals (SCA) ruling on encryption for set top boxes (STBs).

Both the pay-TV provider and the department disagree with the SCA's ruling that the decision not to encrypt set top boxes should be struck down.

They oppose the adoption of encryption and have launched a Constitutional Court appeal.

Encryption of the boxes as SA eyes digital TV migration is a key element that has the support of free to air broadcaster e.tv, but is opposed by MultiChoice.

“Much as it pains me to admit it, MultiChoice and the minister are correct. [Faith] Muthambi may be inept, but the decision that she made is the best for the country in the long run. Encryption is fundamentally anti-consumer,” technology consultant Andrew Fraser told Fin24.

‘Nonsense’

READ: Why government's TV box saga is hurting SA internet

E.tv has argued that without encryption, it would be unable to provide “high quality content” on digital set top boxes.

“This is nonsense, content owners do require some copy protection, but that protection is included in the HDMI output of the STB as HDCP. All HDMI outputs have this as standard, and it is included in the SABS standard for the STB (SANS862),” said Fraser.

Set top boxes will enable standard TV sets to receive the new digital signal, but as newer digitally-enabled TVs reach market penetration, the need for a STB will diminish.

However, encryption would mandate the continued use of STBs even with digitally enabled TVs.

“Adding encryption will cost the country significantly more in the long run. Firstly, there is the actual cost of broadcast implementation, then the physical technology and licence fee per decoder,” said Fraser.

“But long term it also means that SA will be tied to these STBs for the future. Imported integrated digital TVs (IDTV) won't work,” he added.

The government will subsidise about five million households with STBs as the country rolls out digital television, which will free up urgently required spectrum for mobile broadband services.

Competition

READ: MultiChoice boss opens up on decoder row

Free to air broadcaster e.tv is using the opportunity to take on MutiChoice’s pay-TV market, said Fraser.

“E.tv's argument is based on misinformation and red herrings. There is only one reason for a broadcaster to push for encryption for a broadcaster - the introduction of pay-TV services.”

“E.tv wants government to subsidise the supply of four to five million decoders at taxpayer expense. Those decoders will then allow e.tv to broadcast pay-TV services without having to invest in their own STB,” Fraser added.

*Fin24 is part of Media24 which is owned by Naspers. MultiChoice is a Naspers subsidiary


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