Wednesday, April 9, 2014

BREAKING. South Africa's broadcasting regulator asks Competition Commission to investigate MultiChoice and SABC over TV channels deal.

South Africa's broadcasting regulator says the pay-TV platform MultiChoice and the South African public broadcaster, the SABC, both refused to supply the regulator with copies of a contract for TV channels supplied by the SABC to the DStv service and that the regulator has now asked the Competition Commission to investigate a case of possible "restrictive practices".

The Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (Icasa) says it asked MultiChoice and the SABC for a copy of the deal.

According to this deal, the SABC is supplying the SABC News (DStv 404) 24-hour TV news channel to DStv, as well as a general entertainment SABC TV channel which has not yet launched.

The SABC News channel which is a public TV channel from the public broadcaster and which will be available freely to all free-to-air viewers once digital terrestrial television (DTT) starts in the country, is not being made available to Sabido's OpenView HD (OVHD) satellite TV platform, neither On Digital Media's (ODM) StarSat TV platform.

Yet SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 - also from the public broadcaster - are carried on DStv, OVHD and StarSat under so-called "must carry" regulations.

That is however not Icasa's main problem although SABC News as a public channel not being available to all operators is flouting regulations.

According to Icasa, the contract between MultiChoice and the SABC allegedly contains a specification that the SABC will continue to transmit its TV channels without encryption in the set-top boxes (STBs) - special decoder boxes which all TV viewers will have to buy once DTT starts.

This is the main reason why Icasa wants to see the contract but MultiChoice and the SABC so far both refused to provide a copy of the contract signed in July 2013.

The SABC has not yet responded to a media enquiry asking why the SABC has not given a copy of the contract to South Africa's broadcasting regulator which is the authority over all television broadcasting in the country.

MultiChoice in response to a media enquiry says "the agreement between MultiChoice and the SABC is a commercial channel distribution agreement".

"A clause in that agreement requires the SABC to broadcast its free-to-air channels unencrypted. This does not constitute a restrictive horizontal practice. In fact, such an arrangement is pro-competitive. The complaint is completely without foundation," MultiChoice tells TV with Thinus.

"As to Icasa's allegation that MultiChoice failed to honour a request by Icasa for a copy of the agreement, MultiChoice is under no legal obligation to make the agreement available to Icasa".

"In fact, Icasa is required, in terms of the Electronic Communications Act, to refrain from undue interference in the commercial activities of licensees," says MultiChoice.

Icasa says that "in the context of the ongoing public dispute between and MultiChoice over whether free-to-air TV services should utilise STB control, the question arises as to whether the agreement between the SABC and MultiChoice, as it affects the issue of STB control, may constitute a form of restrictive horizontal practice in the television market".

Icasa has therefore now asked the Competition Commission to become involved, and to probe and investigate a case of "possible restrictive horizontal practice" between MultiChoice and the SABC.