MultiChoice is ripping the very popular and long-running channels of History, Crime+Investigation Network and Lifetime away from DStv subscribers after channel carriage contract renewal negotiations between the pay-TV operator and A+E Networks supplying the channels, turned ugly and broke down.
A+E Networks UK says that DStv plans to take these channels away from subscribers although it tried very hard to reach a new channel carriage agreement and is still willing to work with MultiChoice to keep the channels on the air for DStv subscribers in South Africa and across the African continent.
A+E Networks, a joint venture between Hearst and Sky, says that if the channels disappear, DStv subscribers will have to bear the brunt of MultiChoice's decision when they will no longer be able to watch a slew of shows ranging from Little Women and Homicide Hunter to Curse of Oak Island, The First 48, Lifetime movies and specials like Surviving R Kelly.
All three of these successful international, so-called "third party" channels have been available to DStv Premium and DStv Compact Plus subscribers in South Africa and across sub-Saharan African countries for years.
Now DStv subscribers who have been paying for History (DStv 186), Lifetime (DStv 131) and C+I (DStv 170) will lose them all in one go when they will all be removed at the end of October 2019.
After A+E Networks and MultiChoice last renewed the channels package deal in mid-2016, negotiations between the two soured for a new carriage agreement. The unresolved stalemate between the companies lead MultiChoice to pull the plug and to take the channels away from DStv subscribers' existing channel line-up.
MultiChoice has carried the History channel for 16 years since 2003 and it has since become a popular legacy channel and viewing destination within DStv's documentaries and lifestyle block. The Crime+Investigation has been on DStv for 11 years since 2007, and Lifetime has been available on DStv for 5 years since mid-2014.
All three are now abruptly coming to an end under the auspices of Yolisa Phahle as MultiChoice's CEO for general entertainment and Aletta Alberts, MultiChoice's head of content strategy and third-party channels, with the loss of the A+E Networks content that will further dent the perceived value offered by the struggling DStv Premium package.
The subscriber numbers of the most expensive DStv tier continue to plummet as subscribers no longer see this package as offering enough value for money, something that the loss of the A+E Networks channels will likely make worse.
MultiChoice considers all three of A+E Networks' channels to be such premium content that it used all of them numerous times in the past as loss-leaders to promote and drive DStv subscriber uptake and to help rope in new subscribers through promotional "open time" periods during which they would be made available to lower-tiered customers.
MultiChoice and A+E Networks also created pop-up channels to drive audiences and subscriber uptake in the form of the History of Football and 100 Years of War channels.
The loss of History, Lifetime and Crime + Investigation will come as a massive shock to not just DStv subscribers in South Africa and across Africa but also to the broader local TV industry that MultiChoice will damage through removing the channels.
MultiChoice's decision to axe the channels has already caused massive embarrassment for A+E Networks' local A+E Networks Africa venture based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
A+E Networks held a content showcase for all of its channels barely a week ago telling the media what it will be showing in the upcoming months and in 2020, not saying a word that all of its channels would be off-air and off DStv in South Africa and Africa in a month's time from now.
At its presentation, A+E Networks unveiled a growing slate of local original productions with companies ranging from Clive Morris Productions to Katy Katopodis' Nala Media working on programming like Crime Stories SA and a gender-violence TV special, Loved Like Crazy voiced by Iman Rappetti.
Together with a new local series, Don't Tell the Bride SA earmarked for Lifetime, it's unclear as to whether any or all of the these announced productions will still go ahead or are getting cancelled since A+E Networks won't be able to recoup the expensive production costs of creating specific local TV content for DStv subscribers in Africa that none of them will actually be able to see.
Also unclear is what will happen to the locally-established and growing office of A+E Networks Africa headed up by Yusuf Nabee, as general manager for Africa, that has grown to now employ 12 people.
Awkwardly, Dean Possenniskie, the managing director for A+E Networks for the EMEA region, at the upfront said that "both Hearst and Sky fully support the focus and development of investment of A+E Networks Africa where we stand today, but more importantly where we'll go in the future".
That future is now completely unclear.
MultiChoice: Saying goodbye to History
MultiChoice didn't issue a statement about shutting off the channels but on its website under the euphemistically titled heading "Channel changes" now says that as part of "efforts to refresh our content line-up and optimise the suite of channels on offer, the MultiChoice Group will be saying goodbye to the History, Crime + Investigation and Lifetime channels" at the end of the current contract term.
MultiChoice isn't telling DStv subscribers that it plans to remove the channels because it couldn't reach a new deal.
MultiChoice says it will soon be "announcing the introduction of two new channels to DStv. The first is an established global brand and the other a new innovative brand".
Ironically, MultiChoice says that "we continue to increase our significant investment in local shows and content which have great resonance with customers and are a key driver of engagement".
That is exactly what History, Lifetime and C+I have been doing for DStv even though, as third-party international channels, they don't need to do local content. History did its first local production for Africa, Miracle Rising in 2013.
TVwithThinus on Tuesday asked Benedict Maaga, MultiChoice's senior manager for corporate communications, why specifically the channels are being dropped and if he can confirm that History, Lifetime and C+I are being axed because MultiChoice wasn't willing to pay A+E Networks what it wanted in carriage fees for its channels. He said that MultiChoice can't comment on that.
MultiChoice was also asked when it decided and informed A+E Networks that it will remove the channels and if A+E Networks was informed of that before the company had its just-held showcase presentation. MultiChoice also declined to comment on that question.
A+E Networks: DStv decided we don't offer good value
On Tuesday evening A+E Networks confirmed the channels' removal.
In response to a media enquiry, A+E Networks told TVwithThinus that "DStv announced that they plan to take away the A+E Networks Africa family of channels, including History, Crime+Investigation, and Lifetime from their customers".
"DStv has decided that our channels do not offer good value to their subscribers."
"Fans of our channels could soon miss out on the thousands of hours of new and unique shows we provide across our world-class global brands including Surviving R Kelly, Forged in Fire, American Pickers, Curse of Oak Island, Damien Lewis Spy Wars, The First 48, Homicide Hunter, Married at First Sight, Little Women, Lifetime movies, Lost Gold of World War 2, Watergate, Treasures Decoded, and many more."
"This includes current and upcoming local programming such as Crime Stories SA, Don’t Tell the Bride SA and Loved Like Crazy."
"We have been very proactive in trying to reach an agreement that is best for our viewers and for DStv. Our goal is to continue to bring our high-quality, award-winning programming to our local audiences."
"Our channels are available to viewers in over 160 countries around the world, and we negotiate several of these deals every year. We are willing to keep negotiations open and we sincerely hope DStv will find a way to work with us to keep our channels so we can continue to share our great upcoming local and international programmes with our loyal fans."
"Everyone at A+E Networks Africa is committed to continue working with DStv to try to achieve a positive outcome."
While MultiChoice doesn't have a customer complaint email, DStv subscribers who are unhappy about the removal of either History, Crime + Investigation or Lifetime or desperate to try and save their channel, can email email@example.com to say why they don't want channels that they are paying for, to be removed from their pay-TV platform.
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