Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Disney ends the FOX channel in Africa after 11 years, rips away 11th and final season ending of The Walking Dead from pay-TV viewers.

by Thinus Ferreira

The FOX channel in Africa has turned into the walking dead with the last of its programming turning into a zombie schedule after Disney decided to end the channel on DStv and StarSat after 11 and a half years at the end of September, ripping away the ending of The Walking Dead from pay-TV subscribers across the continent.

In response to a media query from TVwithThinus, The Walt Disney Company Africa confirms that its FOX (DStv 125 / StarSat 131) channel is ending on pay-TV services like MultiChoice's DStv, StarTimes and StarSat, as well as Zuku across sub-Saharan Africa at the end of September.

"On 30 September at 23:59 (CAT), the FOX channel across Africa will close," a South African spokesperson of The Walt Disney Company Africa says.

"As the television landscape and viewer consumption evolves, we continue to develop and review our products and services to ensure we are offering the best possible experience for consumers."

"We look forward to bringing consumers across Africa a vast array of factual, sports, and kids programming from our channels, including National Geographic, National Geographic Wild, ESPN, ESPN 2, Disney Channel and Disney Junior."

StarSat in response to a media query on Monday said that "the FOX channel will be offline as of 1 October, however FOX News will still air. This was a decision made by Disney to remove the channel". On StarSat the FOX channel has been available to Max and Super subscribers. 

MultiChoice in response to a media enquiry said that the "MultiChoice Group confirms that as of 30 September 2021 at 23:59, FOX will stop airing on DStv. The change is as a result of a review of various channels by The Walt Disney Company Africa, as the channel owner and ourselves". The FOX channel has been available to DStv Premium, DStv Compact Plus and DStv Compact subscribers.

Asked how pay-TV subscribers watching FOX will see series and their endings like the final season of The Walking Dead and whether that content would be made available on-demand somewhere else, Disney says that "all current premiere series will air their full seasons before the channel closes".

"While the channel will be closing, many titles that aired on FOX will be available on Star on Disney+ when the service launches in South Africa in 2022".

Asked if FOX will be replaced in time by another similar type of linear TV channel or whether it's not part of Disney's strategy to run a general entertainment channel anymore like FOX was, Disney has no definitive answer.

Disney says that "across the globe, we continue to invest in both direct-to-consumer (DTC) and linear businesses, with the goal being providing our fans with multiple entry points to our content and our brand. We have substantial linear businesses in several markets including across Africa".

"We take a market-by-market approach and continuously evaluate our media networks business on an ongoing basis but have nothing else to announce at this time."

"Our number one priority is to bring customers the stories they love and our linear channels continue to be a compelling destination – including our genre-defining factual entertainment channels National Geographic and Nat Geo WILD, our action-pack sports channels ESPN and ESPN2, as well as our popular kids and family channels Disney Channel and Disney Junior."

Disney axed the FOX Life channel at the end of September 2020 on DStv and StarSat, and terminated Disney XD in the same month after nine years on DStv.

FOX's zombie-hyped start - and zombie ending
The FOX Africa channel started its linear broadcast life in May 2010 in South Africa as FOX Entertainment when On Digital Media (ODM) launched its TopTV satellite service (now StarSat) with several Fox-supplied channels that came and went over the years like FX, FOX Retro, FOX Life and FOX Crime.

FOX Entertainment rebranded to FOX from April 2013 after MultiChoice signed a new carriage deal to also carry FOX.

FOX became a solid B+ general entertainment channel coming close to rivaling premium channels like M-Net and BBC Entertainment over the past decade with shows like Falling Skies, Da Vinci's Demons, Empire, The Resident, Deep State as its first original Europe and Africa commissioned drama series, War of the Worlds recently and even stealing The Simpsons away from M-Net.

The biggest content contributor to the desirability factor of FOX as a TV channel however came in the licensing coup of AMC Studios' global zombie series hit The Walking Dead that started in October 2010 just as FOX began as a channel in South Africa and that is ending just as FOX is ending, with its 11th season that started on Sunday 22 August.

Ironically, after multiple seasons of doing both live late-night simulcast airings at the same time as in America, as well as "Express from the US" episodes where viewers in Africa saw The Walking Dead episodes within a day of broadcast after the United States, Disney is now ripping the show and how the story ends away from pay-TV subscribers who have been following it for a decade on FOX Africa.

Viewers of DStv, StarTimes and StarSat will not see any of the new weekly episodes of the concluding 11th season of The Walking Dead in August or September before FOX shuts down, with the show's latest season conspicuously absent from the FOX schedule.

Why FOX is ending
The FOX News (StarSat 261) channel from Fox Corporation will remain on StarTimes and StarSat but the axing of FOX Africa on StarSat and DStv is the culmination of the Walt Disney Company's corporate takeover of 21st Century Fox in 2019.

In May, Bob Chapek, Walt Disney CEO, said that Disney planned to close 100 of its remaining international FOX, FOX Crime and FOX Life channels, as well as several Disney Channel, Disney Junior and even some iterations of the National Geographic channels in various markets before the end of this year, from the United Kingdom and New Zealand, to Australia and across Southeast Asia.

Disney is shutting down these channels for two reasons: It wants to get rid of the "FOX" name in all its channel branding and assets, similar to how it renamed its studios of 20th Century Fox to 20th Century Studios and 20th Century Fox Television as 20th Television. 

Secondly, Disney wants to take back its content tied up in linear TV channel distribution deals and consolidate its content to put it all on its own Disney+ video streaming service that it is rolling out globally, with Bob Chapek who earlier this month in its latest investors' conference call said that "our direct-to-consumer business is the company's top priority".

Disney plans to launch Disney+ in South Africa from any time around June 2022.

Viewers noticed FOX sliding out of  focus
In May, viewers became alarmed when they started noticing that the FOX schedule suddenly began to zombify with a lot more rebroadcasts and repeats and a dramatic decrease in new, first-run series on the channel than previously. 

Worried pay-TV subscribers feared and speculated that the visible lack of volume of new content meant that the less energy and focus given to FOX was possibly signaling that the TV channel is going to be discontinued.

Disney in response to a media enquiry in May then responded very much with the same statement it did now, saying: "We continue to invest in both direct-to-consumer (DTC) and linear businesses, with the goal being providing our fans with multiple entry points to our content and our brand. We take a market by market approach and continuously evaluate our media networks business on an ongoing basis but have nothing to announce at this time."

Impact on subscribers
The termination of FOX in Africa will hit StarTimes and StarSat and its subscribers, harder than MultiChoice and DStv subscribers since FOX has been the last remaining good general entertainment with American content left on StarTimes' channels line-up, whereas MultiChoice still has channels like M-Net and others to somewhat blunt the impact of FOX's loss.

StarTimes and StarSat subscribers, still angry after the loss of Discovery Family in late-January and the loss of more Discovery Inc. channels - StarTimes Real Time, Investigation Discovery, Investigation Discovery French, Discovery Science and Discovery Science French - since the beginning of this month, are upset about the end of FOX.

"I am so done with StarSat right now," said subscriber Loraine Ellis, echoing the sentiment of hundreds of StarSat subscribers on Facebook on Monday. "You have taken away multiple channels over the past year or so and replaced it with absolutely nothing. How are we going to watch The Walking Dead when the new season starts?"

Pay-TV customer Johan Kruger said that if FOX doen't show The Walking Dead "real soon everyone will resort back to piracy. We got all previous seasons at the exact same time as it aired in the US".

DStv subscribers in countries like Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania where price increases come into effect from September will likely wonder why they have to pay more but at the same time get less when the FOX channel is taken away.