by Thinus Ferreira
Sixteen years after it was awarded a licence in mid-2007 to start a subscription television service, eMedia finally plans to enter South Africa's pay-TV market in 2023 where it will more directly compete against MultiChoice and China's StarTimes operating as StarSat.
Besides competing with MultiChoice in the pay-TV market from 2023, eMedia plans to roll out a new, "smarter" Openview decoder, a new Android box, and to construct a new state-of-the-art visual special effects studio at its Hyde Park precinct in Johannesburg.
In its just-released integrated annual report for 2022, eMedia Holdings CEO Khalik Sherrif reveals that the group has plans to finally enter the country's lucrative pay-TV space.
eMedia Holdings already runs South Africa's sole free-to-air commercial TV channel e.tv, the TV news channel eNCA (DStv 403) on pay-TV, the streaming service eVOD, the free-to-air satellite service Openview and owns support and production spaces like Sasani Studios, Cape Town Film Studios, Moonlighting Films and Media Film Service.
"The 2023 year will also see the group enter the pay television market," Khalik Sherrif notes on page 11 of the report.
In response to a media query asking about its pay-TV plans and what it would entail, eMedia told TVwithThinus on Monday morning that "eMedia definitely has plans to venture into the pay-TV space".
"It's still early stages so we cannot say too much yet for competitive reasons. As soon as we are closer and in a position to share detail we will," a spokesperson said.
In 2007, eMedia under the header e.Sat was one of the successful applicants of a pay-TV licence from the South African broadcasting regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).
eMedia however decided against launching its own satellite pay-TV service, opting to become a TV channel supplier to existing pay-TV services instead, fearing that it would be too difficult and financially draining to launch its own pay-TV service given that Icasa handed out multiple other pay-TV service licences.
eMedia has been supplying pay-TV channels like eNCA to MultiChoice's DStv satellite pay-TV service since 2008, while it signed channel carriage agreements for various permutations of its other e.tv-packaged channels with MultiChoice and StarTimes over the past couple of years.
With the longtime frosty relation between Hyde Park and Randburg that further sourced this year when MultiChoice decided to drop and end the channels carriage agreement for a litany of e.tv-supplied TV channels on DStv - a case that ended up before South Africa's Competition Tribunal - eMedia is now clearly adamant to pursue a strategy of creating and funnelling it own pay-TV content directly to consumers.
eMedia already launched its own over-the-top (OTT) video streaming service, eVOD , in August 2021 as well as its eOriginals production banner, while its Openview satellite service continues to grow.
The e.tv-packaged TV channels like eExtra, eMovies Extra and eReality (rebranded as eXposed) - while they were available on MultiChoice's DStv and Openview simultaneously - have been ranking in the top 15-list of all satellite TV-channels available in South Africa regarding audience share, likely providing incentive for eMedia's plan to make a bigger push into pay-TV.
With eVOD already competing for consumer screentime, advertising income and subscriber numbers and revenue against the likes of MultiChoice's streamer Showmax and StarTimes's StarTimes ON, eMedia's plan to enter the pay television market will move eMedia into the crosshairs of these existing local players.
With the free-to-air Openview division already representing 21.9% of the group's advertising revenue, amounting to R468.1 million for the past financial year, and with eVOD that racked up 461 611 subscribers in less than a year, it's understandable that eMedia wants to see if it can derive more revenue from pay-TV content as well.
2023: Smarter Openview STB, new Android box, VFX studio
Openview is close to reaching the 3 million mark for activated households across Southern African countries (2 774 454 activations by the end of March this year), while eMedia signed a channel carriage extension with MultiChoice to keep eNCA as a DStv exclusive news channel for another 5 years.
The group plans to invest another R100 million in local, original content development spend in eOriginals for eVOD and e.tv, with Openview that plans to launch another TV channel to its existing bouquet in October this year.
In the 2023 financial year eMedia also plans to launch "a new smarter set-top box which which include built-in Wi-Fi and the capability for the group to be innovative with advertising revenue," Khalik Sherrif says in the annual report.
eMedia is also working on "a new Android box which will hopefully hit the market in the second half of the 2023 calendar year".
eMedia will also start construction of a new state-of-the-art visual special effects studio at its Hyde Park precinct in Johannesburg.
"This will further enhance the already premium local content to a level that will compete with international players," the group says.
"The group is forging ahead with numerous technology advances and strategic planning to continue to be the audience share market leader. The investment in Openview provides the group with the strategic flexibility and is the plan to address the challenges of the transition that digital migration brings with it."