Tuesday, June 11, 2024

StarSat denies it will be shutting down in September after South Africa's broadcasting regulator Icasa revokes On Digital Media's pay-TV licence.

by Thinus Ferreira

StarSat says it will not be shutting down – this despite South Africa's broadcasting regulator that has not renewed the Chinese-run pay-TV service's licence.

The 14-year-old pay-TV service headquartered in Midrand, Johannesburg started out as TopTV and is run by On Digital Media. 

On Digital Media is 20%-owned by the Chinese pay-TV service StarTimes – the maximum allowed for a foreign company of a South African media business – following a business rescue process a decade ago, after Top TV came to the verge of collapse following controversy and public outry over its eventually abandoned plans to carry a bouquet of pornographic TV channels.

Run under the StarTimes brand in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and as StarSat in South Africa, the company competes with MultiChoice's DStv in the traditional pay-TV space. 

It however has far fewer subscribers in South Africa than MultiChoice's DStv where it offers a Special, Super and Max package with a lot of Chinese TV channels.

An insider told TVwithThinus that South Africa's broadcasting regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has not renewed On Digital Media's broadcast licence for StarSat, with the pay-TV operator that has apparently been given until 18 September to close down.

"There's been no notice to staff and StarTimes is still selling StarSat decoders to new customers," the person said.

Icasa, in a letter in mid-March about the non-renewal of its individual broadcasting service licence which was sent to On Digital Media's CEO Debbie Wu as well as Ronald Reddy, ODM's general manager for legal, risk and compliance, the regulator states that it "does not have the legislative or regulatory mandate to consider a transfer application and/or renewal application an expired licence".

In the letter that TVwithThinus has seen, the regulator says "Take note that Icasa may publish a notice on its website and/or in the Government Gazette advising affected subscribers, content providers and stakeholders about the winding up of ODM's broadcasting services."

Icasa asked ODM to provide it with a plan on how and when it will tell StarSat subscribers, content providers and stakeholders on the winding up of its broadcasting services.

Three weeks ago TVwithThinus reached out to Icasa about On Digital Media broadcasting licence situation in a media query, asking for clarity from the regulator, whether StarSat indeed has to cease broadcasting on 18 September and several other specific questions around the case.

Two weeks ago, when asked again in a follow-up, Milly Matlou, Icasa spokesperson, said "the response is still being prepared and due to internal processes, there's a delay." 

Following multiple further attempts over multiple days to source comment from Icasa on the case, Matlou on Tuesday last week suddenly said "Thank you for your query, we think ODM is best placed to assist with your query" with no responses to any of the questions posed.

Debbie Wu, ODM CEO, told TVwithThinus last week in response to a media query about the non-renewal of its broadcasting licence that "ODM/StarSat is currently engaging with the regulator and cannot provide any public comments in that regard". 

 "Our engagements are such that we are exploring all the regulatory and legal issues regarding our obligations and licensing."We can assure you and the public that ODM/StarSat will not be closing its operations anytime."

"Should such an event materialise, which we doubt will happen, we will respect our obligation in terms of the law to notify all interested parties."Please note that ODM/StarSat will not be able to provide any further comments until this matter has been finalised."