South Africa is on the brink of a broadcasting explosion, with recent developments showing that the sector is not prepared to wait for the government's shambolic digital terrestrial television (DTT) migration.
While the DTT process remains stalled by the conditional access debate and the appointment of new Communications Minister Yunus Carrim, e.tv parent company Sabido Investments and the public broadcaster have both made moves to launch new television services on satellite platforms instead.
Kagiso Media, which is also aiming to launch a satellite television service, has raised concerns that the delays in the migration process have allowed MultiChoice a chance to further entrench their position of power in the broadcasting sector.
It is, however, also seemingly leading to a surge in competition in the satellite television market (see below).
"What we are seeing is an explosion of content offerings, which is part of the move to digital television platforms," said one industry insider.
Sabido is launching a new free-to-air satellite platform called Openview HD via subsidiary Platco Digital.
It will be partnering with licensed broadcasters to carry channels on their behalf and Sabido has confirmed that e.tv will launch a number of
channels on the platform.
Platco's Maxwell Nonge is promising "significantly cheaper" carriage rates compared with existing players in the sector - which basically comprise DStv and TopTV.
Platco has also confirmed that it is in discussions with the public broadcaster about carrying some of their channels.
The free services will cost consumers only the R1 900 for the decoder, satellite dish and installation. They will get access to between 12 and 20 channels for no additional monthly costs.
"Openview HD will not be engaging in any licensable activities on its own behalf as it merely provides technical platform services to
licensed free-to-air broadcasters on the basis of existing licences," said Nonge.
Nonge says details of the specific channels will be released closer to launch time in October this year.
The plan has generated a lot of curiosity among industry players City Press spoke to on condition of anonymity this week.
Some argued that the move by Sabido could be interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the migration's process, although Sabido Investments head of corporate affairs Vasili Vass said the company was fully committed to the migration.
"Openview HD should be seen as another platform to strengthen free-to-air broadcasters," said Vass.
Vass pointed out that the United Kingdom, Ghana, New Zealand and Germany all had free-to-air satellite platforms operating alongside DTT platforms.
Meanwhile, the dominant satellite platform, DStv, is also attracting new local channels in lieu of the migration.
The SABC launched its 24-hour news channel this week on MultiChoice's DStv bouquet - a move heavily criticised by the DA, SABC union bosses and the Save Our SABC coalition.
The coalition's co-ordinator, Carol Mohlala, is reported to have said: "What message are they giving about DTT? Are they trying to tell us DTT won't work? Why couldn't they wait?"
Mohlala said that when migration was up and running, the public broadcaster would have 15 extra channels and it was not clear what they were going to do to fill them with.
Broadcast, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers' Union president Hannes du Buisson said the move was "morally wrong" because the public broadcaster was using public money to broadcast a service to an elite audience.
The Mail & Guardian reported that MultiChoice Africa would pay the public broadcaster a fee of R553 million over five years.
The public broadcaster's new 24-hour news channel promises to feature news in all 11 official South African languages, syndicated news programmes and repurposed SABC news programmes from its existing three channels, including Morning Live.
The channel will also become available on the migration, when the long-delayed switchover to digital broadcasting in South Africa begins.
One industry insider argued that getting the SABC channels on the DStv bouquet was good "political capital" for MultiChoice.
The controversial Gupta family is reportedly also set to launch a 24-hour news channel on the pay channel.
The channel is being launched under the umbrella of Infinity Media, a partnership between the main Gupta family vehicle, Oakbay Investments, with a 35% stake, Indian satellite giant Zee-TV (35%) and an unknown black-empowerment partner with 30%.
The channel known as Africa News Network 7 has started hiring staff, including presenters, anchors, reporters and producers.
The channel has said it will launch late this year.
The new hopefuls
There were five new applicants to Icasa for a new round of satellite television broadcasting licences recently.
Kagiso Media, which owns East Coast Radio, Jacaranda Radio, Urban Brew Studios and educational publishers Juta, plans to launch Kagiso TV if granted a licence.
Kagiso TV will be a satellite television bouquet that will retail at about R240 per month - with lower-priced options.
The target audience is LSM 5-7 - a potential audience of 3.5 million to 6.5 million households.
Kagiso have set themselves a target of 1 million subscribers by the sixth year of operation - the point at which it will break even.
Set up by the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela tribe in North West, Siyaya wants to offer a satellite bouquet for R70 per month.
Soccer will be one of Siyaya's main draw cards, with plans to show club football from South Africa and the continent.
Other content partners include Showtime, National Geographic, Zula, Warner Brothers, Fox and Sony Entertainment.
Their target market is consumers above 30 years old who earn between R4 000 and R10 000 a month - a market that Siyaya estimates has about 1 million potential viewers.
Siyaya plans to break even in their fourth year of operations, but will need 300 000 viewers by then to do so.
Former SABC manager Thandi Ramathesele is the CEO of Siyaya, former Post Office chairperson Vuyo Mahlati is the chair of the board and Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela's Kgosi Nyalala Pilane is deputy chair.
Close-T Broadcast Network Holdings
Cape Town-based Close-T plan to launch a satellite television bouquet for South Africa's gay, lesbian and transgender community.
Besides specific content for this community, they will also offer travel and fashion television shows, and art house and foreign-language films.
Its content partners thus far are Out TV Group, Logo TV and the Out in Africa Film Festival.
Close-T estimates that it has a potential market of 6 million South Africans.
Mindset Media Enterprises
Mindset Media Enterprises is the commercial arm of the Mindset Network, which specialises in education and health content.
They currently produce television shows for MultiChoice's DStv platform, On Digital Media's Top TV platform and Sentech's Vivid platform.
Mindset wants to launch channels full of similar content.
Classic FM founder Hylton Appelbaum is a director of Mindset Media Enterprises.
Mobile TV is owned by publisher and journalist Mothobi Mutloatse and black business support body Nafcoc.
Talking about the technology that will drive his broadcasting business, Mutloatse said: "It will be interactive, touch screen, and have downloads and internet."