Re­cep­tion fail­ure

Mo­bile TV latest vic­tim of Gov­ern­ment de­lays

Finweek English Edition - - Openers - BENE­DICT KELLY benk@fin­week.co.za

CON­FU­SION REIGNS ABOUT com­ments made by Com­mu­ni­ca­tions De­part­ment di­rec­tor-gen­eral Lyn­dall Shope-Mafole dur­ing a me­dia brief­ing last week on cross-me­dia own­er­ship. At the brief­ing Shope-Mafole com­mented that the launch of mo­bile television ser­vices would trig­ger is­sues about cross-me­dia own­er­ship that would need to be re­solved be­fore li­cences could be awarded.

South Africa’s Elec­tronic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Act stip­u­lates that no per­son who con­trols a news­pa­per may ac­quire or re­tain fi­nan­cial con­trol of a com­mer­cial broad­cast­ing ser­vice li­cence in ei­ther TV or sound broad­cast­ing ser­vices. It would ap­pear the de­part­ment is en­vis­ag­ing a new li­cence will have to be is­sued to al­low broad­cast­ers such as the SABC and Mul­tiChoice to launch mo­bile broad­cast­ing of­fer­ings.

How­ever, Janet MacKen­zie, con­sul­tant at Cliffe Dekker, says be­cause mo­bile TV is tech­ni­cally a broad­cast medium, the abil­ity to of­fer the ser­vice would fall un­der ex­ist­ing broad­cast li­cences. “A broad­cast be­ing re­ceived by a mo­bile hand­set is no dif­fer­ent from one be­ing re­ceived by a TV,” she says. “The only thing you’d need would be ac­cess to the ra­dio fre­quency spec­trum be­ing used to broad­cast the sig­nal – and that’s some­thing that (reg­u­la­tor) Icasa is re­spon­si­ble for.”

When asked af­ter the brief­ing for clar­ity on the is­sue, Shope-Mafole re­asserted her com­ment that there would be cross-me­dia own­er­ship is­sues with the li­cens­ing of mo­bile TV but that the de­part­ment would be tak­ing ac­tion to en­sure there wouldn’t be sig­nif­i­cant de­lays in award­ing li­cences. She added that is­sues the de­part­ment had iden­ti­fied would be ironed out so as not to im­pact on those broad­cast­ers look­ing to launch mo­bile TV ser­vices.

The con­fu­sion is height­ened by the ap­par­ent fail­ure of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions De­part­ment to in­clude a pol­icy di­rec­tive on the li­cens­ing of mo­bile TV broad­cast­ers in its Broad­cast­ing Dig­i­tal Mi­gra­tion doc­u­ment.

In re­ply to a query from Fin­week, Mul­tiChoice GM for cor­po­rate af­fairs Jackie Rak­itla said since the min­is­ter’s last pol­icy di­rec­tive in May 2007, as far as they are aware, no fur­ther pol­icy doc­u­ments on mo­bile tel- evi­sion have been pub­lished, but he added Mul­tiChoice didn’t rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other round of min­is­te­rial pol­icy di­rec­tives in the near fu­ture.

Ear­lier this year Mul­tiChoice CEO Nolo Lethele told Fin­week (22 May) that be­cause of the timescales needed to roll out a proper mo­bile TV ser­vice, Mul­tiChoice would re­ex­am­ine its op­tions if it didn’t think it could have a suf­fi­ciently strong of­fer­ing in time for the Soc­cer World Cup in 2010. “The World Cup is the per­fect time to show­case a tech­nol­ogy like this but we need time in or­der to make sure we can achieve mass mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion of the ser­vice,” he said. “It typ­i­cally takes 18 to 24 months for new tech­nol­ogy in hand­sets to fil­ter down to more af­ford­able hand­sets – and that’s vi­tal to mak­ing the ser­vice a suc­cess.”

At the time, the min­is­ter had promised to re­lease the pol­icy doc­u­ment in June. How­ever, with its pol­icy about mo­bile TV still a noshow, the fu­ture of Mul­tiChoice’s ex­pected R1bn in­vest­ment into in­fra­struc­ture to of­fer this tech­nol­ogy now seems in doubt.

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