Mobile TV latest victim of Government delays
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.