Com­pet­ing for our at­ten­tion

Saturday Star - - OPINION -

SOUTH African pay TV gi­ant Mul­tichoice was un­der the cosh this week at the Icasa hear­ings into com­pe­ti­tion in the sub­scrip­tion TV mar­ket. Mul­tichoice stands ac­cused of hav­ing a mo­nop­oly in the lo­cal mar­ket. Com­peti­tors claim its dom­i­nance is such that it is im­pos­si­ble to get a foothold.

Cus­tomers have moaned at what they per­ceive is a mono­lithic ser­vice to which they are held ran­som if they want fare that is more ap­petis­ing than that dished up by the free-to-air op­er­a­tors, SABC and etv.

Mul­tichoice’s ar­gu­ment this week has been that there is com­pe­ti­tion – and it isn’t be­ing de­liv­ered on nor­mal TV chan­nels.

In a cer­tain way, it is right – stud­ies show that by 2020, half of the coun­try won’t be watch­ing TV on a tra­di­tional TV, but get­ting their con­tent via smart­phones, tablets or com­put­ers, be­cause of the dom­i­nance of the big telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing very sim­i­lar con­tent to their net­works. There are other big play­ers too, like Net­flix, stream­ing via the in­ter­net.

South Africans are spoilt for choice and, like the print me­dia com­pa­nies which have been dec­i­mated by dig­i­tal news sites, tra­di­tional broad­cast­ers are also bat­tling this dis­rup­tion where con­tent is con­sumed for free be­cause of its ac­ces­si­bil­ity. Piracy is an­other cri­sis – South Africa is the worst in the con­ti­nent and the 20th worst in the world. There are scores of in­ter­net sites show­cas­ing pi­rated soc­cer games live at the same time as Mul­tichoice’s Su­pers­port chan­nel.

There needs to be com­pe­ti­tion, but also reg­u­la­tion. We need to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where the con­sumer ben­e­fits from not just cheap for­eign con­tent but also lo­cally cre­ated con­tent and we need all th­ese to in­vest in South Africa. The play­ing fields have to be level.

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