Relief over TV rights as new law is promulgated
Icasa moves to protect exclusive broadcasting rights
● Pay channel SuperSport and sports federations can breathe a sigh of relief after the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) this week gazetted amended regulations protecting exclusive rights.
An initial draft of the regulations had sparked fears that the financial ecosystem where bodies like SA Rugby, Cricket SA and the Premier Soccer League (PSL), which make the bulk of their income through the sale of TV rights, would collapse.
“I am pleased to see that Icasa recognises that these regulations do not only impact broadcasting commercial realities, but the commercial realities of sports rights holders [sports bodies],” said sports industry analyst Kelvin Watt, chairperson of Nielsens Sports SA and MD of Capitalize Media.
SuperSport’s holding company, MultiChoice, said they were happy with the amended regulations.
“MultiChoice welcomes the publication of the … regulations,” MultiChoice group executive for corporate affairs, Joe Heshu, said in a written response to questions.
“Numerous stakeholders, including MultiChoice and local and international sports federations, made extensive submissions in this process which Icasa has clearly had regard to.
“The new regulations are accordingly evidence-based and balance the various competing interests in a fair and reasonable manner. This bodes well for an appropriate regulatory environment which is needed to ensure the sustainability of the sports and sports broadcast industries.”
But the SABC won’t be happy.
SABC Sport head Gary Rathbone said the public broadcaster had changed tack in the last round of submissions to Icasa, limiting its objection to blanket exclusive rights.
“Blanket exclusivity is what we’re totally against,” he said, explaining that they wanted pay TV to be blocked from obtaining the rights, like for free-to-air, that they can’t use themselves.
SuperSport own all the rights of PSL, for example, and SABC must sub-license from them.
“There’s no ways that we should be having to sub-license free-to-air rights from a pay TV broadcaster because a pay TV broadcaster should not have free-to-air rights in the first place.”
Rathbone conceded that on the SABC’s proposed model, sports rights holders would earn less from the SABC than SuperSport, but pointed out that the public broadcaster had a wider reach.
“The EPL [English Premier League], La Liga — and English cricket was a very good example of this — they realised that while they made a huge chunk of money from their pay TV deals, they’re starting to lose ground in terms of the audiences they’re reaching.”
He said SABC’s Bundesliga audiences outnumbered DStv’s EPL viewers.
Icasa, however, touched on the argument put forward by SABC.
“The Authority is not convinced that the argument advanced by these stakeholders warrant the sort of drastic regulatory interBy
SuperSport’s holding company, MultiChoice, said they were happy, but not so the SABC who are against blanket exclusivity
vention sought by such stakeholders.
“In addition to the above, the Authority requested stakeholders to provide documentary evidence of subscription broadcasting service licensees imposing draconian or unsustainable terms in relation to sub-licensing arrangements.”
Icasa said the requested information was not provided.
“In light of the lack of evidence and the dictates of … the [Electronic Communications Act], which cautions the Authority to refrain from undue interference in the commercial activities of licensees, the Authority is of the view that the mandate conferred upon it by … the [above legislation] does not empower it to impose price limits and other commercial terms in relation to the aspect of sub-licensing.”
But MultiChoice and sports bodies are not out of troubled waters.
“There are numerous challenges currently, with the proliferation of OTT [over the top] streaming platforms [and] rampant piracy,” said Heshu.