Sunday Times

Relief over TV rights as new law is promulgate­d

Icasa moves to protect exclusive broadcasti­ng rights

- By DAVID ISAACSON isaacsond@sundaytime­

● 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.

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