Chris Forrester

A report just out says there are still plenty of opportunities in South African pay-TV, although any real rival to MultiChoice’s long-established DStv operation remains a “distant dream”.

Some two years ago South Africa’s broadcasting regulator ICASA opened up the pay-TV market to competition, announcing a handful of names which could enter the market and compete with MultiChoice. To date not one of the players has raised its head above the parapet. Indeed, it is worse than just simple delay, with many of those authorised having since withdrawn or significantly modified their plans.

“There is a market available,” says David Moore of Africa Analysis. “DStv hasn’t saturated the market yet.”

Moore quotes a study conducted two years ago by Africa Analysis which showed the potential market for pay-TV in South Africa could be as high as 4m households, with price the defining feature. DStv has 2.4m subs in South Africa, and Mr Moore suggests a rival would need about 500,000 subs to break even.

The ICASA licences were awarded to E-Sat, originally planned to be a full-service bouquet, but which instead reduced its plans to a single news channel, which launched on the DStv package last year.

Another licence went to Telkom Media, which sold a major stake in itself to a Chinese investor (Shenzen Media) in April. Since then even the company’s website has gone dark. There are suggestions that a name change is in the offing, with an announcement promised “shortly”.

On Digital Media (ODM), part-backed by SES Astra, had been expected to launch next month (September) but local reports suggest the website is also down “for maintenance” with local staffers now saying that early 2010 is the likely date for launch.

The final licence went to a religious channel, Walking on Water, which has yet to start transmission.