South Africa TV regulator tables World Cup free-to-air plan

ICASA tables bill to break up DStv sports rights monopoly.

Photo: The Root


The Fifa World Cup could be made free-to-air in South Africa if a draft bill tabled by the country’s broadcasting regulator is approved.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has announced a number of recommendations regarding access to televised high-profile sporting events, which are only available via to pay-TV subscribers.

South African broadcaster MultiChoice currently holds a vast array of sports rights across its Super Sports channels, including soccer, rugby union and cricket, which are carried by its DStv satellite service.

In a bid to make major sports events and leagues more freely available to South Africans, ICASA’s Draft Sports Broadcasting Services Regulations, published last month, calls for amendments to regulations it says will advance equality by creating increased access to sport of national interest.

If the proposals becomes law, a number of sports properties would be made available via free-to-air services such as the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

As well as the Fifa World Cup, they include the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), Summer Olympic Games, Cricket World Cup, T20 Cricket World Cup, Commonwealth Games, South African netball, as well as international boxing and athletics.

Amended regulations would also require a minimum of South Africa’s lesser-viewed sports to be broadcast on both free-to-air and subscription-based channels, according to a report by South African technology news outlet MyBroadband.

They could include golf, tennis, martial arts, basketball, squash, and motor sport. Non-exclusive rights to rugby union competitions including Super Rugby and the Currie Cup, as well as the Premier League, English soccer’s top flight, and the COSAFA Cup regional international soccer tournament remain available to subscription-based broadcasters.

Domestic sporting bodies SA Rugby and South African Football Association (SAFA) have stated concerns over the potential reduction in funding as a result of the regulations. MultiChoice is considered the biggest investor in South African sport and spends a reported R2 billion (US$140,000) every year on sports broadcasting rights but that would be likely be reduced should its rights portfolio be fragmented or made non-exclusive.

In a statement on the subject last year, MultiChoice told South African business outlet the Media: ‘It is an accepted principle by regulators globally that pay TV broadcasters require exclusivity to differentiate themselves from competitors as a basic business model, to recoup the investment they make into sports rights’.

SABC, which is technically bankrupt, would not have the means to accumulate more media rights in its current state and therefore be unable to plug any shortfall created by the new model.

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