The spotlight will return to MultiChoice this week as the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) forges ahead with plans to open up the pay-TV market to create competition and provide more choice for consumers.

The communications regulator will begin oral hearings in an inquiry about subscription television broadcasting service.

MultiChoice dominates the market largely because it has exclusive contracts for premium and international content. The company has the exclusive rights to broadcast football, particularly the globally watched English Premier League.

In a bid to break the stranglehold on the pay-TV market and to facilitate the entry of new players, Icasa is considering introducing shared sports rights and shortening contract periods.

Input will be heard from the SABC, e.tv, SA Rugby, the Premier Soccer League and the recently launched Econet Media’s Kwese TV, owned by Zimbabwean telecoms tycoon Strive Masiyiwa.

MultiChoice is scheduled to deliver oral submissions on Friday, the last day of hearings.

In 2014, Icasa issued five new pay-TV licences to increase consumer choice. That brought the total number of pay-TV licences to 10. The new licence holders included Close-T Broadcast Network, Mindset Media Enterprises, Mobile TV, Kagiso TV and Siyaya Free To Air. Siyaya subsequently opted to provide a channel, MojaLove, on MultiChoice’s DStv. In 2007, it had awarded four licences: to e.Sat, e.tv’s sister company; Walking on Water; Telkom Media; and the then TopTV, now known as StarSat. Only TopTV launched its services, but faced headwinds and eventually applied for business rescue.

Late in 2017, Icasa published a discussion document on its inquiry into subscription television broadcasting services. It said the inquiry aimed "to determine whether there are competition issues in the sector, which require action to be taken by the authority through the imposition of pro-competitive conditions on relevant licensees".

Icasa said in the document that shortening exclusive contract periods could boost competition.

With Thabiso Mochiko