Kwesé Free TV has been awarded only the second free-to-air TV licence by Icasa. Picture: ECONET WIRELESS.COM
Kwesé Free TV has been awarded only the second free-to-air TV licence by Icasa. Picture: ECONET WIRELESS.COM

Lobby group Media Monitoring Africa has welcomed the recent decision by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to award Kwesé Free TV a commercial free-to-air TV broadcasting licence and radio frequency spectrum.

Last week, Icasa announced that Econet Media’s Kwesé, which is partially owned by Zimbabwean telecoms tycoon Strive Masiyiwa, has been awarded the licence. Free-to-air television licences are granted infrequently and this is only the second in SA’s history. Free-to-air broadcaster e.tv was awarded its broadcast rights 21 years ago.

Icasa issued a new invitation to apply for the second free-to-air licence in 2018 after it had rejected previous applications in 2014. The companies that applied included Infinity Media Networks, which owns the now defunct Gupta-linked news network ANN7. The ANN7 news network was dropped from the DStv bouquet late in 2018.

William Bird, the director of Media Monitoring Africa, said on Tuesday that Icasa’s decision was a welcome development in the media sector. “I think the decision should be welcomed. It needed a big player to be able to shoulder the risk and investment. What remains to be seen, though, is their business model, as free-to-air will struggle in the digital environment.” 

Icasa said it has given Kwesé up to 24 months to begin broadcasting. However, the broadcaster said it was ready to go live as soon as possible.

According to the communications regulator, the spectrum awarded to Kwesé has a total capacity of 37Mbit/s. This can be used to offer up to 11 standard-definition channels and two high-definition channels.

In an interview with online news platform TechCentral earlier in March, Zolile Ntukwana, group executive for regulatory affairs for Econet, said that the Kwesé Sports free-to-air channel is already available in as many as 18 countries in Africa. Sports that the company hopes to offer SA viewers include the next Fifa World Cup, English Premier League football matches, and the Olympic Games.

Icasa said the licensing of an additional, individual, commercial free-to-air TV broadcasting service and related spectrum will stimulate competition and increase the variety of TV broadcasting services available to South Africans.

Said Icasa councillor Dimakatso Qocha, “It is our duty as the regulator to ensure that we promote competition in the sector we regulate, and are driven by our consumer protection mandate, which encourages us to ensure that South Africans have access to a wide range of communication services.”.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za