Broadcasting and telecoms regulator the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) says it will hold hearings next week as part of its investigation into competition in the pay-TV sector. 

After issuing five pay-TV licences from 2007 and having only three of those holders launch services since then, Icasa launched an inquiry in 2016 into the state of competition in the subscription broadcasting services sector.

“Due to the authority’s commitment and mandate to ensure that markets are effectively competitive, Icasa commenced the inquiry” after two of the licensees that did offer services to the public faced sustainability challenges while two others had not yet launched services.

On Wednesday evening, the authority said it would hold public hearings from January 12 -15 in respect of the draft findings document on the inquiry into subscription television broadcasting services.

Africa’s largest pay-TV operator, MultiChoice, is likely to be in the spotlight next week. 

In its initial findings — published in 2019 — the regulator found that the market was dominated by the DStv operator, which it described as having “significant market power on the basis of high market shares and the nature of its vertical integration, which the authority considers to harm competition”.

Icasa says MultiChoice’s position has been entrenched, in part, through exclusive content contracts that can run for up to five years and access to major Hollywood studios.

In SA, MultiChoice has tended to compete with free-to-air services such as national broadcaster SABC, as well as eMedia’s e.tv and OpenView. However, video-on-demand players such as Netflix, Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video do compete directly for a share of consumer wallets. Icasa noted that such streaming services would likely affect the nature of competition in the long term, but for now their effect was still “muted”. 

Icasa has been busy in recent months as it prepares to issue new radio frequency spectrum to mobile operators, while working to finally complete the move from analogue to digital television. 

Next week’s hearings come on the heels of another inquiry into mobile broadband services that saw Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and Cell C appearing before the authority in late October to make their case about competition in that market. 


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