Pay-TV hearings next week

By Damaria Senne, ITWeb senior journalist
Johannesburg, 06 Dec 2007

Next week, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) will make its case before the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) as to why pay-TV broadcasters must carry and pay all its channels.

Pay-TV broadcasters will also present to ICASA conditions under which they would carry some of the public broadcaster`s content.

ICASA will hold the public hearings next Tuesday and Wednesday. The regulator seeks to prescribe the extent to which pay-TV broadcasters must carry the television programmes provided by a public broadcasting service licensee, as required by the Electronic Communications Act, says ICASA spokesman Sekgoela Sekgoela.

The hearings were preceded by a discussion document published by ICASA in September. Interested parties were invited to make written submissions.

Carry them all

In its written submission, the SABC argues for a "must-carry, must-pay" principle. The public broadcaster urges ICASA to develop regulations that oblige pay-TV broadcasters to carry SABC1, SABC2, SABC3 and the upcoming SABC4 and SABC5. SABC4 and SABC5 are already licensed entities.

"Notwithstanding the existence of must-carry obligations, the relationship between the SABC and subscription broadcasters remains a commercial one - the SABC`s right to receive compensation for its content is located in copyright laws."

The SABC also states it`s up to the pay-TV broadcasters to reach an agreement with the public broadcaster on the use of its content.

This means the SABC may refuse to offer its channels to pay-TV broadcasters if their terms are deemed unacceptable, while the pay-TV broadcasters are obliged to find resolution for the problem to fulfill their "must carry" obligations.

Reasonable terms

Telkom Media says it would carry the public broadcaster`s content as long as the costs are commercially viable. "If the price of that content is exorbitant, it does not make business sense for Telkom Media to use it," Telkom Media spokesman Chris van Zyl previously noted.

Van Zyl adds ICASA must find a way to ensure the cost of the public broadcaster`s content is not too expensive.

MultiChoice says it opposes the "must carry" obligations, unless reciprocal rules for the pay-TV broadcasters are imposed on the SABC.

However, the SABC points out "there is no such corollary obligation on the SABC to offer its channels to subscription broadcasters".

Meanwhile, free-to-air broadcaster says other pay-TV broadcasters should also be obliged to carry its content, as it has greater public service obligations, at 45% of local content, than the SABC, at 35%.

"If the driving principle behind must-carry is one of universal access to pubic service programming, then merits the same status as the SABC as a broadcaster with significant public service obligations," the broadcaster says.

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