TopTV relaunches with porn

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Interim CEO of On Digital Media Eddie Mbalo makes no apologies for StarSat's upcoming adult channel bouquet, saying the company will not control what people watch.
Interim CEO of On Digital Media Eddie Mbalo makes no apologies for StarSat's upcoming adult channel bouquet, saying the company will not control what people watch.

Struggling second pay-television platform TopTV has stepped back into the market - but this time as StarSat, and with a wider range of content - including a standalone pornography bouquet, Playboy TV.

The result of a partnership between Chinese digital pay-TV provider StarTimes and On Digital Media (ODM), StarSat will be available to consumers as of 1 December, via the company's fully HD decoder.

The new platform offers revised programme bouquets at what ODM says are competitive rates, with more channels in each package. Existing TopTV customers will still be able to receive the StarSat signal on their old TopTV decoder, while those who wish to upgrade to the HD decoder can do so.

Interim ODM CEO Eddie Mbalo says while the company is launching an HD decoder, the channels are not HD as yet. "This was a forward-looking move, as we will be rolling out HD channels gradually, starting soon."

Mbalo says the entry of StarSat into the pay-TV market "promises a new viewing experience". The company did not provide package details at the launch this morning, but says the new service offers a much wider range of content than before, including NatGeo Gold, Fox International and Bollywood channels. The much disputed adult bouquet, says Mbalo, will also be available with the kick-off of StarSat.

Sinking ship

This comes after ODM lodged for business rescue as TopTV struggled to gain traction in a market dominated by MultiChoice's DStv.

Introducing the beginning of the end of the year-long business rescue process, business rescue practitioner Peter van den Steen said the protracted process was complex, involving every aspect of the company.

"Exactly a year ago today, TopTV filed for business rescue. The first thing a practitioner does is ask 'is there enough fuel in the tank to continue?' In this case it was a huge challenge, as there was not - but we hadn't exhausted all options."

Van den Steen says the company approached the Development Bank of Southern Africa for permission to continue trading - a request the entity granted, but on a conditional basis with strict deadlines.

The deadline for an equity partner was met when Chinese digital pay-TV provider StarTimes stepped on board just before 7 February - and so the turnaround process began.

The StarTimes group has an extensive African footprint, with over 2.5 million digital terrestrial TV subscribers across the continent. The company's main interest and activity is within the ambit of emerging television markets.

StarTimes will acquire a 20% stake in TopTV, and South African shareholders will retain the majority stake. StarTimes recently signed a 10-year contract with satellite company SES - a move that will see its media footprint across Africa increasing over coming months.

StarTimes president Pang Xinxing says the company believes diversity in the broadcasting space is the ultimate consumer benefit. "Now South African viewers will have a wider choice of TV services to subscribe to."

Van den Steen explains that ODM is in the process of concluding the implementation of the business rescue plan, as voted and adopted by its creditors and shareholders on 30 April this year. "This is a legally binding process that allows for the company to continue to operate in the normal course of business and to be restructured within the protective bubble of business rescue as per Chapter 6 of the Companies Act."

The imminent introduction of Playboy TV - the result of a persistent fight on the part of ODM - will change the market in that it will represent the first pornography channels ever to be broadcast on SA's airwaves.

The application - and eventual permission granted by the Independent Communications Authority of SA - drew criticism from religious bodies across SA. Unperturbed by the strong anti-porn sentiment of the groups, Mbalo says: "SA is not an island. We will not control what South Africans watch."

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