MultiChoice – Everybody’s Favourite Punching Bag

Well, the pitchforks have certainly come out for MultiChoice. DStv is everybody’s favourite whipping donkey.

The owner of the leading Pay TV service provider in the country has found itself in the headlines a lot lately. From Gupta links to enraged customers, MultiChoice just can’t catch a break. The turmoil will likely continue late into next year.

US Law Firm Launches MultiChoice Probe

MultiChoice has been accused of paying over R100 million to the SABC and ANN7, or Gupta TV as some like to call it, in exchange for political influence in the enduring digital migration debacle. Digital migration, for those who don’t know, is what they call the transition from traditional analogue television to digital television. It’s basically just changing the technology which sends signals to our televisions at home.

As DStv itself puts it; think of it as switching from a record player to a cd player.

Of course, with all the bribery, corruption and tender manipulation going on in this country, the migration process has been mired in controversy. But, we digress…

The MultiChoice story has now attracted the attention of international investigators. This comes hand-in-hand with a possible class action lawsuit.

Following the reports that US law firm, Pomerantz, will be looking into the irregularities, Naspers, who part-own MultiChoice, has said that it has not yet been informed of any legal action. Pomerantz has confirmed that it will also be investigating Naspers and its directors for any possible security fraud or illegal business practices.

As a result, shares in Naspers plummeted by 4% this week.

ANC’s Jackson Mthembu has voiced his support in the independent investigation.

“Because if you want to benefit and you then want to influence government policy towards your benefit as a private citizen, or corporate citizen – indeed you might be trying to capture the state,” he said.

By now, everybody knows that news network ANN7 was formerly owned by the Gupta family. Reports have come in that, due to the irreparable damage that ANN7 has done to the MultiChoice brand, the channel will no longer be broadcast on DStv as of next year, when their contract expires.

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The Situation Is Extremely Serious

The decision to axe ANN7 from DStv’s channel line-up may even be seen as unconstitutional. If we’re being very lenient. Media freedom is, after all, a cornerstone of democracy. And then there’s the curious case of Qatar-based Al Jazeera, still on the roster, which has frequently been accused of promoting terrorism.

But that’s probably neither here nor there.

Bob van Dijk, CEO of Naspers, has stated that the group is taking the allegations extremely seriously.

“The impression has been given in the press that Naspers does not take the issue seriously or punts this to MultiChoice,” said van Dijk, who also happens to be a MultiChoice board member. “That’s actually a complete distortion of what we said about it and also a distortion of the way we think about it. We take this extremely seriously, at the Naspers level as well.”

Who Watches This Stuff Anyway?

With fibre becoming widely available and the rise of services such as Netflix, Amazon or Hulu, people are cutting ties with DStv. Or cutting cables, as it were, and using their upturned satellite dishes as bird baths.

People who have grown up in the age of online subscriptions and streaming will likely never subscribe to a DStv package.

And in other news, the new SABC board has come in and decided that they don’t like the idea of giving their channels away for free. SABC 1 is the most popular television channel in the country. This is largely due to hits such as Uzalo, Skeem Saam, Tjovitjo and of course, Generations.

In contrast, the most watched shows on DStv, as stated by the Broadcast Research Council of South Africa (BRCSA) are Our Perfect Wedding and Idols.

SABC 1, 2 and 3 are free-to-air channels. For including these channels on their bouquets, the SABC is demanding that all subscription TV services pay them.

Last month, they sent a letter to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) requesting an amendment to the 2008 ‘must carry’ regulations. These regulations stipulate that these channels be carried free on large Pay TV operations, such as DStv.

The SABC claims that giving away free content is hurting them, commercially, while benefitting the likes of DStv.

In response, MultiChoice has issued a letter of its own to Icasa, and has disagreed with the SABC. They claim they have not commercially benefited from the ‘must carry’ regulations at the expense of the public broadcaster, nor do they profit from the channels themselves.

We’ll say one thing for the SABC; at least they don’t charge the public large amounts of money for constant repeats and replays.

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