Johannesburg, South Africa -- State-owned broadcast-signal
distributor Sentech is aiming to shake up the country's pay television market by
launching its own digital direct-to-home satellite service.
Sentech plans to launch the country's second
digital-DTH service next year on its newly launched Vivid platform. Vivid currently
transmits some of the country's terrestrial networks via satellite free-of-charge to
remote areas of the country.
Sentech is already in talks to partner with a local media
consortium to launch the pay TV service. While not yet confirmed, the company is widely
expected to team up with media and telecommunications group Union Alliance Media.
UAM CEO Anthony Glass said the company plans to become a
major television and radio operator in South Africa and throughout the continent. Through
its Africa Pay TV unit, UAM has broadcasting licenses in 11 African countries, and it
operates wireless pay TV services in three.
However, analysts have doubts about Sentech's ability
to successfully compete with the entrenched Multichoice DTH platform. Since 1985,
Multichoice Africa -- a unit of pay TV and technology group MIH Holdings Ltd. -- has
dominated pay TV in South Africa and southern Africa through its M-Net terrestrial pay
About five years ago, Multichoice launched its DStv
digital-satellite service across Africa, and it has had a lock on the market ever since.
DStv currently reaches about 300,000 households in South Africa and another 85,000 in 44
Sentech has already made one attempt to challenge
Multichoice. Three years ago, it was involved in a failed project with state broadcaster
South African Broadcasting Corp. to launch an analog DTH service called Astrasat.
It's gotten back into the game now by swapping the
Astrasat analog decoder boxes that were originally distributed to customers for
Vivid's digital set-tops. Current Vivid set-top holders receive three SABC and two
commercial-broadcast networks free-of-charge.
Still, in the pay DTH realm, "Anyone attempting to
take on DStv will have to have deep pockets. The start-up costs for a pay TV service will
be anywhere between 500 million rand and R1 billion [$80 million and $160 million], and
programming rights are very expensive," one analyst said.
Another analyst said DStv had snapped up most of the prime
programming and sports rights, and it would be difficult for the Vivid bouquet to offer an
Sebiletso Mokone-Matabane, Sentech's group executive
for corporate relations and development, said the company is also in talks with the
government's education department to launch a channel that would transmit material
ranging from formal and adult education to "edutainment" programming.
A channel dedicated to health services is also in the
pipeline, in conjunction with the government's health department, she added.
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