It was 18 years ago that e.tv received its individual commercial free-to-air (FTA) television-broadcasting licence. It took until 2014 for the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to invite applicants to join this market. The broadcasting regulator said that more commercial TV stations were needed to increase competition and to improve the quality and variety of television broadcasting services in the country. Despite this e.tv remains the sole commercial FTA broadcaster.
On 15 March 2016 ICASA officially announced its decision to reject all current applications for new licences.
Five applicants sought licences in 2014. One, Medo Investments, retracted their application late in 2015 when they were sent an invoice for a non-refundable application fee of R500 000. Medo claimed that was the first time they had heard of this fee. All four remaining applications went through after the fees were paid but were then declined for non-compliancy.
ICASA rejected the FTA licence applications of Infinity Media Networks (ANN7), Levoca 565 (Hola Media), Rubicon Investments and Change TV Network (TCN).ICASA’s reasons for rejection included apparent failure by applicants to supply a guarantee of funding, proof of expertise and broadcasting experience.
ICASA found problems with applications in terms of foreign and cross-media ownership exceeding regulatory provisions. The process sought to ensure that historically disadvantaged persons were given an opportunity to participate meaningfully in the sector, which ICASA found lacking in the applications. In addition, the corporate, financial, and juristic status of the applicants were deficient. ICASA said research that supported the licence applications was insufficient and there was no ownership by historically disadvantaged persons.
Reportedly e.tv had urged ICASA not to issue new licences, pleading that a market study to determine the viability of new broadcasters was necessary, as was a review of the regulations to protect existing players.
ICASA has yet to explain in writing its full reasons for rejecting all applications. It has also failed to advise why and when it will issue a new invitation to apply for commercial FTA TV licences. It has agreed to run a series of workshops to avoid repeating the high rate of rejected applications and urges anyone who would consider applying to strictly comply with all the requirements.
What hope does this leave for viewers and broadcasters? While MultiChoice keeps adding channels (DStv), there’s On Digital Media (ODM) and StarTimes SA’s StarSat, together with Platco Digital’s free-to-air satellite OpenView HD service. In February the SABC and M-Net launched a digital terrestrial television (DTT) product, GOtv. In addition, traditional TV viewers are lured away by expanding local VOD services like Naspers’ ShowMax, Netflix SA, MTN’s VU and Google Play TV.
Why ICASA is continuing with analogue FTA channel applications is an enigma. It was resolved back in 2006 at the International Telecommunications Union that all countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East should migrate from analogue to digital broadcast services