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TechCentral is the leading quality news and information resource for people involved in South Africa’s fast-growing information and communications technology industry and those interested in the fast-changing world of information technology.

JHB home to new blockchain firm

TechCentral reported that a consortium co-founded by Riccardo Spagni, the South African blockchain and cryptocurrency expert who is lead maintainer of monero, has announced a new open-source blockchain protocol built specifically for digital assets.

The company that will develop the protocol, called Tari — and whose backers include several high-profile Silicon Valley venture capital firms — is setting up shop in Johannesburg. Tari has already drawn financial backing from Redpoint (one of the early investors in Netflix), Trinity Ventures, Canaan Partners, Slow Ventures, Aspect Ventures, DRW Ventures, Blockchain Capital, Pantera Capital and Multicoin Capital.

The idea behind Tari is to “redefine the digital asset experience for both businesses and consumers by making these assets easier to manage, transfer and use”, the company said in a statement.

Plettenberg Bay-based Spagni is well known — and highly regarded — in global cryptocurrency circles as a member of the monero core team, which oversees development the privacy-focused digital currency. Monero is one of the world’s top 10 cryptocurrencies.

Tari is headed by Spagni, US-based entrepreneur and angel investor Naveen Jain, and Dan Teree, who built Ticketfly into one of the biggest players in the US ticketing industry before selling it to Pandora in 2015 for $450m.

The company is now hiring a Johannesburg-based team — mainly developers — to build the protocol, which will allow people to “manage and transfer digital assets with more flexibility, enable true digital scarcity and break down the industry-specific silos in which businesses currently operate”.

“Tari is going to fundamentally change the way we interact with digital assets,” Jain said. “Our current world of digital assets is incredibly inefficient and frustrating, and we want to fix that.”

Spagni said that much of the talent needed to build Tari already exists in South Africa, hence the decision to open the office in Johannesburg. “The process of recruiting our team is well under way. Our developers have the opportunity to build a decentralised assets protocol, on top of monero, that will be used by millions of people in their everyday lives.” — © 2018 NewsCentral Media

Source: TechCentral

DStv must pull plug on ANN7, Outa says

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) said on Thursday that it has written to
DStv parent MultiChoice, asking it to pull the plug on ANN7, the 24-hours news
channel carried on its pay-TV platform.

TechCentral reported that the organisation, which has long been a thorn on the side of roads agency Sanral over the tolling of Gauteng highways, said in a statement that it has received complaints from “thousands of concerned South Africans that their DStv subscriptions are (being) used to fund a Gupta-connected news network’.

The demand follows news reports that MultiChoice pays ANN7 at least R50m/year to
carry the news channel. Last week, the broadcaster denied it signed a revision to an
agreement with the formerly Gupta-owned channel, in terms of which it would pay the
channel R150m/year.

But the news that it has been paying the channel at all has provoked a backlash from
consumers, especially on social media.

Responding to e-mailed questions from TechCentral last week, MultiChoice said the
draft amendment contract (PDF) — contained in the so-called “Gupta leaks’ e-mails —
was never finalised. The draft contract came to light after a portion of the leaked e-
mails were published online.

The unsigned amendment agreement also proposed changing the duration of the
contract to 10 years — so, expiring in 2024.

“The draft contract published (in the Gupta e-mails) was not signed and MultiChoice is
not part of the e-mail exchange referred to in your query,’ the pay-TV broadcaster
said. “We confirm that we have a legally binding contract, the details of which are
subject to confidentiality clauses,’ it added. A well-placed source told TechCentral that
MultiChoice’s agreement with ANN7 expires in 2018.

“Demand for clarity’
Outa has now weighed in on the subject, saying in an open letter to MultiChoice South
Africa chief operating officer Mark Rayner (the letter is published below this article)
that there is “growing demand for clarity on MultiChoice’s position on ANN7′.
The organisation said ANN7 was “allegedly initiated with taxpayers’ money and set up
to support a political bias driven by the politically connected Gupta family’.

“We are mindful of media freedom and freedom of speech and endorse it ourselves,
but we sincerely ask that MultiChoice do the right thing by heeding the call by civil
society, for greater transparency and decisive action against entities linked to possible
criminal activities and state capture,’ CEO Wayne Duvenage said.

In an e-mail to TechCentral, MultiChoice said: “We confirm that we received the letter
from Outa. We’ve contacted them and we’ll be meeting them next week to discuss
their concerns.’

In August, controversial Gupta-aligned businessman Mzwanele Manyi said he was
buying ANN7 and The New Age newspaper for R450m in a deal financed by the
Guptas.

A Manyi-owned company called Lodidox bought Infinity Media, which owns ANN7, for
R300m, and two-thirds of TNA Media, which owns The New Age, for R150m, Gupta-
owned Oakbay Investments said in a statement at the time.

The sale came as Oakbay struggled to find a banker willing to do business with it.
Bank of Baroda this year became the latest institution unwilling to provide banking
services to the Gupta family’s businesses.

Source: TechCentral

Showmax comes to Sony’s PlayStation 4 console

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Showmax is now available on Sony’s popular PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro
gaming consoles through a dedicated app, the Naspers-owned video-streaming
company said on Wednesday.

TechCentral reported that the app is currently only available in South Africa.

It supports supports bandwidth capping, allowing subscribers to limit the amount of
data used to watch shows and movies. Bandwidth capping works by reducing video
quality, meaning less data is consumed.

“Our apps team has a very simple mandate: give customers the choice to watch
Showmax however and whenever works best for them. By adding the app for the PS4,
the world’s best-selling gaming console, we’re aiming to broaden the appeal of
Showmax and get even more people using our service,’ said Showmax Africa head
Chris Savides in a statement.

To watch Showmax via the PS4, users need to sign up for the service, then visit the
PlayStation Store on the PS4 and download and install the app. They then sign into
the app using the same e-mail address and password they used to sign up for
Showmax.

Each Showmax account allows for viewing shows on two different devices
simultaneously. Showmax’s smartphone and tablet apps support downloads, meaning
that subscribers can start watching on their PS4 and then continue viewing when on
the move and not connected to the Internet, the company said in the statement.

Naspers launched Showmax, a rival to international services such as Netflix and
Amazon Prime Video, in 2015. It is now available in about 70 countries.

Source: TechCentral

Showmax operations to merge with DStv Digital Media

Showmax’s operations in Africa will be merged with MultiChoice’s DStv Digital Media,
according to a letter sent to staff by Imtiaz Patel, CEO of Naspers’s video
entertainment unit.

In the letter, which TechCentral has seen, Patel said all DStv Digital Media and
Showmax Africa employees will fall under one area reporting into MultiChoice South
Africa CEO Mark Rayner.

Showmax, which was launched two years ago by Naspers outside the MultiChoice
stable — apparently in the hope of fostering healthy competition between the units —
will continue to be led outside Africa by John Kotsaftis.

“The time has come for us to align these two services more closely to create an even
better entertainment experience for our customers and to truly innovate in this
space,’ Patel said in the letter to staff.

“This is an opportunity for us to truly leverage the skills and capabilities we have built
in these two teams, and create greater synergy.

“For this reason, we will be bringing Showmax Africa and DStv Digital Media together
in Africa to create a new digital division (final name to be decided) reporting directly
into me…’

Rayner has been tasked with overseeing the transition while the group searches for an
“appropriate person to head this division’.

“Graeme Cumming, GM for DStv Digital Media, and Chris Savides, Showmax head of
Africa, will continue to provide leadership,’ Patel said.  — (c) 2017 NewsCentral
Media

Source: TechCentral

MultiChoice debuts new DStv WiFi Connector

MultiChoice has introduced a new WiFi Connector, allowing consumers to connect their DStv Explora personal video recorder (PVR) decoders to the internet wirelessly.

The new connector comes four years after MultiChoice first introduced the product, allowing consumers to connect their PVRs to online Catch Up Plus streaming content without having to wire the machine up using Ethernet cables.

The new WiFi Connector, which costs R199, is smaller than the previous one and comes with a USB docking station.

“It’s easier to connect to your router, even if it is in another room, and there’s no need to run a cable from your router to your Explora,’ said MultiChoice chief technology officer Gerdus van Eeden.

By connecting the Explora to the Internet, consumers can access Catch Up Plus, which includes a thousand movie titles in the M-Net Collection, plus the ability to schedule recordings remotely.

It also enables access to Showmax, the video-streaming service launched by MultiChoice parent Naspers.

Source: TechCentral

Minister reaffirms new digital TV deadline

Communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo has reiterated her commitment to see all South Africans migrating from analogue to digital television by December 2018.

“I have full appreciation of the impact that the digital migration project is set to have on the economy of this country. I therefore have no intention to delay the process,’ Dlodlo said on Sunday.

The International Telecommunication Union has prescribed countries to switch over from an analogue television signal to a digital terrestrial television signal which will allow for the radio frequency spectrum to be freed up and allowing for faster mobile data services.

South Africa has on a several occasions missed its deadline for migration due to legal process over the encryption of set-top boxes, as well as other legal battles.

Following the constitutional court ruling of June that favours non-encryption for government-subsidised set-top boxes, Dlodlo has been driving the digital migration process forward.

Among others, the minister set up a meeting of key stakeholders in the digital migration process consisting of broadcasters and mobile operators.

The meeting, which for the first time included mobile operators, was held last month and gathered ideas from the industry on how they can contribute in fast-tracking the process. Representatives of the SABC, e.tv, MultiChoice, Cell C, MTN, Vodacom, Liquid Telecom (formerly Neotel), Telkom, StarSat and Usaasa attended the meeting.

All parties at the meeting pledged their full support to the minister and expressed a willingness to partner with government in taking the process forward, including providing any resources that may be required.

Cooperation

The main area of cooperation is on public education and awareness to ensure that people understand the digital migration process and its benefits.

“One of the key decisions made at that meeting is the formation of the Digital Migration Advisory Committee driven by both government and industry players. It was agreed that the committee will develop a comprehensive project plan indicating timelines and resources required.’

The ministry has since received names of members of the advisory committee from industry players. This team is set to meet soon to consider the project plan that will see the finalisation of the migration process.

Dlodlo has had further meetings with industry players who have pledged financial support.

The department of communications is also currently working with the Free State government on roll-out focusing on district municipalities such as Lejweleputswa, Matjhabeng, Nala, Tswelopele, Tokologo and Masolonya. — SAnews

TechCentral

Set-top box report must be made public

Communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo must release the report arising from the investigation into the procurement process for the state-sponsored set-top box procurement process in the light of the publication in the Sunday Times about attempts by Jacob Zuma’s son Mxolisi to influence the tender process in favour of Altech UEC.

This will reveal where the corruption in the process was identified in the R1bn first phase of the set-top box procurement process and prompt the relevant criminal investigations.

Her predecessor, Faith Muthambi, who gained control of broadcast digital migration when the former department of communications was split in 2014, requested national treasury in 2015 to investigate possible irregularities into the tender process for the assembly of 1.5m boxes in the first phase of the plan to roll out five million of them.

Altech UEC did not secure an order in this phase. Orders were placed with CZ Electronics, Leratadima Marketing and BUA Africa. Leratadima outsourced its production to Grand Tellumat Manufacturing and BUA Africa outsourced its production to Microtronix.

National treasury commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to investigate the process and its report was handed to Muthambi in March 2016. Because the entity charged with implementing the set-top box process, the Universal Service & Access Agency of South Africa (Usaasa) reports to the minister of telecommunications & postal services, neither department has taken action on the report’s findings which claim major irregularities in the procurement process.

Questions

Parliamentary questions I asked on action being taken on the report’s findings have had both ministers of communications and telecoms & postal services ducking the issue saying it was up to the other to take action.

Usaasa CEO Lumke Mtimde has responded to parliamentary questions on the national treasury report that he has not engaged with it and is basing any “disciplinary investigations’ on supply chain management highlighted in the auditor-general’s 2016 annual report, indicating that there is little appetite for probing the wider issues of possible corruption in the process.

For the past year, I have repeatedly asked both the chairpersons of the portfolio committees on communications and telecoms & postal services for a two-day parliamentary hearing into the status of the broadcast digital migration process, its legal and fast-changing technological challenges, and to seek views of all stakeholders in the digital migration process to discuss ways to accelerate the process.

I also wrote to Dlodlo, soon after she took office, to push for a two-day hearing. None of these requests has been responded to.

The switchover to digital broadcasting technology has been severely hampered by policy uncertainty and broadcasting turf battles, mainly centred on set-top box encryption, for eight years.

The government-sponsored set-top boxes for identified poor households is an important step in the process of switching off analogue broadcast signals, which will free the airwaves for the expansion of Internet access using mobile technology.

Written by Marian Shinn, MP for the Democratic Alliance and the party’s spokeswoman on telecommunications & postal services

Source: Tech Central

HD streaming coming to DStv Now

DStv will soon begin offering live streaming channels in high definition and is even mulling the possibility of offering its DStv Now streaming product as a standalone offering in future, the head of digital media at MultiChoice, Graeme Cumming, said on Thursday.

Speaking during an exclusive podcast interview with TechCentral on the future of television in South Africa, Cumming said the launch of HD channels on DStv Now is “imminent’, and will in all likelihood start with the sports channels. He declined to give a specific date.

Until now, DStv Now has only been available in standard definition, with most channels streamed at qualities of up to 1.2Mbit/s (with some sports channels, like SuperSport 3, offered at up to 2.3Mbit/s).

We’re in the process of working through that channels list with the suppliers to get the HD qualities. The guys are actively working on it. The roll-out of HD is, however, rights dependent, Cumming said.

“A lot of the content for the digital channels, we’ve cleared SD rights for. We’re in the process of working through that channels list with the suppliers to get the HD qualities. The guys are actively working on it.’

He said it’s important to offer HD-quality streams given that the DStv Now apps for Android and iOS now have Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay support, meaning consumers can watch the platform in a “lean-back’ environment on a big-screen TV. “It becomes apparent [in that environment] that the quality needs to be improved,’ he said.

“We’ll probably start with the sports channels,’ he added. “There is a lot of studio content on the rest of the channels, and it’s a process of working through each studio and getting technical clearance to deliver an HD stream.’

Standalone service

Meanwhile, Cumming revealed that, at some point in future, DStv Now will become a standalone service; separate to a DStv satellite subscription. For now, those wanting to access it must subscribe to a DStv Premium, Extra or Compact satellite bouquet.

“At the moment, DStv Now is a “TV everywhere’ product, so you pay your subscription fee every month, and one of the benefits of paying that subscription fee is you get access to your content on multiple devices,’ he said. A standalone service will, however, be offered in future. It’s not imminent, though, he added.

“We do a lot of research around how we package content: what are the right price points and do we need to have a satellite dish attached to your roof [for you] to subscribe to DStv? These are all strategic plans we are busy working through,’ he said.

“The day will come where you don’t need to put a satellite dish on your roof anymore, where you go to the website, sign up and get access to your various bouquets. Even those bouquets may change down the line,’ Cumming said.

“Right now, we have no plans to change those bouquets, but certainly into the future, if you’re looking three to five years down the line, given the way the world is moving, we absolutely have to consider new ways of packaging content and new products within DStv Now.’

Cumming also said that MultiChoice is working hard to get all the linear DStv channels added to DStv Now. It has already added the bulk of them to the platform, though there are a few key ones missing, such as news channel eNCA.

“I’m not going to say too much on when we’re going to launch eNCA, but it’s imminent.’

Source: TechCentral

Naspers looks for growth beyond Tencent

Naspers will approach investors in the US and the UK next week about a bond issue as Africa’s biggest company by market value continues its acquisition-hungry quest to expand its Internet businesses.

TechCentral reported that the proceeds for the bond will shore up the company’s balance sheet for future growth opportunities and will also be used to refinance some of its current debt, Naspers CEO Bob van Dijk said by phone on Saturday.

Although Naspers spends about US$500m on mergers and acquisitions a year, there is no set target and decisions depend on finding the right businesses and opportunities, he said. The Cape Town-based company reported full-year earnings on Friday.

“We are focusing on building online businesses and bringing them to scale,’ Van Dijk said. Naspers is looking to invest further in its classifieds, e-commerce and online payment businesses where revenue growth is accelerating, the CEO said.

Naspers, the market leader in classifieds in most of the emerging markets that it operates in, entered the US last year and now competes with well-established businesses such as Craigslist.

The company is seeking to grow outside of a 33% stake in Chinese Internet company Tencent Holdings, which contributes the bulk of Naspers’s $1.8bn profit and is worth more than the South African company’s market value of about $90bn.

Classifieds merger

“We are quite excited about our growth in our Letgo business in the US,’ Van Dijk said. “Since we consolidated with Wallapop, we have become the leader in the number of daily active users in the mobile app space,’ he said, referring to the merger of two of the company’s classifieds businesses.

The owner of Africa’s biggest pay-TV service has been able to add subscribers over the past year even as the business struggles with sluggish economic growth and the arrival of competitors including Netflix.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has had a tough few years and our business there also had many challenges,’ the CEO said. “So far, it has turned out to be a viable business. Whether that will change in a number of years we will have to see,’ Van Dijk said.

Naspers shares rose 2.6% to R2 638.61 on Friday, extending the year’s gain to 31%. The stock is the best performer on the FTSE/JSE Africa Top 40 Index. — Reported by Loni Prinsloo, (c) 2017 Bloomberg LP

Source: TechCentral

SABC board fires Hlaudi Motsoeneng

Hlaudi Motsoeneng has been fired. SABC interim board chairwoman Khanyisile Kweyama said on Monday that the public broadcaster’s former chief operating officer had been given his marching orders.

Motsoeneng was dismissed over comments he made at a recent media briefing at which he criticised SABC board members and the parliamentary committee that was probing the poor state of governance at the broadcaster.

Kweyama made the announcement about Motsoeneng’s sacking after meeting with communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo. Motsoeneng had enjoyed protection from Dlodlo’s predecessor, Faith Muthambi, who was moved out of the ministry at the end of March when President Jacob Zuma reshuffled his cabinet.

Motsoeneng was already on suspension from the SABC.

Source: Tech Central

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