Icasa to ‘reboot’ long-running probe into pay TV

Icasa to ‘reboot’ long-running probe into pay TV

Despite kicking off an investigation into South Africa’s pay-television market almost six years ago, communications regulator Icasa said on Monday that it still needs more time to probe the sector and come up with possible regulations.

Icasa’s inquiry into the subscription broadcasting services market will continue into the current financial year, it’s council has resolved. The regulator said in a statement on Monday that its decision is based on “ongoing developments in what is a rapidly changing market”.

“This extension builds upon and will update and refine the work undertaken in the consultation process by the authority during the 2021/2022 financial year. However, the authority — upon considering the draft findings emanating from the inquiry — is of the view that further consultation and engagement with stakeholders is required,” it said.

Icasa chairman Keabetswe Modimoeng said any regulatory intervention must take into account policy developments as well as recent technological and market trends, including the entry of streaming video platforms. The South African market, which was once dominated by a single player, MultiChoice Group, in subscription video services, now has a wide range of local and international streaming products to choose from, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BritBox, Showmax, eVOD and the soon-to-be-launched Disney+.

“The authority is mindful that any regulation of the market and/or its market segments must be aimed at enhancing competitiveness in the market going forward,” Icasa said. “The extended consultation process will include, among other things, the publication of a questionnaire to solicit comments and information from interested stakeholders (that will take into account the work emanating from the 2021/2022 financial year inquiry).”

Hearings

Icasa said it plans to publish an updated discussion document and to conduct public hearings “to come to a conclusive determination of subscription TV market dynamics going forward”.

“The rebooting of this process is meant to enable the authority to take account of all relevant and current developments to inform a robust, forward-looking regulatory intervention that balances interests of consumers and stability of the broadcasting services market,” said Modimoeng in the statement.

Icasa first began an official probe into the pay-TV market in 2016. In 2019, it published draft findings that identified four retail and two wholesale markets. MultiChoice, it said, was dominant in three of these, namely:

  • The retail distribution of basic-tier subscription TV services and satellite-based free-to-air television services;
  • The retail distribution of premium subscription TV services; and
  • The wholesale acquisition of premium content for distribution.

“In this regard, MultiChoice was found to possess significant market power in the markets that are characterised by ineffective competition,” Icasa said at the time.

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