Pay television provider MultiChoice may be forced to share with its new
rivals a single platform for receiving satellite broadcasting services.
But it will challenge such a plan as it has invested heavily in the
infrastructure, writes Thabiso Mochiko in the Cape Times.

On Wednesday the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) named Telkom Media; On Digital Media (ODM);'s sister firm, E-Sat; and Walking on Water as new rivals to MultiChoice and its DStv services. MultiChoice has sole rights to the decoders, or set-top boxes (STBs), used to transmit TV content.

Icasa is expected to impose an open-access model for all decoders, so consumers will not require multiple decoders to subscribe to all five pay TV providers and new players will save costs on designing their own decoders.

Decoders are seen as a barrier for entrants, as they need financial muscle to invest in design and production. But analysts say this is a commercial agreement and should be driven by consumer demand

MultiChoice had developed an export market for decoders valued at more than R3,7-billion over its 12 years of operations.

On Wednesday Icasa councillor Zolisa Masiza said that as part of the licence conversion process, the regulator would impose a condition to require all STBs to interoperate. Initially, Icasa said it would not be involved, since this was a commercial arrangement.

But with the advent of digital migration, as consumers require decoders to access high-definition TV on a digital platform from terrestrial broadcasters SABC and, it is expected that the government will require an STB for digital platform and pay TV access.

Telkom Media has indicated that it will make its decoder accessible to other players. MultiChoice remotely blocked software on its decoders to stop other operators from using it, after an incident three years ago, when a firm sold cards that were inserted into MultiChoice's decoders to allow consumers access to pornographic broadcasts via satellite from Spain.

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