Tue, 19 Feb 2019
15
San Antonio

Cape Town - Both MultiChoice and the SABC are preparing their responses to regulations from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) that could potentially challenge SuperSport's monopoly of sport broadcasting rights in the country.

The Sports Broadcasting Services Amendment Regulations 2018 draft breaks up sporting events into three groups - Group A, Group B and Group C - and states that certain sports must be made available to free-to-air broadcasters.

The draft states that events like the (summer) Olympics, Paralympics, Commonwealth Games, Soccer World Cup, Rugby World Cup, Cricket World Cup and international boxing must be considered "compulsory listed national sporting events for a free-to-air licensee with full live coverage."

Group B, which includes tournaments like Super Rugby, the Currie Cup and the PSL, is defined as: "National sporting events offered to a subscription broadcasting licensee on a non-exclusive basis under sub-licencing conditions."

"Minority" sports, including ice hockey, tennis, golf, squash and gymnastics, all fall into Group C. According to the regulations, broadcasters must air at least two of the sports in this category per annum.

It all paints a picture of uncertain times ahead.

SuperSport pays serious money to secure broadcasting rights - both locally and internationally - and in doing so they have solidified their position as the only dominant players in the South African space.

Sport24 has spoken to Cricket South Africa (CSA), SA Rugby and the PSL, and while it is difficult to knuckle down exact figures, the deals with SuperSport combined are in the billions each year.

The SABC, quite simply, cannot compete with SuperSport financially and, as a result, sports administrations like CSA, SA Rugby and the PSL place huge value on their relationships with SuperSport.

For example, SuperSport is responsible for 54% of the PSL's annual earnings.

While this proposed amendment does potentially challenge SuperSport's stronghold, it will also ring alarm bells for the sports federations who rely on the SuperSport money for their own survival.

With SABC unable to afford those rights on their own, there is a danger that the South African public could find itself starved of local and international sporting events if SuperSport are not allowed to secure exclusive rights and the SABC cannot afford them.

It had initially been anticipated that the real threat to the pay channel would come from digital platforms (Facebook and Google) and streaming services.

Most sports body's have a bidding process for their TV rights every five years, but so far there have been no digital players in with a serious shout of ruffling any feathers as bandwidth and internet access in South Africa remain the major stumbling blocks in that regard.

Vodacom and Telkom are both understood to have made a play at PSL rights in 2017, but were unsuccessful.

The proposed regulations are now open for public consultation until March 15 and after all stakeholders have had their say, ICASA hopes the process to review the regulations will be finalised by the end of March.

However, it is unlikely to be that simple.

"MultiChoice has noted the publication of a Government Gazette declaring that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) intends to review the Sport Broadcasting Services Regulations of 2010 and inviting interested parties to make written representations on its draft regulations," said Joe Heshu, MultiChoice's group executive for corporate affairs.

"Our understanding is that this process is at an initial stage and will follow a procedure of public comment by all stakeholders. We are reviewing these draft regulations and will provide a comprehensive response.

"This process is to review the existing regulations on the broadcasting of listed national sporting events in the public interest. We will be participating fully to ensure that the regulations which are finally published are consistent with the applicable statutory provisions on national sporting events as stipulated in the Electronic Communications Act."

The SABC, meanwhile, also confirmed to Sport24 that it would be participating in the public consultation process.

SuperSport and the SABC do share an existing relationship with SuperSport providing cricket, soccer and rugby feeds to the public broadcaster.

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