ICASA has released its Draft Sports Broadcasting Services Amendment Regulations 2018, which are aimed at making big sporting events accessible for free to all South Africans.
Many high-profile sporting events, especially for popular sports like soccer, rugby, and cricket, are currently only available to DStv subscribers.
To maintain its Supersport monopoly, MultiChoice pays high fees to get exclusive sports broadcast rights for provincial, national, and international events.
The company’s extensive Supersport offering is one of the main selling points and differentiators of its DStv Premium service.
This may change if ICASA’s Draft Sports Broadcasting Services Regulations, which was published on 14 December 2018, become law.
These regulations will break MultiChoice’s monopoly on the live broadcasting of high-profile sporting events. This, ICASA said, is in line with the Electronic Communication Act which states:
Subscription broadcasting services may not acquire exclusive rights that prevent or hinder the free-to-air broadcasting of national sporting events.
The regulator said these regulations will
“advance equality and human dignity through access to sport of national interest to all citizens”.
Big sporting events broadcast live for free
As part of its draft regulations, ICASA listed many popular sporting events which must be broadcast live by a free-to-air service like the SABC.
- Summer Olympic Games
- FIFA World Cup
- Rugby World Cup
- ICC Cricket World Cup
- Africa Cup of Nations
- ICC T20 Cricket World Championships
- International Boxing Federations
- National Netball
- Commonwealth Games
- International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF)
If a free-to-air licensee, like the SABC or eTV, cannot acquire the sporting rights for these events, subscription service broadcasters like MultiChoice can bid for the rights on a non-exclusive basis.
Numerous other sporting events, like Super Rugby, Currie Cup, Premier League Soccer, and the COSAFA Cup, are available to subscription broadcasters on a non-exclusive basis.
The regulations further require free-to-air and subscription services to broadcast at least two minority sporting codes like golf, tennis, martial arts, basketball, squash, and motor sport.
MultiChoice funding sport in South Africa
Although wider access to big sporting events is seen as a positive development, sporting bodies have raised concerns about the financial impact these regulations can have.
MultiChoice currently pays very high fees to sporting bodies and unions for exclusive broadcasting rights of their events.
The company explained that it is an “accepted principle by regulators globally that pay TV broadcasters require exclusivity to differentiate themselves from competitors”.
MultiChoice is by far the biggest investor in South African sport, and currently spends around R2 billion per year on sports broadcasting rights.
If MultiChoice is prohibited from purchasing exclusive sporting rights on high-profile events, it will spend far less on non-exclusive sports broadcasting.
The SABC will not be able to make up for this shortfall as it is technically bankrupt and does not have money to spend on sports broadcasting rights.
SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux told Rapport that 55% (R669 million) of their total income in the last year came from broadcasting rights.
Roux said without the ability to maximize income from broadcasting rights, it will put the body’s financial future in jeopardy.
SAFA interim CEO Russell Paul echoed these views, saying these regulations will seriously damage soccer and other sports in the country.
Paul vowed to fight the regulations as it will threaten its ability to financially support 3.5 million players and effectively develop soccer in South Africa.
The Draft Sports Broadcasting Services Regulations are open for comment until 4 February 2019.