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MultiChoice denies creating barriers as watchdog probes pay TV dominance

South African pay TV operator MultiChoice has denied creating barriers to entry to the local pay TV market at a series of hearings carried out by regulator ICASA last week.

The ICASA, which organised hearings following a draft document on pay TV competition published in 2019, has said it wants to stimulate competition in the pay TV market.

MultiChoice challenged ICASA’s market definition, arguing that it excluded key contributors of current and future competition.

According to the pay TV operator, the watchdog failed to take a forward-looking view of market dynamics, relying on an already out-of-date market definition.

MultiChoice also accused the regulator of failing to define objective criteria for domination of the market for premium content. It said that the value of what was previously defined as ‘premium’ content has declined because more international content, including premium international sports as well as drama and other content, is now available to South African viewers.

The regulator largely rejected taking increased competition from OTT providers into account, arguing that lack of high-speed internet connections and lack of access to local content and sports rights meant that the impact of such services would be muted.

Commercial broadcaster ETV and pubcaster SABC, in their own submissions last week, like MultiChoice, accused the ICASA of underestimating the impact of OTT TV providers, especially in the future.

The ICASA had earlier rejected calls to delay the hearings because of constraints imposed by the COVID-19 crisis.