Watching soccer matches on TV is becoming increasingly difficult for South Africa’s mass market with the news that e.tv has lost the rights to broadcast the UEFA Champions League to SuperSport, as of October this year. This follows news that new pay-TV operator Siyaya, had won the broadcast rights to all of Bafana Bafana’s games, which used to be the preserve of the SABC. Michael Bratt reports.
South African fans of the beautiful game may have to change their viewing habits. This if they want to watch the beautiful game, particularly the UEFA Champions League and Bafana Bafana in action.
Monde Twala, managing director of e.tv’s Channel’s Division told The Media Online, “e.tv is in its last season of the UEFA Champions League; SuperSport have acquired all the rights including pay-TV and free-to-air (FTA) as of October 2015. As a result we will no longer broadcast the championship next season”.
The news will come as a shock to soccer fans, following on last year’s bombshell that Siyaya had snatched the rights to broadcast Bafana Bafana matches from underneath the public broadcaster’s nose.
The broadcast rights for national team games came to an end for the SABC at the beginning of this month. The public broadcaster had a R45 million three-year deal with the South African Football Association (Safa), but said it was being put under financial pressure and would eventually not be able to afford sports rights.
Effectively, this means South Africa free-to-air broadcasters, the SABC and e.tv, no longer have access to top notch soccer broadcasting.
SuperSport communications manager, Clinton van den Berg, confirmed to The Media Online that it had scooped UEFA Champions League (UCL) rights. “SuperSport has acquired rights to UCL on all platforms as of next season. It attracts good audience ratings,” he said, adding that the group never commented on the costs to acquire such rights.
The move has outraged public broadcasting NGO, the SOS Coalition. “The loss of the rights to what could be called South Africa’s national sport abroad to SuperSport means another nail in the free-to-air (FTA) TV coffin, and sets MultiChoice and DStv up for yet even more success in the future,” says Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi, co-ordinator for the SOS Coalition. “Football rights are not an insignificant factor in driving South African viewers to subscribe to pay-TV services instead of staying on FTA. Even live-delayed matches, as the SABC often broadcasts, is no longer good enough.
“The big question is: with the shoring up of all premium content by subscription broadcasters, what will keep viewers’ eyes and hearts locked to FTA services like the SABC and e.tv in the digital age? Without serious interventions by Icasa and the Competition Commission, to ensure equitable access to and distribution of premium content including premium sporting rights, such as PSL and UEFA League content, across broadcasters, we’re going to find ourselves in a position where the quality of your experience of television, like most other services in South Africa, will be entirely dependent on how deep your pockets go. Perhaps this is already the case,” he says.
Twala said sports rights were difficult to nail down for FTA broadcasters due to costs involved. “Sports rights are expensive and require investment. The FTA model is advertiser driven and therefore difficult to find models that create sustainable recoupment from an advertising or sponsorship perspective,” he said.
“e.tv is always in the market to consider the various opportunities to broadcast sport events and tournaments,” said Twala. “Football is particularly important for this market and we are always looking at ways to ensure that we have programming that appeals to our market. Rights are always a challenge especially for FTA broadcasters.”
Twala said e.tv launched its first pre-season tournament, the Charity showdown, last year which involved four PSL teams. “This tournament raised money for the Lunchbox Fund which feeds disadvantaged children,” he said.
Meanwhile, even though it is yet to launch, pay-TV broadcaster Siyaya now holds the golden ticket, having paid nearly R1 billion for the rights to Bafana Bafana games. This fee also includes the production costs for producing and broadcasting the matches. The relatively new entrant into the broadcast market is a wholly black-owned media consortium which is 40% owned by the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela tribe in the North West.
Shareholders of the new subscription services broadcaster include Siyaya board chairperson Dr Vuyo Mahlati, Kgosi Pilane, TV talk show host Dali Tambo, Thandi Ramathesele (the former GM of SABC 2), Aubrey Tau and Transnet acting CEO Siyabonga Gama. The subscription service was granted a broadcast license by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) at the end of January 2015, and plans are in place for it to launch by the end of this year.
But the build up to the launch has been in the works for the past four years, with a huge amount of work going into market research and operational strategy. When contacted for more information about the channel, Siyaya TV general manager Nolan Vernon said he could not reveal much as “it may compromise the positioning of the broadcaster in a very competitive market”. However Vernon did say that one of the key aims of Siyaya TV will be to “elevate the Bafana brand and give access to national team games to as many people as possible”. Rumoured plans say the broadcaster will offer a low-cost bouquet, taking advantage of Icasa’s planned switch to digital terrestrial television transmission. Vernon added that “an affordable monthly subscription fee within the reach of subscribers is being discussed”.
Bafana Bafana matches are subject to ‘must carry’ rules contained in legislation, which was created at the Icasa and government level. They state that certain national codes and events are in the public interest and therefore should be broadcast to as wide a viewing audience as possible. They go on to stipulate that the games should be carried on free-to-air platforms as well, on either a live or delayed live basis.
One of the most controversial issues around the transfer of the rights was the involvement of Leo Manne, the former general manager for TV channels at the SABC. [Manne is now vice president of TRACE for Africa.] It was found that he was involved with both the public broadcaster and Siyaya. Shortly after this revelation he was suspended pending a disciplinary investigation. In the most recent developments Manne left the SABC after a drawn out disciplinary process. He took his suspension to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration looking for it to be overturned.
In terms of the local Premier Soccer League, SuperSport holds the broadcast rights exclusively, with the SABC paying them to show certain matches. SuperSport also holds CAF rights which cover a number of Bafana Bafana games.
Now with e.tv, which is known for showing UEFA Champions League games, no longer able to broadcast UCL, SuperSport is holding all the aces.
Follow Michael Bratt on Twitter @MichaelBratt8
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