DStv’s SuperSport under siege

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies published a Draft White Paper which takes aim at SuperSport’s exclusive rights for major sports events.

The Draft White Paper, published on 31 July, focuses on audio and audio-visual media services and online content safety, saying it provides a “new vision for South Africa”.

Part of the paper focuses on “Sports of National Interest”, which means national sporting events identified as being in the public interest.

The paper states that the regulator must ensure sports of national interest are broadcast free-to-air and not exclusively by subscription audio-visual content services.

However, this means that the broadcast rights holder, typically MultiChoice’s SuperSport, has to reach an agreement with a free-to-air broadcaster.

SuperSport pays a lot of money to gain exclusive rights to sporting events, which positively impacts the development of major and minority sports.

DStv’s Premium’s biggest selling point is exclusive rights to major sporting events. Should it lose this exclusivity, SuperSport has no incentive to pay high prices for these events.

The Draft White Paper acknowledges that television broadcast rights have become vital to attracting audiences for subscription television.

“TV sports broadcasting rights have become the object of highly competitive bidding wars between television broadcasters, causing huge price increases,” the paper states.

It warns that this can lead to anti-competitive effects impeding access to sports broadcasting rights and causing negative impacts on the structure of TV markets.

The Draft White Paper, therefore, proposes that subscription broadcasters should not prevent national sporting events from being broadcast on free-to-air platforms.

The document wants to ensure that key national sports events are aired free-to-air whilst acknowledging that certain exclusive sports events are critical to the viability of the subscription model.

Expert opinion

World Wide Worx CEO and media expert Arthur Goldstuck said the Draft White Paper causes complexity regarding who must regulate the industry.

The paper states the regulator must identify national sporting events after consultation with the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies and the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture.

Goldstuck predicts it will cause problems with DStv- and SuperSport-owner MultiChoice, which insists that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) should regulate.

“The departments will issue a regulation, and it will be challenged in court – as is the case with most other things the Department of Communications does,” he said.

He added that the proposals in the Draft White Paper are most likely aimed at next year’s general election.

“Opening up the most popular sports with free-to-air broadcasting for everybody is going to be a huge election campaign point for the ruling party,” Goldstuck said.

“That is where the ANC sees itself winning. However, the broadcasters, rights owners, and sporting codes will lose.”

Another issue is, should the proposals become law, SuperSport will not bid on expensive broadcast rights for big international events.

The SABC does not have money to buy these rights, which can result in big sporting events not being broadcast in the country.

Goldstuck warned that messing with broadcast rights undermines broadcasters and sporting leagues and risks breaking the infrastructure of a sport.