News Room

DStv May Lose Exclusive Rights To Sport

Author: Jason Snyman
Date: 2019-02-25
With ICASA's Draft Sports Broadcasting Services Amendment Regulations, the monopoly on major sporting events could be ripped away from SuperSport and DStv. Hooray! Free sport for everybody! But wait... Is this actually a good thing?

A while ago, we spoke about the prospects of a future without the state-owned, ineptly run SABC. In the article, we highlighted one particular aspect – another facet to the level of debt currently threatening to crush the public broadcaster for good – and that is this:

With the broadcaster sinking fast and bailing for its life, it can’t afford to give viewers what they want anymore – being fresh, original entertainment on par with other providers. In fact, the problem is so dire that the SABC can’t even secure the broadcasting rights to any sporting events worth watching – including the local Bafana / Banyana games – and has been relying on SuperSport to provide it with cricket, rugby and soccer feeds.

Like a dog, begging for scraps beneath the dinner table.   

This predicament, aided by the absence of any real competition, has allowed SuperSport to claim absolute monopoly over all major sporting events aired on South African television. In other words, if you’re not willing to shell out around a grand a month on a premium DStv package, you’re not going to be watching your favourite sports.

Unless, of course, you have the stomach to scour the internet for some illicit feed, which will probably be in some language you don’t understand. Like Belarusian, or Pirahã – spoken only by the inhabitants of the Amazonian rainforest. 

I digress. Back in January, good guys ICASA – the people who recently brought SA’s network providers in line over the data debacle – released its Draft Sports Broadcasting Services Amendment Regulations 2018, which aims to make the big sporting events available for free to all South Africans.

And, as you can imagine, SuperSport isn’t too thrilled about it.

The MultiChoice Monopoly

As mentioned above, most popular high-profile sporting events are currently only available to premium DStv subscribers, who pay an arm and a leg for it each and every month. SuperSport is DStv’s number one selling point, its hallowed saviour – the only thing preventing Netflix from stomping the satellite TV provider into oblivion.

Most DStv subscribers know this, and MultiChoice definitely knows this, and that is why the company is willing to shell out exorbitant fees on securing the exclusive sports broadcasting rights for all international, national and provincial events.  

To anybody who can’t afford DStv, or who can’t watch the games down at the local sports bar every weekend, well… 

Have fun reading about it in the news. 

All of this may soon change, though, if ICASA’s Draft Sports Broadcasting Services Regulations become law.

These regulations would effectively smash MultiChoice’s monopoly on the live broadcasting of high-profile sports events, such as the FIFA World Cup, Rugby World Cup, Africa Cup of Nations, etc., and would be 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.

ICASA also added that the new regulations will advance equality and human dignity through access to sport of national interest to all citizens.

Can’t argue with that.

What Kind Of Sporting Events Are We Talking About Here?

As part of the draft regulations, ICASA listed off a number of popular sporting events, which will have to be broadcast live, by a free-to-air service such as the SABC. 

We’re going to get to that last point in a bit, but first, here are some of the events listed:

  • Africa Cup of Nations;
  • Commonwealth Games;
  • FIFA World Cup;
  • ICC Cricket World Cup;
  • ICC T20 Cricket World Championships;
  • International Association of Athletics Federation;
  • International Boxing Federations;
  • National Netball;
  • Rugby World Cup;
  • Summer Olympic Games.

So, what was that about the debt-riddled SABC?

According to ICASA, if a free-to-air licensee – such as SABC or eTV – cannot afford to acquire the sports broadcasting rights for these big events (which is almost certainly going to be the case), then subscription service broadcasters, such as MultiChoice, may then bid for the rights on a non-exclusive basis.  

What this means is that, yes, with the financial positions that SABC and eTV are in, MultiChoice will still – more than likely – end up with all the good sport. However, these regulations will allow other subscription services – an entirely new service, for example – to also purchase and air the events. SuperSport will no longer have absolute control.

These events could include the likes of the Super Rugby, Currie Cup, Premier League Football or the COSAFA Cup, and the regulations will also require both free-to-air and subscription services to broadcast at least two of the lesser popular sports in South Africa per year, such as golf, basketball, tennis or motor sport. 

It Sounds Pretty Fair, But There’s A Big Problem

MultiChoice pays massive fees to sporting bodies and unions across the world in order to obtain exclusive broadcasting rights of their events. While wider access to high-profile international sporting events in SA is seen as positive progress, there are very real concerns about what kind of financial impact these regulations could have on local sport.

MultiChoice is by a mile, head and shoulders, the most important and biggest investor in South African sport and development – splashing out around R2 billion a year on broadcasting rights. It goes without saying that if the company were prohibited from purchasing exclusive sporting rights on big, important events, it will probably spend a whole lot less on non-exclusive rights. 

Exclusive rights is what makes the SuperSport business model work. The exclusivity of these sporting events is what brings in the subscribers, the subscribers pay a fee for it, and this is what allows MultiChoice to continue buying the rights to them and supporting local sport. 

According to SA Rugby CEO, Jurie Roux, 55% (or R669 million, if you’d like) of their income last year came from broadcasting rights. Without this income, the body could face financial ruin. 

Interim CEO of SAFA, Russel Paul, shared the same view, saying that without this income, SAFA will be unable to financially support 3.5 million players, or effectively develop South African soccer.

Likewise, PSL Chairman, Irvin Khoza, said that the PSL would have to shut down if the amendment is passed into law – as the PSL receives up to 80% of its income from SuperSport.  

The SABC, technically bankrupt, will never be able to make up for this shortfall. Never. And without the SuperSport hand-outs, wouldn’t be able to air any games or matches of national importance.  

Therefore, it is necessary that these regulations be thoroughly examined, including a full assessment of the economic impact, which is what is currently underway. 

Unless a digital player with some serious clout – and that can overcome the bandwidth and internet access stumbling blocks in SA – enters the fray, it’s a possibility that we may receive no sports at all in the future.

Uncertain times…

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