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Behind the business of broadcasting

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TO new calvo


LETS GET TECHNICAL: Calvo Mawela sheds light on his responsibility as the recently appointed as Head of Stakeholder and Regulatory Affairs for MultiChoice South Africa Group.

MultiChoice is regarded as a premier entertainment destination for South Africans. With regards to the broadcasting company’s pioneering content and technology, we often neglect the role played by key corporate figures. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with Calvo Mawela, who was recently appointed head of stakeholder and regulatory affairs for MultiChoice South Africa Group, to find out how his technical engineering expertise benefits his new title…


IT was another manic morning for Calvo Mawela (pictured) and he was running late for our interview after his earlier meeting had taken longer than scheduled. But this pace isn’t alien to Mawela: with several years in the corporate world he accepts it as par for the course.

The lanky new Head of Stakeholder and Regulatory Affairs for MultiChoice South Africa Group eventually arrives.

Calm as a Buddha, he settles into a chair with a smile. He had been in his new post for only two weeks when we chatted but, gauging from the knowledgeable way he spoke, it was clear why he was the man for the job.

Although he grew up in Mpumalanga, Mawela completed his BSc in electrical engineering at the University of Durban, Westville, and followed this up with an internship at Sentech.

His induction into the world of broadcasting started at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).

“I was appointed to head up the broadcasting division, dealing with regulation-making, policy, interpreting legislation and what it means – that’s when I developed my understanding of it,” he reflects.

Two or three years later, he was poached by Orbicom as the regulatory affairs manager and a year later became the general manager of regulatory affairs for M-Web and Orbicom.

“That’s how I got into the group and it explains where I am now,” he laughs.

“I think, to some extent, I still have the better of both worlds in as much as I am dealing with the regulatory aspect of things, because the law in itself is supposed to govern a highly technical environment.

“So as technical issues arise as Icasa crafts regulations, I’m able to tap into my understanding of how things really work. It is a symbiotic relationship. In many instances, in this portfolio, you would find a lawyer doing this type of work.”

With a foot in both worlds, Mawela says his key objective is to “give strategic advice to the business (MultiChoice) as it continues to grow”.

Of course, for him to be able to give input, it means he has to do his legwork, too.

“From a regulatory perspective, there are the issues being dealt with, like how jurisdictions all over the world are handling the next evolution of technology in the area MultiChoice will want to go into.

“Therefore, when the business decides to go in a particular direction, the question that arises, in terms of legislation, is: what can and cannot be done? That’s where I give input; including whether there are any risks associated with the proposed new ventures.

“The second thing is to just look at regulations as they come from time to time, and to also give input to the regulators out there.”

This, explains Mawela, is to ensure a healthy industry – especially in instances where regulators who are distanced from the business, craft regulations based on public interest, some- times leading to the unintended consequences where the growth of the business ends up being stifled. This also highlights the pertinence of continuous feedback and discussions with the regulators and industry leaders.

Bringing it back to TV, he says: “I think we are seeing a lot of change in the way TV is being consumed. And that will also impact on how the business takes its processes forward. What used to be people watching TV at a particular time, has changed. They now record whatever they want to see and decide when they want to watch it. This then impacts on other things, like how advertisers want to go forward now that the prime time slot they thought they would have swimming with eyeballs is changing all the time.”

This also opens the gateway for other debates, with convenience versus regulation being just one of them.

He continues: “But the bigger change coming to TV is coming from the telecommunications side. You see the likes of Google, YouTube, Netflix coming into an arena that was predominantly a broadcast arena.

“You have this disruptive new technology that is coming in and is not regulated.

“How do we respond to that? There are no laws in place.”

With this new outlet gaining momentum, he points out that it becomes a Catch-22 situation for broadcasters that are highly regulated and have to comply with a lot of legislation.

Aside from being on the pulse with con- ferences and developments around the advancement of broadcasting, Mawela is on the ICT Policy Review Panel, which was formed by the Minister of Communications.

“There are a lot of issues we are debating on digital migration. As you know, it has been going on for years. We have had a period of over 10 years where there hasn’t been any review. I sit on the ICT Policy Review Panel to review all policies and legislations of ICT in the country.

“We are working on a draft – it has been hectic. Now we are coming up with a newer one that is more forward-thinking and will take the industry to the next level.”

As for the next big initiative, he says: “The ultra-high definition TV is coming – that’s the next evolution of HD coming in, which is much clearer. It is sort of a cross between technology and 3D, in a way.”

Given his weighty portfolio, it’s surprising that he can exude such calm. Then again, this is Mawela’s playground and, when it comes to an ever-changing technical and regulatory TV landscape, he is in his element!

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