The Competition Tribunal yesterday heard that OpenView television viewers were unable to watch the Rugby World Cup 2023 final because MultiChoice allegedly abused its market dominance and prevented the free-to-air company from broadcasting it.
As a result of this event, and looming changes in the market with the switch from analogue public broadcasting to digital expected this year, Hosken Consolidated Investments subsidiary eMedia Investment, owner of OpenView, went to competition authorities to seek relief against DStv operator MultiChoice SA Holdings, and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
As with 90% of all major sport events in South Africa, MultiChoice had acquired the pay-to-air and free-to-air television rights for the matches, and it sub-licensed the major games to the SABC, with a proviso that the SABC did not provide the content to the OpenView free-to-air platform, with whom the SABC also had a sub-agreement.
In hearing before yesterday morning, it emerged that some 20-25% of the SABC’s viewers, watched the public broadcaster’s programs on the OpenView platform, which meant a quarter of the SABC’s viewers were effectively excluded from major sport events being broadcast on the public television service.
Gavin Marriott, appearing for eMedia, said from a competition point of view, MultiChoice’s agreement with the SABC muzzled the SABC’s business with OpenView, and with OpenView, which was MultiChoice’s only real satellite-based competitor in this country.
This curb on both the SABC and Openview’s ability to trade would also continue into the future where the switch from analogue broadcasting meant that DStv and Openview were likely to be the only two viable satellite digital television operators.
He said contrary to MultiChoice’s claim that OpenView was wishing to secure a “free ride” of the broadcasting rights that MultiChoice had purchased at great expense, the restraint that MultiChoice had imposed on the SABC with regard to OpenView, was essentially to “humiliate” OpenView in the eyes of its viewers.
He said also that MultiChoice’s view that OpenView viewers could simply have watched the content elsewhere was spurious, as the viewers had signed up and invested in a set top box for OpenView, with its advertised free SATV channel. He read out some letters from outraged OpenView letters on this matter.
Max du Plessis, also appearing for eMedia, said the ability to choose to watch major sport events was part of an individual’s constitutional and consumer rights of freedom of expression and information.
He said the fact that MultiChoice had bought all the sport viewing rights, and sterilised them for the public broadcaster, meant MultiChoice not only had a “stranglehold” on viewers rights to choose where to watch, but it also had a “stranglehold” on the public and constitutional interests of freedom of expression and information, and on the SABC’s role to provide a public service.
MultiChoice denied the allegations. The hearing continued yesterday afternoon.