New pay television licensees eager to start offering services have welcomed a three-month probation period, in which they will have to satisfy certain conditions before the industry regulator issues the licences.

The conditions are in addition to requests for further information made by the regulator following public hearings into the applications in July. The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) initially expected to conclude the process in September.

On Tuesday it named the licensees as Close-T Broadcast Network Holdings, Mindset Media Enterprises, Mobile TV, Kagiso TV and Siyaya Free to Air TV. But the authority said it would issue the licences only if applicants fulfilled conditions specific to them.

Anxious licensees had approached the authority on several occasions previously, fearing that they could lose out on opportunities.

Paseka Maleka, the spokesman for Icasa, said yesterday that the decision to award the licences was made two weeks ago. He said the delay was caused by engagements for further information from applicants last year.

The regulator also decided to complete a “reasons document” prior to announcing the award. “There are always a lot of other regulatory matters we want to deal with,” he said.

Maleka added: “This happens a lot. We grant the licences and issue later. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

He said the authority was concluding its “reasons document” regarding the outcome of the application process.

Most of the licensees confirmed on Wednesday that on several occasions they had pressed Icasa to conclude the licensing process.

But when asked to elaborate, they said the concerns were “water under the bridge” and praised Icasa for introducing diversity and competition into South Africa’s pay TV market, which is dominated by Naspers-owned MultiChoice 20 years into the country’s democratic regime.

Mothobi Mutloatse, the chairman for Mobile TV, said the consortium applauded Icasa for its bravery in launching new pay TV licences.

In December the consortium had approached Icasa about the delay, he said. “The funders are saying this is unthinkable that anyone can draw up a business plan and wait.“

Mobile TV plans to offer TV and radio on mobile devices and to broadcast TV services through state-owned signal distributor Sentech’s satellite platform.

Mobile TV has to submit guarantees of funding, market research, a business plan and programming plans.

Vuyo Mahlati, the chair of the Siyaya TV Consortium, which includes the Bakgatla tribe as a 40 percent shareholder, said the consortium wrote numerous letters about the delay because of “our concerns from a cost perspective and also in terms of the opportunities that were lost”.

But Mahlati said: “This is a big step. We need to congratulate Icasa. Finally, 20 years later, South Africa will deliver competition and diversity, which will impact the consumer.”

Siyaya has to submit further research from provinces other than Gauteng before it receives a licence.

Close TV chairman Kennedy Dakile also praised Icasa. He said the delay was “unfortunate” but the conditions were reasonable.

“We are cognisant of the fact that some of these [licences] are highly contested and the regulator would apply its mind without fear or favour.”

Close TV has to submit proof of funding, focus group research, plans on how its set-top boxes will be funded, its retail commitment, and distribution and programming plans.

Kagiso TV is also required to submit funding guarantees, empowerment credentials and set-top box manufacturing capability.

Mindset has to confirm funding, empowerment details and a business plan for its R1-a-month subscription fee.