Tag: DStv

Naspers to unbundle and list MultiChoice

By Nick Hedley for Business Day

The transformation of Naspers, which was founded more than a century ago to produce Dutch-language newspaper De Burger, into an online-only behemoth is almost complete.

Africa’s most valuable company, which owns a 31% interest in Chinese internet giant Tencent, said on Monday it planned to unbundle its pay-TV business MultiChoice onto the JSE.

Naspers will hand its interest in the DStv operator to its shareholders.

Investors cheered the news. After falling 3.2% earlier in the day, in line with Tencent’s decline in Hong Kong, Naspers rallied to close 0.7% up at R3,206.42, valuing the company at R1.4-trillion.

Naspers hopes to list the new entity MultiChoice Group, which includes its local and rest-of-Africa pay-TV business along with Showmax Africa and security company Irdeto, in the first half of 2019. The unbundling will cap off a remarkable transformation at Naspers, which was mostly a publishing and pay-TV business until its 2001 investment in China’s Tencent.

Naspers would not raise funds through the deal, said CEO Bob van Dijk, but its shareholders would benefit as the market currently ignored MultiChoice when valuing the group.

In its sum-of-the-parts valuation, US bank JP Morgan calculated that Naspers’ majority-owned MultiChoice unit is worth $8bn. More than 90% of that value sits in SA, according to the bank. That implies that MultiChoice Group is worth more than Shoprite.

Van Dijk said Naspers plans to give MultiChoice SA’s BEE investors another 5% stake in the local pay-TV business. “Besides unlocking value for our shareholders, maybe more important we think it will also unlock value for [BEE scheme] Phuthuma Nathi, which is already one of the most successful broad-based BEE schemes.”

He said Naspers will continue to invest in its SA e-commerce businesses, which include Takealot, Mr D Food, PayU and AutoTrader. “In the last year, we invested more than R3bn in the e-commerce businesses in SA alone. We expect to continue to invest and we’re looking at interesting prospects.”

It will also retain its interest in Media24, which is moving quickly into online publishing. The pay-TV market was poised for further growth despite pressure from internet-based rivals such as Netflix.

“Even in markets like Europe, people still have traditional TV services and on top of that people have connected services. In Africa the story is even more positive — you see very significant growth in traditional TV … as well as decent take-up already in SA of [streaming services] DStv Now and Showmax. I’m confident it’s a growth story.

“I feel confident about putting the business on its own legs.”

Robert Pietropaolo, a trader at Unum Capital, said the unbundling would be positive for Naspers “but the pressure will certainly be on MultiChoice to stay competitive”.

“MultiChoice themselves have already started cutting their headcount and they have started offering lower-tier packages, which unfortunately does not bring in the desired revenues. MultiChoice will not only have to be nimble from now on, but I think they may have to re-invent themselves to be competitive,” Pietropaolo said.

In the year ended March, the pay-TV operator lost 41,000 premium subscribers across its African markets. Even though the total subscriber base grew — MultiChoice added 563,000 users in SA in the year to March — this growth came from far less profitable lower-cost packages. However, the company remains highly cash generative. Over the same period, MultiChoice generated revenues of R47.1bn and trading profits of R6.1 bn.

MultiChoice SA CEO Calvo Mawela said the company had slowed the decline in high-margin premium subscribers. It lost more than 100,000 of these customers in its 2017 financial year but reduced that number to about 40,000 in 2018.

“Our focus on Premium is beginning to bear fruit.… We’ll continue to focus on Premium to ensure that we do not see further decline in Premium subscribers going forward.”

Job cuts loom at DStv

By Chris Forrester for Advanced Television

According to a report in South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper, pay-TV operator DStv is laying off up to 200 staffers in a move to save cash amidst increased competition.

A DStv spokesperson said the move was in order to create a leaner and more agile business. Existing staff are being asked to reapply for their jobs, says the newspaper.

DStv’s parent, MultiChoice has lost some 41,000 Premium top-tier subscribers in the year to March 31st.

MultiChoice has made no secret of its annoyance that rivals such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are eating away at its core subscribers and yet operate without having to fulfil the licensing obligations faced by MultiChoice.

MultiChoice CEO Calvo Mawela has called for a change in regulations to cover the new OTT entrants.

Netflix retaliates in DStv battle

By Lynsey Chutel for Quartz

For months, the chief executive of South Africa’s biggest TV company, MultiChoice, has suspected Netflix was messing with him and the rest of the DStv parent company. Calvo Mawela was clearly spooked, yet it seemed laughable that relative newcomer, Netflix South Africa was going after DStv in particular, until it actually turned DStv’s corporate paranoia into a joke.

To market to South Africans fed up with DStv, the streaming service created a character, Man With A Van. Played by prominent local comedian Jason Goliath, he makes a living faking Netflix installations. Man With A Van visits clients houses, with pointless wiring and over-the-top installation, even carrying an empty box with the words Premium HD—a direct dig at DStv’s premium service.

DStv has always suspected that Netflix is coming for it. First, Netflix sent a helicopter over MultiChoice’s Johannesburg headquarters, flying a banner over their heads, Mawela told local press in May. Then, MultiChoice employees started seeing Netflix billboards going up on roads around Johannesburg.

In all of this Netflix has been almost silent, making moves instead of releasing statements. Getting a formal comment out of them has been near impossible, but their actions have illustrated that they were making a real play for the market.

In a recent article in MyBroadband, Mawela stated that Netflix needs to be regulated by ICASA, and should be BBBEE complaint.

There are no official figures about how many users Netflix already has in South Africa, but in compiling their own 600-page report on their new competitor, MultiChoice estimates Netflix has 300 000 to 400 000 compared with 6.6 million MultiChoice homes. MultiChoice is also blaming Netflix for its loss of more than 100,000 satellite television subscribers in the last financial year, and an additional 40,000 in this cycle.

Apart from not requiring installation, at R165 a month for a premium subscription, Netflix has a price advantage over DStv, which costs R900 a month for a premium subscription. Of course, Netflix requires a reliable internet connection, which is still costly in South Africa. For customers fed up with DStv’s high prices and frequent re-runs , Netflix is already winning the battles for hearts and eyes.

As fibre broadband rolls out to South Africa’s townships, people will switch away from satellite TV services to online platforms like Netflix. This is according to a recent article by MyBroadband.

Vumatel plans to connect South Africa’s townships – if the pilot in Alexandra is successful, Vumatel will replicate the model in Diepsloot.

Within the next two years, Vumatel aims to connect 2.5-million homes and 10-million township residents to fibre broadband.

However, DStv research has shown that once someone makes the switch to an online subscription video service, they don’t go back to satellite TV.

MultiChoice South Africa CEO Calvo Mawela told MyBroadband there is no doubt that the future of pay TV is online, which is why they are arguing that satellite and Internet-based pay TV services must fall under the same regulations in South Africa.

A saving grace for DStv in South Africa has been the lacklustre penetration of broadband services.

However, with the launch of Netflix locally in 2016 and the proliferation of fibre infrastructure, DStv’s market share has changed.

“Over 100 000 Premium subscribers left us in the last financial year,” said Mawela. This was largely as a result of the popularity of Netflix, he added.

He said most of their growth is happening at the lower-end of the market through DStv Access packages, where the profit margins are lower than on DStv Premium and DStv Compact.

Now with Vumatel rolling out 100Mbps fibre services to townships at R89 per month, DStv’s lower-tier services will come under pressure.

Mawela said Vumatel rolling out fibre to Alexandra will kill DStv’s satellite TV market share.

Source: Media Update

According to GfK’s international ViewScape survey, which covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time, 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

The study, which surveyed 1 250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access, shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service, and that just over half are paying to view digital online content.

The study reveals that average user spends around seven hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Viewers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television.

The study also shows that people aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content, as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for sub-Saharan Africa at GfK, says, “The media industry is experiencing a revolution, as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour.”

“The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption,” adds Ballensiefen.

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services.

Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research and regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa.

Moahloli concludes, “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television. However, there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

MultiChoice pulls the plug on ANN7

MultiChoice admitted on Wednesday that “mistakes” were made in contractual negotiations with the formerly Gupta-owned 24-news channel ANN7 and that the agreement will be terminated when the deal expires in August 2018. The channel will no longer be carried on DStv after that date.

MultiChoice South Africa CEO Calvo Mawela said at a press conference at the company’s Randburg, Johannesburg head office that it would not be appropriate to renew the ANN7 contract considering “ongoing controversies”. He said MultiChoice will issue a tender to appoint and fund a new, black-owned commercial news channel soon.

“This has been a humbling exercise for MultiChoice,” Mawela said. “…We fully understood the outrage of the public given the endemic corruption in the country. We should have dealt with the concerns around ANN7 more swiftly.”

We fully understood the outrage of the public given the endemic corruption in the country. We should have dealt with the concerns around ANN7 more swiftly
Naspers CEO Bob van Dijk said the allegations regarding ANN7 have “caused me a great deal of concern”.

“Reading the news coverage in November, that is not the kind of messaging you want to see about your company,” he said.

In early December, MultiChoice said that it was aware that its deal with ANN7 had caused “real public concern” and instructed its audit and risk committees to probe the contract.

In a statement at the time, MultiChoice independent nonexecutive director Don Eriksson, who chairs the board committees, said: “The MultiChoice board has read the various media reports alleging that MultiChoice has entered into an irregular relationship for the carriage of the ANN7 channel. The board is aware that the ANN7 channel has caused real public concern because of the allegations of corruption levelled at the former owners of the channel.”

ANN7 was owned by the controversial Gupta family, which has been accused of using its close association with President Jacob Zuma to win state contracts. Zuma and the Guptas have denied the allegations of “state capture”. The Guptas sold the business in 2017 to Mzwanele Manyi, a former government spokesman, in a “vendor-financed” deal — in other words, the Guptas loaned Manyi the money to buy the channel.

Asked by TechCentral if Manyi has been told about the decision to terminate the channel, Mawela said: “We explained the whole situation to him and he has accepted our position and he is considering what we have shared with him.”

‘Comprehensive review’
At Wednesday’s press conference, Mawela read out a statement that said that the board-appointed committee conducted a “thorough and comprehensive review” of the deal with ANN7.

“They met several times, studied all relevant contracts, reviewed five years of related payments information and e-mails, interviewed those involved and did various objective contract and cost comparisons.”

The committee found “procedural shortcomings, but found no evidence of corruption or other illegal activity”.

It found the the commercial terms of the ANN7 contract were within acceptable parameters associated with the establishment and cost of producing a news channel.

“The negotiations with ANN7 began at a time when MultiChoice wanted to add local black voices to reflect more diverse local news coverage on the DStv platform. In addition, annual payments to e.tv (which produces the eNCA news channel) had escalated substantially, heading towards R500m/year,” the statement said.

“The commercial rationale was to assist in the development of the new ANN7 channel by contributing to their costs and allow it a reasonable term of three to five years to develop. Should it fail, MultiChoice would let the agreement lapse at the end of the period, as allowed for in the contract.

“The payments made to ANN7 were not abnormal relative to other local news channels carried on the DStv platform. MultiChoice paid an amount to ANN7 for a start-up 24-hour local news channel that was substantially lower than that paid to e.tv. The terms of the agreement were renegotiated and payments increased when it became apparent that ANN7 needed to improve quality on the channel.”

MultiChoice made an upfront payment to ANN7 of R25m on 15 September 2015, but denied this was abnormal or even unusual. Critics had accused MultiChoice of paying the money to try to influence government policy on set-top box encryption.

When concerns were raised about the owners of ANN7, MultiChoice management should have acted more swiftly to escalate issues to the board for formal consideration and decision
No one will be fired over the ANN7 deal, Mawela and Van Dijk emphasised at the press conference.

“The process of negotiating the ANN7 agreements was a collective MultiChoice management process and not that of an individual,” the company said in the statement.

“No correlation was found between payments made to ANN7 and the MultiChoice lobbying effort,” it added.

However, there had been “procedural shortcomings”, including failure to conduct a due diligence test on ownership of the channel. It said it has never done this for any channel.

“Given the experience with ANN7, the committee is of the view that in future such due diligence should be instituted and be made compulsory for all new start-up channels,” MultiChoice said.

The committee also found that MultiChoice should study international best practice and formalise its lobbying processes. “The new process should be adhered to by all involved to ensure that an acceptable line is not crossed in such activities.”

It added: “When concerns were raised about the owners of ANN7, MultiChoice management should have acted more swiftly to escalate issues to the board for formal consideration and decision.”

Remedial actions
It said it will immediately implement several remedial actions. These include:

  • Ensuring that robust due diligence processes will always be followed for start-up channels;
  • Requiring management to highlight issues of controversy and reputational risk at the quarterly audit and Risk committee meetings; and
  • Formalising MultiChoice’s lobbying process.

In the absence of national guidelines on lobbying and interaction with regulators and government, MultiChoice management will develop guidelines for approval by the board.
MultiChoice will begin the process of sourcing a new commercial news channel that is black owned and that “represents the majority of people in this country”, it said.

The successfully bidder must be owned, managed and run by a black South African company, free from any political or other interference, it said. It must be able to provide independent, non-partisan and critical news coverage of current affairs. And it must take into account South Africa’s history, diversity of cultural backgrounds, language and socioeconomic circumstances in the way it produces content.

Mawela said MultiChoice managed its communication with the public about ANN7 poorly.

While I am pleased that the investigation into the ANN7 contract did not discover any corruption or other illegal activity, the questions we have faced have been sobering
“While I am pleased that the investigation into the ANN7 contract did not discover any corruption or other illegal activity, the questions we have faced have been sobering,” he said. “We made mistakes and must now embark on a path of restoring public trust.”

Democratic Alliance MP Phumzile Van Damme, who lodged a complaint against MultiChoice with communications regulator Icasa over the ANN7 payments — and over a controversial channel-supply agreement between the pay-television operator and the SABC — said Wednesday’s press conference “left many questions unanswered”.

“While we welcome MultiChoice’s efforts in conducting its own review of its carriage agreement with Gupta-owned ANN7, it is difficult to objectively assess the findings of its investigations without sight of the full report,” Van Damme said.

“A press statement, scant on detail, vaguely admitting ‘mistakes were made’, and holding no one accountable for those ‘mistakes’, simply does not cut it,” she said in a statement. “The public needs to know the whole truth about the dealings between MultiChoice, ANN7 and the SABC.

“It is quite clear now that the Icasa probe is more important than ever to ensure that the full facts are put on the table, and those responsible for any wrongdoing are held accountable.”

Van Damme also decried MultiChoice’s decision to pull the plug on ANN7.

“The DA supports a plurality of voices in the media space, and do not believe in shutting down of those we do not agree with,” she said. “This matter was never about whether ANN7 should be on air, but about the exchange of money allegedly to influence government policy.”

By Duncan Mcleod for TechCentral

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