Johannesburg, South Africa -- The investment outlook for
international TV companies looking to break into South Africa is brightening, with the
impending award of a new commercial TV channel and hints from the government last week
that foreign-ownership restrictions in television may be loosened.
Jay Naidoo, South Africa's posts, telecommunications
and broadcasting minister, told the country's parliament last week that the current
20 percent cap on foreign investment in TV operations may be loosened as part of a
governmental review on TV laws later this year.
South Africa's TV regulator -- the Independent
Broadcasting Authority, based here -- will conduct the review in concert with
Naidoo's unit in Cape Town.
The news came as a positive sign for the South African TV
business during last week's Pro AV Africa conference here, which drew 1,000
The IBA's first priority, however, is completing the
current application process for the licensing of South Africa's first commercial,
free-to-air TV station. Last week, the IBA was halfway through hearings reviewing the
seven applicants -- groups that include the involvement of such international TV
powerhouses as News Corp., Time Warner Inc. and Australian media mogul Kerry Packer.
'We hope to finish the hearings around March 6, and we
hope to award the license by the end of March,' said Pekwane Mashilwane, spokesman
for the IBA.
The winner of the eight-year license is expected to invest
500 million South African rand ($100 million) to start the channel. The upstart is
expected to revolutionize South Africa's TV scene by providing intense competition
for advertising dollars with the many Multichoice satellite channels; the M-Net
one-channel, pay offering; and the three terrestrial channels from South African
The new South African channel is expected to launch by
October. It was originally due to launch last year.
Meanwhile, another new South African TV venture -- a
satellite competitor to Multichoice, called Uplink Broadcasting -- remains grounded. It
has been trying to launch for the past two years, but it has been stymied by regulatory
and financial troubles.
Craig Kinsman, CEO of Uplink, said last week that he has
locked in funding of 150 million rand ($30 million). 'We still need to raise 500
million rand [$100 million],' he said. 'I am looking for a foreign
Scientific-Atlanta Inc. struck a major equipment-supply
deal with Uplink a year ago, but the order has never been delivered because Uplink
hasn't secured the funds to pay for it.
Astrasat, another satellite platform that was launched by
SABC last year, has not become a significant player in the South African TV business.
Astrasat just announced that it was dropping two channels and continuing with just one