Cape Town – As MultiChoice gets ready to remove Afro Worldview from its DStv service on 20 August, the SABC News channel could also go dark at the end of this month when that contract expires.
MultiChoice remains in the process to find and appoint a new channel to replace Afro Worldview – formerly known as the notorious Gupta family's ANN7 channel and belonging to Mzwanele Manyi and his Afrotone Media Holdings.
Afro Worldview is coming to an end on DStv exactly five years after its hurried and disastrous launch.
MultiChoice is yet to make an announcement about which group out of the shortlisted candidates that applied earlier this year before the cut-off date at the end of April.
MultiChoice has steadfastly refused to divulge the names of shortlisted bidders and consortiums after over 60 groups and individuals applied, although the local TV biz and news industry haven't been shy about gossiping after hours about who might be in the running.
Unconfirmed names and places bandied about to replace Afro Worldview have so far ranged from Justice Malala that abruptly left eNCA earlier this month, to the Tiso Blackstar group, Primedia and MSG Afrika.
In late-June Calvo Mawela, MultiChoice SA CEO, said that Naspers's pay-TV arm wants to make an announcement about the successful bidder replacing Afro Worldview before that channel goes dark on DStv, saying "we are targeting to make an announcement before the expiry of the current contract so that we can give people an opportunity to know exactly what's coming next".
Now MultiChoice, as it told the industry in January, has started to tell DStv subscribers on Afro Worldview's i-plate on DStv that Afro Worldview is being removed with less than two weeks' time remaining for the channel on the operator's channel line-up.
"Dear viewer, please note that Afro Worldview will stop airing on 20 August 2018. You can find local news on eNCA (403) and SABC News (404)," says DStv in the advisory.
Afro Worldview's already low viewership has been on an ongoing ratings slide the past few months, with viewership on DStv that has kept dropping from 9.89% of the total TV news audience in April to 9% in May and 4.22% in June.
MultiChoice on Monday in response to a media enquiry asking about the new channel replacement process, told Channel24 that "the process to appoint the successful bidder for the news channel has not been concluded. Once this process is completed, we will make all necessary announcements".
Meanwhile there is a possibility that DStv subscribers and South African viewers could lose more than Afro Worldview as SABC and MultiChoice are yet to conclude a new contract agreement for the SABC News channel.
SABC News, part of a bundled channels agreement that sees it being provided exclusively to MultiChoice together with the library rerun channel SABC Encore (DStv 156), could go dark if a new contract isn't signed between the MultiChoice and the public broadcaster.
If MultiChoice doesn't extend the channel carriage agreement for SABC News, the channel will presumably have to shutter just like SABC News International, the public broadcaster's first try at a 24-hour TV news channel that bled the corporation dry and was terminated after bleeding millions of rand after just three years at the end of March 2010.
Although a public TV channel and packaged and operated from inside its the South African Broadcasting Corporation's Auckland Park headquarters, the SABC isn't able to keep the expensive SABC News channel running without the hundreds of millions of rand MultiChoice pays the SABC for the channel as part of the controversial channels deal that has given MultiChoice exclusive access to the SABC archives the past few years.
In addition, the cash-strapped SABC that is now playing hardball in negotiations, now wants payment for its SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 channels from MultiChoice as well as a possible "new revenue stream", although the broadcasting regulator, Icasa, under the country's so-called "must-carry" regulations, have mandated that the public broadcaster's terrestrial TV channels must be carried by satellite operators to help with wider availability, but free of charge.
Both the SABC and MultiChoice in response to a media enquiry told Channel24 that discussions are ongoing and that SABC News and SABC Encore will stay on the air on DStv for the time being.
"The SABC and MultiChoice are currently in discussions to carry the SABC News and SABC Encore channels on DStv. We will communicate the outcome once the discussions have been finalised. The channels will continue to air on DStv whilst the discussions are ongoing," both said.
Earlier this year the new SABC board told parliament's portfolio committee on communications that it would like to see the SABC News channel continue.
SABC News and SABC Encore – although they're content from and created by the public broadcaster – are not available to other satellite TV platforms like StarSat operated by China's StarTimes, e.tv's Openview or Deukom in the way that SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 are.
Madoda Mxakwe, SABC CEO, told SABC News in a TV interview last week that negotiations around the possible renewal of the SABC News channel carriage agreement "is at a very sensitive stage".
Mxakwe said the SABC will make an announcement about the future of the SABC News channel before the end of August. He said "we are busy engaging with different partners, including MultiChoice, in terms of ensuring that there is a different revenue stream into the business."