Over 60 parties bid to start news channel on DStv

SABC TV finally going HD


Cape Town – MultiChoice says over 60 groups have registered their interest to bid to start a new local South African TV news channel on DStv to replace ANN7 that will be removed at the end of August.

The new 24-hour TV news channel that will have to compete against eMedia Investments' existing eNCA (DStv 403) and the South African public broadcaster's SABC News (DStv 404) will have to be owned, managed and operated by an independent black South African owned entity.

While globally the appetite to start linear TV news channels that often take very long to turn profitable, if ever, waned over the past decade, MultiChoice wants one more local news channel for DStv.

Requirements for the new channel

The requirements for the new TV news channel include some tall orders. MultiChoice says it will have to be "a South African, predominantly English TV news channel that takes into account the history, diversity of cultural background, languages and socio-economic circumstances in South Africa" and will have to broadcast 24 hours per day.

It will have to provide "anchor-based, live broadcasts in the style of Al Jazeera, CNN, Sky News, eNCA, SABC News and others" and will have to "specifically focus on national, regional, local and African news, actuality, current affairs and sport with some focus on international affairs".

Besides doing news, the channel will also have to "focus on training and development of news and broadcast industry personnel" and "foster a strong ownership mentality with employees and partners through mechanisms such as employee equity and/or incentive schemes."

The TV news channel will be paid by MultiChoice as part of a carriage agreement to provide the content but MultiChoice says the channel will have to "be independent, non-partisan, unbiased and critical - MultiChoice will have no editorial control or ownership."

While the channel will be widely distributed across several DStv subscription tiers and packages, enabling it to get exposure to a big audience and therefore be able to run advertising, the channel will also have to work to look at getting income from other sources besides just MultiChoice.

"We're delighted and overwhelmed at the response," says Calvo Mawela, MultiChoice South Africa CEO at the over 60 interested parties who've indicated that they would like to bid to start a TV news channel on DStv.

"We're encouraged that we'll be able to offer South Africans another local news channel, which will add to the diversity and plurality of news on DStv," says Mawela.

MultiChoice is now opening the tender process and all of the 60 parties will be getting a link to respond to a Request for Proposal (ROP) on an online platform. The process will close on 30 April 2018.

MultiChoice says that after this date, the evaluation process will kick off and the successful bidder will be notified before 31 July. People who are still interested to register their intention to bid, have until 20 April 2018 to do so and can visit multichoice.co.za.

An expensive operation

People who want to start up a new 24-hour TV news channel should do their homework and come up with the most thorough and detailed business plan they can, since specifically launching and creating a sustainable TV news channel is one of the most notoriously difficult type of channels to launch and is fraught with difficulties and challenges.

Beyond technical, editorial staff and a raft of producers, engineers and graphic artists, a TV news channel needs a studio, post production editing suites, a playout system and servers, an electronic news production system to organise stories and video link systems.

Prior to its launch in May 2010, the DStv challenger TopTV – since rebranded as StarSat – promised a local 24-hour TV news channel, just to suddenly backtrack and can the idea when it dawned just how much it would cost and how much extensive work, labour and expertise it would require.

SABC News International, the SABC's first attempt at a 24-hour TV news channel before it was replaced by SABC News was a shocking disaster and was abruptly ended after just three years at the end of March 2010, bleeding millions of rands.

Even long-established, highly-prized, credible TV news channels are having a hard time cutting it. Sky News (DStv 402) from Sky in the United Kingdom isn't profitable and has been a loss-making TV news channel for years.

The BBC, that has decided against it, has several times until the recent past revisited whether it shouldn't end its 24-hour news channels on TV due to the exorbitant cost and turn them into digital channels.

eNCA, that launched as the eNews Channel in June 2008, will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in June this year but it's been tough going for this channel. 

Although eNCA is the most watched TV news channel on DStv with the largest news audience share, it didn't help the channel to make enough money to sustain the type of news and coverage, especially of and from the rest of Africa it did for a while. The channel, although successful, has gone through several painful cost-cutting exercises that saw it shed staffers, shutter its international bureaus and cancel multiple news and actuality programmes. 

The new TV news channel will also have to know that it will be entering a very crowded field of established players in terms of TV news providers who are not going to budge for a newbie.