DStv’s monopoly on sports being challenged in South Africa

Here in Zimbabwe as Kwese was relaunched for the third time, comparison of the pay-TV service to DStv was inevitable. In the conversation one thing kept coming up, for a good number of people it doesn’t matter what Kwese brings to the table, if they can’t provide the same sports content available on DStv they simply won’t consider it an option.

DStv has been in the industry for decades and in those years they have built strong relationships with rights owners as they have negotiated for massive sports contracts. Some of the contracts they signed with those rights owners were for long periods of time and exclusive contracts they were too.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) is set to picket on Saturday at the Rugby Championship clash between South Africa and New Zealand (go All Blacks, jk.) The main reason they are protesting is DStv’s monopoly over national rugby broadcasting rights in South Africa.

Such is DStv’s monopoly that national rugby team games are only accessible to those with DStv subscriptions and Supersport access. No games are broadcast by the national broadcaster SABC. Said Cosatu,


National sports that must inspire the whole nation must be shown live on SABC, as it is a national sport of all the people. This kind of discrimination will never be allowed in a national soccer match, as the government would step in to ensure it is available live for all citizens.

DStv stuck their hand too deep into the cookie jar.

It is not only rugby where DStv has rights which are being contested. There were challenges in reaching an agreement with Cricket SA regarding which games would be shown on free to air channels. The issue at hand was the Global T20 League, the South African answer to the IPL, which Supersport would normally have gotten exclusive rights to.

The experts say that DStv is not likely to feel the effect of the Cosatu picketing this weekend but those Cosatu protests are likely going to be noticed by the government and regulators. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) was already looking at the subscription-based television broadcasting services industry and the efforts by Cosatu are likely going to accelerate that process.

Icasa when they launched the inquiry back in August said the aim was to determine whether there were competition issues in the sector (like they don’t know.) Icasa is looking at shortening exclusive contracts and unbundling sports rights so that they are accessible to more than one buyer.

They are also looking at the Sky model in the UK, where there is a wholesale must offer on sports channels, which requires an operator to sell sporting content to other distributors at regulated prices. Kwese is no doubt looking on with bated breath at these developments.

DStv may be the go to broadcaster for premium sport content but that position is being challenged every day and with new entrants in the market like Kwese, five years down the line we might have a picture totally different from the one we have right now.

For football lovers, Supersport might not be the go to service in the future, Facebook and Amazon are set to join in the fight for English Premier League rights and also the Champions League. Facebook’s head of sports refused to rule out a bid for EPL rights. Kwese will be in the mix too and as the next set of rights are set to be auctioned next year we will see what happens then.