New TopTV CEO: We made mistakes
Cape Town – In a very honest, very open and at times painfully frank interview, Eddie Mbalo, the new acting CEO of South Africa's pay TV operator TopTV – speaking publicly for the very first time since he took over the reins of the troubled pay TV service a week ago from Vino Govender – humbly said TopTV "have made some mistakes" but adds that "there is new thinking at TopTV – it's a new beginning".
The past two months TopTV was pummelled in the press and by the public after much maligned porn plans leaked as the pay TV provider battled growing investor pressure over a weak content offering, subscriber backlash over content and service and increasing industry scepticism.
Despite the daunting challenges, the new acting CEO who ran the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) for almost a decade since 2001, is adamant that there's definitely a place for TopTV and a second pay TV service in South Africa and that TopTV can and is filling that space.
Mbalo promises a more transparent business and more information sharing with stakeholders as TopTV moves into the future, saying TopTV will be taking a critical look at its content offering.
'Long, hard look at ourselves'
"It's fair to say that we have made some mistakes and not delivered on all of our promises. But the current review we are doing of the business presents us with an opportunity to take a long, hard look at ourselves, to fix what needs fixing, to acknowledge what we are doing right and to improve in those areas where we are performing badly," he said.
"Many start-ups face immense challenges like we are currently experiencing, but we still feel like we always did when TopTV started – there is definitely a place for a second pay TV operator in South Africa and we are confident that we can fill that space with fresh programming, innovation and excellent customer service."
About TopTV porn package plans which met major public resistance, had TopTV slapped with a court interdict and the application eventually rejected by South Africa's broadcasting regulator, Mbalo says TopTV is "disappointed with the outcome" and that "as is often the case, the detractors to adult content are more vocal".
"It was always our intention to offer the three adult content channels as a completely separate package to the current TopTV channel offerings and we had put in all the necessary security checks and balances to ensure this would be the case." He said TopTV is awaiting the reasons from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) as to why the application was turned down before On Digital Media (ODM) will decide how to proceed.
Mbalo says an outside consultancy has been brought in to work with the pay TV operator over the next few months "to review all areas of the business and help us devise a roadmap for the future".
Critical look at content offering
"In the next 30 days we will conduct a full review of the business. We will look at where we currently stand and from there, we will develop a clear and coherent strategy addressing each area of the business to ensure we are competitive and relevant within the pay TV market in South Africa."
"We need to look at our service, we need to listen to what our customers are saying, we need to take a critical look at our content offering," said Mbalo.
"We have some strong content such as Fox and our movies. We have lost some content due to channels going into liquidation, for example, and were looking to introduce what has become rather controversial content. We need to understand clearly what our content and innovation strategy is," he said.
"I really think we need to be more communicative going forward. I promise that we will be more open in sharing information about the business with our key stakeholders including our subscribers, the media, advertisers and out staff. There is new thinking at TopTV – it's a new beginning," said Mbalo.
"I understand content, I understand the market and I'm confident about moving this business forward."