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TopTV is no more

2013-10-17 10:14
Cape Town – TopTV is ending, with the damaged South African pay-TV satellite brand changing to StarSat as soon as November with new StarTV or STV branded channels including high definition (HD) TV channels.

A relaunch of TopTV to StarSat was supposed to take place on Thursday but On Digital Media (ODM) – waiting for South Africa's broadcasting regulator to hopefully approve its new shareholding structure after China's StarTimes came onboard – had to postpone its relaunch to what insiders say will now hopefully happen in November.

It's not clear whether ODM's relaunch under the StarSat brand – which will include a redone TV channel line-up of around 90 TV channels and an updated StarSat bouquet – will include the launch of the separate pornography television bouquet of the Playboy TV, Desire TV and Private Spice channels.

ODM, in business rescue since December 2012, received regulatory permission to start its sex bouquet in April from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) after its second application, but has so far failed to launch in the five months since it was granted approval. Since then the StarTimes group has come forward, helping to bail out the struggling Woodmead-based pay-TV operator.

Severe public damage

ODM is now hopeful to launch StarSat as soon as possible, ending the TopTV brand which suffered huge reputational damage since its commercial launch just over three years ago.

TopTV got hammered and the brand suffered severe public damage the past three years due to the two controversial porn television applications – the first of which the broadcasting regulator denied, as well as ongoing customer service complaints, several debit order and billing system problems, a lack of sport and premium TV channels despite several promises to add it, a diminishing channel-line-up with ongoing disappearing and abruptly discontinued channels, and promises of the roll-out of more and HD channels as well as a PVR decoder which never materialised.

The "TopTV" name has already been scrubbed from the on-air offering last month with the eradication of the "Top" channels on the bouquet which were quietly replaced with so-called STV test channels and the StarTimes logo.

ODM which wants to get away from the "TopTV" name, now plans to provide high definition television through a standard decoder for the first time under the StarSat name, but ODM and StarTimes can't and won't do it before StarTimes is not "approved" as a valid new foreign shareholder by the regulator.

StarSat relaunch 'slightly delayed'

ODM says the launch of StarSat "has been slightly delayed due to regulatory processes. ODM is committed to launching as soon as the necessary procedures are finalised".

Icasa spokesperson Paseka Maleka told Channel24 on Wednesday that the broadcasting regulator finally received ODM's documentation requesting approval of the change in foreign shareholding to include StarTimes. He said that Icasa "is still looking at the issue around StarTimes' foreign shareholding in ODM".

"As soon as, and if, we find that ODM and StarTimes meet the necessary requirements, Icasa will approve the application," he said. He said ODM already has pay-TV licensing conditions and that the application only pertains to the shareholding change. "ODM is [already] free to change its existing channels and product within those licensing conditions."

ODM says that Icasa is "well aware of what ODM is trying to achieve and that they are providing us with as much support within the contraints of their own internal processes".

ODM says StarTimes "remains committed to the turnaround plan for TopTV and On Digital Media retains full confidence in the selection of StarTimes as its preferred strategic equity partner, and its ability to implement the launch of StarSat".

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