The five pay-TV licencees have been announced, but South African consumers will have to wait another nine months before they can access content from an alternative supplier to the incumbent, MultiChoice.
Yesterday, ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of SA) named Telkom Media, Walking on Water, On Digital Media (ODM), eSAT and MultiChoice (which didn't hold a licence previously) as the winning applicants for pay-TV licences.
Some analysts were surprised that five companies made the cut, having believed there would be only two licences awarded in addition to MultiChoice having its position regularised.
However, the increased competition that the bigger group will bring to the market has been welcomed and is seen as a first move in bringing prices down.
The race is now on to sign up content, and the licencees will be tying up deals they could only explore prior yesterday's announcement.
Telkom Media's Chris van Zyl, says the company can start moving now on signing deals with content providers and expects to be making some announcements in this field soon.
"We are also talking to the satellite providers and can start signing up space on the satellites," he says.
With the hard work still ahead of them, Van Zyl believes a satellite-based pay-TV system won't be available to users much before June next year.
One of the major crunch areas will be in the set-top box, or decoder, as users will likely baulk at having to buy more than one to access different services.
However, ICASA is working on the conditions governing licencees and will probably include a provision for set-top box openness.
Van Zyl is confident that IPTV-based services can start rolling out from November next year, although this will be prioritised areas that will probably include up-market gated communities.
IPTV will be delivered on the same copper cables used to carry the telephone and Internet connection, but will split to convey IPTV. The current copper infrastructure doesn't provide a fast enough connection yet and IPTV is reliant of Telkom upgrading the infrastructure, since IPTV will require about 10Mbps to 20Mbps.
Van Zyl explains that satellite television will deliver the same experience consumers are accustomed to now – programming is pushed to their sets at specific times.
With IPTV, however, the consumer has a lot more control of what he watches and when. In addition, a raft of other features will come on board later that will allow users to select camera angles, freeze programming and resume when it suits them, and even conduct e-commerce related to the content.
WebTV will round out the entertainment offering, and Van Zyl says it offers opportunities for true triple-play access.
"Consumers can watch a match on satellite television, watch it via different angles over IPTV and then log on to WebTV to join in discussions and blogs about the game.
Telkom Media will kick off its service with about 40 channels, as well as the four free-to-view channels.
Subscription offerings will start with eight pay-TV channels, across a range of interests, for about R100.00 per month and users can scale up from there to the full 40.
All offerings will be capable of playing high definition (HD) content.