DStv-owner MultiChoice has countersued eMedia over the contentious broadcast rights for the Rugby World Cup. Marc Jury, the CEO of MultiChoice South Africa, says eMedia’s lawsuit is a “classic example of free riding” in the broadcaster’s replying affidavit for an urgent interdict being heard today – 10 October – in the Johannesburg High Court.
eMedia, you’ve been served…
“Despite having the opportunity to acquire a licence to the rights in question, the applicants did not take a single step to participate in the process for purchasing broadcasting rights directly,” Jury said, as reported by MyBroadband.
“A broadcaster having a genuine interest in broadcasting valuable rights would plan well in advance of the events in question and seek, on a commercial basis, to acquire those rights on a licensing or sublicensing basis. These are steps that eMedia has simply failed to take.”
Jury argues that a broadcaster should prepare long in advance for buying broadcast rights. World Rugby invited applications in 2018 and eMedia or the SABC could have bid for them then, he says. “eMedia’s case is a classic example of free riding — seeking to profit off another’s expense without contributing at all,” Jury wrote.
In its case, eMedia is arguing that the SABC – which concluded a rights deal at the 11th hour for both the Rugby and Cricket World Cups – should be allowed to carry rugby games on Openview, the eMedia-owned free-to-air satellite service.
However, Jury says the broadcaster would distribute the rugby on a competing satellite channel and therefore would have to charge the SABC more. Meanwhile, eMedia’s statement that not having Openview rights would affect 3.2 million households has been question by MultiChoice.
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“There is no evidentiary basis for eMedia’s proposition at all,” Jury wrote. “Even if it is accepted that eMedia has sold 3.2 million of its Openview set-top boxes, this does not remotely demonstrate that the households concerned need those boxes to watch the rugby.”
Using the Broadcast Research Council of South Africa’s monthly Television Audience Measurement Survey statistics to argue his point, Jury continued; “Further, the viewership of SABC 2 [on Openview] is smaller, at a mere 61,605, and SABC Sport even smaller at 18,144, as at [sic] 31 March 2023.”
Should eMedia win its case today, Jury says it will mean less South Africans would be able to watch the quarter-finals (defending champions South Africa play hosts France on Sunday at 21:00).
“This is because if, contrary to everything that has been set out above, this Court were to conclude that the restriction in the sublicence with the SABC is unenforceable and invalid, then the entire sublicence between SuperSport and the SABC would fail because the restriction cannot be severed from the remainder of the sublicence,” he argued.
“The result will be that there will be no free-to-air broadcast of the remaining Rugby World Cup matches because the applicants’ application has resulted in the entire sublicensing agreement failing.”