e.tv calls on MultiChoice to lift Rugby World Cup restrictions

Two companies which own etv and Openview have taken the SABC and MultiChoice to court on an urgent basis to force them to give them broadcast right to the 2023 Rugby World Cup tournament taking place in France.

eMedia Investment and its subsidiary Platco Digital Propriety Limited filed the papers in the Joburg high court on Wednesday and gaveMultiChoice and the SABC until Thursday September 27 to file their notice of intention to oppose.

They also called on the two media giants to file their answering affidavits on Tuesday, October 3 by 5pm.

 The legal battle ensued after MultiChoice, which owns the Rugby World Cup rights, gave the SABC the right to broadcast the matches, but prevented it from flighting games on its SABC 2 channel, which is carried on Openview satellite.

In his founding affidavit, eMedia chief financial officer, Antonio Lee, said MultiChoice was depriving 3-million South African households the right to view the matches.

 Lee said MultiChoice is a pay TV operator, but secured all of the rights to the World Cup, including the free-to-air rights.

 Afterwards, he said, it sub-licensed these free-to-air rights to the SABC, but imposed restrictions for the matches not to be broadcast on SABC 2 channel, which is viewed on Openview.

Lee said they wanted to be given the right to beam the upcoming quaterfinal, semifinal and final matches of the World Cup, which are scheduled between October 14 and 28.

He said they were backed by SABC Chief Operation Officer, Ian Plaatjies .

“To be clear at the outset, eMedia does not seek to broadcast the rugby on its e.tv or other channels. It merely seeks to be permitted to distribute the SABC channels (which include the matches), to which it has a contractual right, through the Openview platform.

 The relevant matches of the 2023 Ruby World Cup are currently being broadcast by the SABC as part of its SABC2 channel,” Lee said.

He said MultiChoice’s imposed restriction on Openview not to broadcast the matches was unlawful and unenforceable.

 This constitutes, he said, unlawful interference in the contract between eMedia and SABC in relation to the distribution of the SABC channels on the Openview platform.

“Without the urgent intervention of the court, millions of South Africans who rely on the Openview platform and who have a right to receive the SABC programming, including the specified Rugby World Cup matches, will not be able to watch the Springbok matches, the quarter and semifinals and the final match of the Rugby World Cup on account of the Openview restriction.”

 MultiChoice, he said, despite owning only a pay-TV licence, purchased both the pay-TV and free-to-air television rights in relation to the World Cup. This despite that it could not itself broadcast the World Cup on a “free-to-air” basis as it doesn’t have the licence to do so, he said.

When MultiChoice granted the SABC the right to broadcast the showpiece, it imposed restriction that it may not broadcast the games to any of its viewers using the Openview platform. When it contacted MultiChoice, it refused to lift the restriction, saying eMedia was attempting to “free ride” on the right obtained by the SABC.

If the matches are broadcast on the SABC channels and distributed via Openview, eMedia would not gain any advertising revenue or sponsorship revenue.

“That revenue would accrue to the SABC, which has purchased the rights,” read the affidavits.

 Lee and his entities are praying to the court to declare the provisions in the sub-licensing agreement between Multi-Choice and the SABC invalide and unenforceable. This because they prevent the SABC from providing Platco with the same feed of the SABC channels as appears on the SABC’s transmission by way of analogue signal and DStv.

SABC declined to comment on the matter.

MultiChoice CEO Calvo Mawela could not be reached for comment, but the company said it would oppose the application because it is without merit.

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