Businessmen Given Mkhari's MSG Africa Media Group is part of a consortium bidding for On Digital Media's TopTV.  Picture: ROBERT BOTHA
Businessmen Given Mkhari's MSG Africa Media Group is part of a consortium bidding for On Digital Media's TopTV. Picture: ROBERT BOTHA

CHINESE consortium StarTimes has won the bid for pay television service Top TV after shareholders and creditors voted on the matter in Sandton on Tuesday.

TopTV — launched in 2010 to rival MultiChoice’s DStv — has been in a slump that has seen it lose content partners and clients, and is desperate to secure a financial backer after owner On Digital Media entered business rescue proceedings last October.

According to the new business rescue laws in South Africa, a vote needs to be supported by the holders of more than 75% of the creditors' voting interests. The vote is rejected if it does not meet the approval requirements, unless the company's business rescue practitioner succeeds in a vote of approval on a revised plan or the company applies to court to set aside the result.

TopTV's business rescue practitioner Peter van den Steen said TopTV's content providers, fearing they would not get paid, indicated they could pull content if the pay television service did not find a buyer on Tuesday.

Challenge to TopTV deal possible

Rival bidder Multichoice, which on Monday emerged as the surprise financial backer in the race to buy the pay television service, said it was considering its options and has not ruled out going to court to challenge the decision.

In a last-minute move to block the Chinese bid and keep the channel in local hands on Monday, Naspers-owned MultiChoice said it would make available R30m a month if it secure the Top TV bid.

Also involved in the Multichoice-funded offer — as the Dynamic TV consortium — are businessman Given Mkhari’s MSG Africa Media Group and Malose Kekana of Falk Trading

Although the Chinese consortium and the Dynamic TV consortium were the major bidders, they were not the only parties interested in the struggling pay television service.

While the creditors and shareholders met to decide on the Chinese consortium offer on Tuesday, another expression of interest was tabled from an East African group — Wanachi Group.

The Kenyan group, founded in 2008, operates in countries such Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Malawi. TopTV would be the first venture into southern Africa by the group, which operates along the same model as TopTV and would finance the venture with support from US investors.

Earlier Tuesday, a workers' representative told the meeting that On Digital Media should be given more time to consider the latest offer. The workers’ association accused the Chinese consortium of using 'bullying tactics' in its bid.

Employee representative advocate Musa Sishange said workers were concerned about their jobs and decisions that would be taken around programming, should the Chinese company take over.

TopTV was launched by On Digital Media in May 2010 as a cheaper rival to DStv but has struggled to attract the 500,000 subscribers required to break even.

As part of its strategy to save the company, TopTV last week secured permission from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa to screen adult content on three of its channels.

Discussions at the Sandton meeting were still under way on Tuesday.