THE battle for pay-television channel TopTV seems headed for court, with losing bidder Dynamic TV expected to challenge this week’s decision to award Chinese consortium StarTimes the right to take over the ailing channel.
Dynamic TV is being backed by pay-television giant MultiChoice, and is being led by businessman Given Mkhari’s MSG Africa Media Group in partnership with Malose Kekana of Falk Trading.
The group made a surprise last-minute bid to take over the channel on Monday, saying it had secured R500m backing from MultiChoice, which agreed to the "rescue" as part of its "enterprise development" drive.
In an apparent effort to block StarTimes’s bid, Naspers-owned MultiChoice made numerous efforts at a meeting on Tuesday to try to block the vote by creditors and shareholders of TopTV, which has been in business rescue since October. First, the Dynamic team "bought credit" in a bid to be allowed to participate in proceedings, a move rejected by Peter van den Steen, who had been given the task of rescuing TopTV.
In another surprise move, the MultiChoice-backed team then produced a letter saying that it was ready to start funding the channel immediately.
"MultiChoice undertakes to unconditionally provide funding to Dynamic TV for a total of R30m to be utilised to fund the monthly operational expenses of (TopTV owner) On Digital Media, until the Dynamic TV business rescue plan, as proposed, is adopted or rejected by the creditor and shareholders of On Digital Media," read the letter, signed by MultiChoice CEO Imtiaz Patel.
The group denied that it was trying to stifle competition in the sector. In another letter given to Mr van den Steen, Mr Mkhari and Mr Kekana jointly tried to give assurances on MultiChoice’s role in the matter.
"Our proposal has been structured on the basis that it will not contravene South African broadcasting legislation or licence conditions of On Digital Media or the company. We can assure all interested parties that we will ensure that neither the funder, MultiChoice SA, nor its affiliates exercise any form of control whatsoever in relation to the operations of On Digital Media or its shareholders."
The bid to rescue TopTV appeared to gain added momentum this week, within a day of the regulator giving it the go-ahead to broadcast three porn channels. A day before the creditors and shareholders met to decide on the Chinese consortium’s offer, another expression of interest was tabled from the East African Wananchi Group.
The group told the meeting that there would be no discontinuation of service if TopTV had engaged in discussions with Wananchi. TopTV services were due to be disconnected on Tuesday night.
"We have rights to third-party channels that overlap 80% to 90% of TopTV programming. Those programmers have deep relations with us and our investors and would be delighted if we start paying them for TopTV customers," read Wananchi’s letter presented to the meeting.
Business Day was reliably informed that Dynamic TV will now be heading to court.
According to South Africa’s new business rescue laws, a vote needs to be supported by the holders of more than 75% of creditors’ voting interests.
The vote is rejected if it does not meet the approval requirements, unless the business rescue practitioner succeeds in a vote of approval on a revised plan or the firm applies to court to set aside the result.
Asked to comment on a possible court challenge, Mr Mkhari said: "We’ll study the outcome of this meeting and make an announcement on the next step."
Mr van den Steen, who was handling the process, said Dynamic had the right to go to court but it should be done on an urgent basis.
TopTV, which launched in 2010, has been in a slump that has seen it lose content partners and clients, and was desperate to secure a financial backer after On Digital Media entered business rescue proceedings.