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Viewing till you drop

Years ago, before Mandela was released, audiences were fascinated with a new development -- the launch of M-Net.

M-Net (originally an abbreviation for Electronic Media Network) was a subscription-funded television channel established in 1986 by Naspers.

While the TV signal was generally encrypted, those who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the subscription fee were also glued to M-Net’s “open-time” slot in the late afternoon, until the slot closed on April 1, 2007.

It was a good ploy by M-Net, for you would drink in this new entertainment for two hours before blackness once again engulfed the TV screen.

Audiences got another treat when, in the early 1990s, M-Net added a second analog channel called Community Services Network (CSN), and began digital broadcasting via satellite to the rest of Africa, via its sister company MultiChoice.

Remember those days? There was quite a lot of excitement, because, finally, there was something to watch which held your attention for longer than 10 minutes.

Personally, M-Net, back then, was as exciting as watching our Proteas play one-day cricket, considering I had the privilege of growing up in Europe for seven years (even though born in the lovely Cape).

While South Africa was getting used to digital broadcasting, Europe of course was light years ahead at the time when it comes to offering entertainment on the square box.

Upon my final return from Europe to settle down in wild Gauteng, M-Net, despite its potential, was still vastly disappointing, for we were still lagging behind.

And so, for a while, South African audiences lived in a fantasy land, glued to M-Net, with many oblivious to how far satellite television had progressed overseas.

Then suddenly, lo and behold, satellite television arrived in all its glory like a big present wrapped under the Christmas tree.

Out popped DStv in 1995 and, at last, even though it took a long while, we had caught up with the rest of the developed world.

DStv grew in leaps and bounds, basically because people were starving for something bigger and better. And even though the costs over the years have escalated for this viewing pleasure, DStv keeps growing, because people love entertainment.

And yes, part of the attraction is that sport fanatics can receive more than their daily action of tackles, kicks, hits, grunts, moans and cheers.

DStv has opened up a new world for many, so that today you can stay glued for 24-hours a day to the screen, in the process losing your sanity, and forgetting that you once had a social life, even maybe a family!

But DStv is not the end of our digital broadcasting evolution. It has, by all accounts, served as the catalyst for South Africa being on the brink of a broadcasting explosion of content offerings.

Not long ago, Top TV emerged on the market. Cheaper, yes, but not packing quite the same punch as DStv.

Still, audiences now had a choice, and how don’t we love having choices in our modern society!

Top TV, however, is also not the end of this fairytale, but it is but the beginning of much bigger things.

Buckle up, because South Africa might just be getting a lot more satellite broadcasters, which might just finally spell doom for all our social lives as we know it.

While we wait for the government’s digital terrestrial television (DTT) migration which, when successful, will mean the public broadcaster would have 15 extra channels; parent company Sabido Investments have already made moves to launch new television services on satellite platforms.

Sabido is aiming to launch a new free-to-air satellite platform called Openview HD via subsidiary Platco Digital.

Platco is promising “significantly and cheaper” carriage rates compared with existing players in the sector, namely DStv and TopTV.

The free services will cost consumers only the cost for the decoder, satellite dish and installation. They will then get access to between 12 and 20 channels for no additional monthly costs.

And then SABC has also launched its 24-hour news channel on MultiChoice’s DStv bouquet.

There are also five new applicants to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) for a new round of satellite television broadcasting licenses recently.

They are Kagiso Media, Siyaya, Close-T Broadcast Network Holdings, Mindset Media Enterprises and Mobile TV.

The latest development when it comes to digital television should be seen as the first great wave, which was all put in motion years ago when M-Net gave its first cry.

Just like in the 1980s, when we didn’t know where television programming was heading in South Africa, just so, we wait in abated breath to see what happens over the next decade.

One things is for sure, viewing will never be boring, entertainment is coming to the masses and food companies will have to come up with more inventive TV dinners.

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