South Africa news December 17, 2012

CSA hopeful of free-to-air broadcast

Cricket South Africa is hopeful of reaching an agreement with the public broadcaster SABC tomorrow ahead of the summer series which starts on Friday. Despite televising all home internationals since readmission, the SABC has indicated they will not air this season's fixtures against New Zealand and Pakistan. ESPNCricinfo understands financial constraints in buying the rights are the biggest issue for the SABC.

CSA controls its own rights but sold the production to subscription-broadcaster SuperSport, whose cameras generate the pictures. SuperSport then purchases a separate broadcasting rights agreement to air cricket played in South Africa throughout the continent. Their deal excludes the free-to-air package.

"CSA have carved out rights for the public broadcaster," Jacques Faul, acting chief executive told ESPNCricinfo. "We would have sold the same rights at a premium to SuperSport but we keep the free-to-air rights separately because we want cricket to be available to the majority of the country."

The SABC's deal was worth R30 million ($3.53 million) last season and a source close to CSA said they were willing to offer it at "around half," the price this summer. CSA would make up the rest of the revenue through sponsorship promotions. For example, Test sponsor Sunfoil has already bought R12 million ($1.41 million) in advertising from the SABC. Some of that money would go to CSA to make up for the loss in selling the rights.

SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago was not willing to comment on whether the SABC could not make enough money from other advertising to justify buying the rights. He was only willing to say that matters are still being debated. "We are considering a number of options before us and we will make a decision from our side when we have thought through these things," he said.

International cricket matches played in South Africa are "listed sports events" according to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa. That means they must be available on a free-to-air channel. The only other option for CSA would be to enlist the services of (another channel which does not require a subscription) but with time running out, it is unlikely they will be able to this season.

CSA's biggest concern is that the game will not reach large swathes of South Africans if the SABC does not broadcast the matches. "It's sad because we need to grow the game and we need the public broadcaster to help us grow the game," Faul said.

The SABC have a notably larger viewership than SuperSport. Last season, the two Twenty20s against Australia pulled in an average of 1,254,642 viewers on SABC while SuperSport had 252,071. As a ratio, almost five times as many people watched the matches on the public broadcaster than the pay channel. For ODIs, the ratio is 4.69 to 1 in favour of the SABC while for Tests it is as high as 6.69 to 1.

South Africa play three T20s, two Tests and three ODIs against New Zealand, followed by three Tests, five ODIs and two T20s against Pakistan. The SABC's radio coverage of the series is expected to continue as normal with ball-by-ball commentary from the stadiums. As matters stand, the SABC has offered to air the Boxing Day T20 but will only show highlights from all other matches. They will revert back to CSA with a final decision tomorrow.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent