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MultiChoice, Africa’s largest pay-TV company, has struck a last-minute deal to broadcast the Africa Cup of Nations, removing the threat that its more than 20mn subscribers would not be able to watch the continent’s showpiece football tournament.
The South African company stunned customers last week when it said it had not secured television rights to the month-long tournament, which starts this weekend in the Ivory Coast.
The group lost an initial bidding battle to New World TV, a little-known Togo-based broadcaster that subsequently licensed out the rights to a handful of other groups, including StarTimes, a Chinese-owned satellite group that operates in sub-Saharan Africa, and SABC, the South African public broadcaster.
However, late on Wednesday, MultiChoice said it had reached a “commercially viable agreement” with New World that would allow it to screen every match.
While financial details of the agreement were not disclosed, a person familiar with the initial bidding process said that MultiChoice had baulked at the price that New World was prepared to pay.
New World is reported to have paid $80mn for the rights to the tournament, as well as 12 other competitions organised by the Confederation of African Football over the next two years.
The decision by MultiChoice, which has almost 22mn customers across 50 markets in Africa, prompted complaints from subscribers to its DStv satellite television service and low-cost GOtv, which operates in 11 countries.
James Torvaney, managing director at media group Pulse Sports, said MultiChoice may have withdrawn from the bidding process because it is leagues, rather than tournaments, that are more important for monetising customers through betting.
“Advertising from betting brands is a large part of how African sports broadcasters make money. Shorter tournaments like Afcon can be useful for customer acquisition but don’t necessarily have a long-term effect on consumer retention,” said Torvaney.
MultiChoice and New World did not respond to requests for comment.
MultiChoice already pays more than $200mn a year to screen the English Premier League and also shows matches from the top-flight football leagues in Spain and Italy. It has held rights to the Uefa Champions League for decades.
The 24-team Africa Cup of Nations, which features seven-time winners Egypt, hosts Ivory Coast, current holders Senegal and fading giants Nigeria, marks a coup for New World but also represents a significant challenge.
Patrice Motsepe, the South African billionaire mining magnate who heads CAF, hailed New World’s deal as the “biggest investment by a pan-African broadcaster in CAF’s history”.
While New World has previously won broadcast rights for francophone Africa to big global and European sporting competitions, including the Rugby World Cup, it has just 100,000 subscribers and faces pressure to make its coverage of the marquee tournament a success.
The winners will receive $7mn, a 40 per cent increase from the last time the tournament was held in 2022, making it the most lucrative in its history.
Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, who finished runner-up two years ago and is hoping to lead Egypt to victory for the first time since 2010, is the star attraction. The reigning African player of the year, Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen, is also among the players expected to shine.
Qatar’s beIN will show the tournament in the Middle East, north Africa and across North America, while the UK rights are owned by Sky and the BBC. The games will be broadcast in about 180 countries, according to the organisers.
The tournament starts as MultiChoice confronts higher costs, thanks in part to currency weakness in several African countries. The company raised prices for subscribers in Nigeria and Kenya last year and briefly shut down satellite services in Malawi in a regulatory dispute over pricing.
Since it was spun out of South Africa’s internet group Naspers in 2019, MultiChoice has pivoted from its traditional pay-TV business and invested heavily in online streaming to compete with Netflix, which is aggressively expanding across Africa.
Additional reporting by Joseph Cotterill in London