South African media company eMedia Investments has failed in its bid to air matches from the ongoing Rugby World Cup in France after losing its court case against heavyweight broadcasting company Multichoice, that country's RWC rightsholder.
Last week, eMedia Investments filed a legal challenge in South Africa against MultiChoice over its sublicensing deal for RWC games with public broadcaster the SABC, which limits free-to-air (FTA) distribution of its games to terrestrial television.
The SABC’s deal covers 16 RWC matches, including the four to seven games defending champions South Africa could play at the tournament (the final number will be at least five, given the team has reached the quarter-finals). The aforementioned restrictions block eMedia from airing any games through its FTA digital platform OpenView, despite having a carriage deal already in place for SABC’s main television and sports channels.
The suit, filed with the Johannesburg High Court, requested Multichoice be forced to allow eMedia to carry the SABC’s coverage of the upcoming knockout rounds, which will feature South Africa.
At the time, eMedia’s chief executive Khalik Sherrif said: “The anti-competitive action is nothing short of domination in trying to prescribe to the FTA partner [the SABC] how to use its broadcasting rights.
“We believe the action should be strongly condemned and opposed. The 3.2 million households which have been affected by the decision should voice their dissatisfaction.”
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However, in an affidavit before the High Cout, MultiChoice SA’s chief executive Marc Jury argued: “eMedia’s case is a classic example of free riding – seeking to profit off another’s expense without contributing at all.”
Now, in a blow to eMedia, Judge Rean Strydom has dismissed the case over a lack of urgency, striking it from the High Court roll, and ordering eMedia to pay the legal costs for MultiChoice and its platform SuperSport.
In a statement, Philippa Rafferty, eMedia’s head of legal and business affairs, said: “Ultimately, the merits of this case will have to be dealt with, particularly as the same blackout applies to the Cricket World Cup. We are considering our options going forward.”
Earlier this week, the SABC concluded a last-minute deal with Multichoice to show action from the ongoing men’s ICC Cricket World Cup taking place in India until November 19. That deal has also been structured to prevent OpenView from airing matches.
Responding to the latest news, Multichoice commented, meanwhile: “The effect of the high court’s decision is that the position remains that the Springbok matches at the Rugby World Cup will continue to be broadcast only on SuperSport and the SABC.
“The matches are not broadcast via OpenView HD because eMedia has at no stage purchased or even attempted to purchase the rights concerned.”
The RWC's main rights package held by MultiChoice is aired through the media company's pay-television broadcaster SuperSport. SuperSport is currently only legally required to sub-license nationally important sporting events – such as South Africa games at the RWC – to FTA networks at a reasonable price.
At the previous men’s RWC, the SABC and SuperSport only struck a last-minute sub-licensing deal for the tournament's final, in which South Africa defeated England to win their third RWC.