SABC must take a digital leap of faith to survive
The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is undergoing natural death.
Its death is natural partly because it was built on old technology and shifting media consumption trends.
There’s an opportunity, however, for the state broadcaster to rise again and more importantly save jobs. Its survival will depend on transitioning towards new technology.
Here’s how SABC can rise again.
Before the SABC can fully enjoy the benefits of new technologies it will have to understand current technological opportunities. One opportunity that the SABC is missing out on is podcasting.
PwC forecasts $800 million (about R12.1 billion) will be spent this year on podcast ads in the US and by 2024 the total will reach $1.7bn.
PwC says podcast revenue continues to grow at a faster rate than for either radio or the music industry – it estimates an annual growth rate of 18.8 percent through 2024– which it says is a reflection of gains made by podcasters in reaching new listeners.
It is important that the value of podcasting is understood at SABC because there are indications it is not understood. If SABC understood the value of podcasting it would not host its podcast assets with IONO, a podcasting start-up company.
By hosting its content material with a private company, it is missing out on fully benefiting from the podcasting industry. Imagine if SABC radio were to take podcasting seriously and host their content on SABC podcasting platform. SABC has the potential to become the king of podcasting not just in South Africa and across the African continent.
In the same way that the old technology radio became a platform that promoted local musicians and storytellers, the SABC podcasting platform can become an audio environment through which local musicians and storytellers can host their content.
Online video is another avenue that is a missed opportunity as SABC uses another private company, YouTube, and a Google Alphabet-owned company for this purpose.
Recently, SABC has shown an interest in entering the video streaming industry via a partnership with Telkom, a good move.
Before SABC can enter the video streaming industry it needs to begin a process of hosting its own video content on a platform similar to YouTube.
Such a platform, however, would have to be built and owned by SABC. This move alone will enable SABC to earn billions in revenues, which are probably currently earned by Google based on SABC content.
The global online video platform in the media and entertainment market size was $218m in 2016 and is projected to reach $915m by 2025.
When SABC has built a solid online platform then it can move to video streaming. In doing so, it will have to avoid relying on an external that has little understanding of the media industry.
The current approach of collaborating with Telkom in developing a video streaming solution should be a short-term intervention. In the long run, SABC has to develop and own its digital platforms.
Netflix is what it is today because it built its own platform that is improved daily. SABC can’t compete with Showmax and Netflix by outsourcing its technology development function.
Practically, this means SABC has to hire at five least senior software developers to build its future in the digital world. Staff within SABC will have to be retrained for the digital world.
Lastly, SABC has to rely less on lawyers and accountants in its leadership. Media and technology leadership is what is necessary to lead a 21 century media entity.
Lawyers and accountants should play a supportive role and not drive strategy.
The future of audio and video is digital and SABC needs to become a truly digital corporation to survive and rise again.
* Wesley Diphoko is editor-in-chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine.