Staff picket against retrenchments outside the SABC building in Sea Point, Cape Town. Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)
Staff picket against retrenchments outside the SABC building in Sea Point, Cape Town. Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)

SABC fails to see it’s sitting on a gold mine

By Opinion Time of article published Nov 22, 2020

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Victor Kgomoeswana

Johannesburg - The SABC is the news again rather than a news outlet.

It impressed and disappointed in the space of two weeks.

The corporation tabled its annual report for the year to March 31.

A net loss of R511 million, a 12% year-on-year decline in revenue and a drop of 18% in TV licence revenue are among the highlights of yet another case of the underutilisation of our broadcasting capability.

The SABC collects 24% of the licence fees, down from 31% in the previous year, and compared to 97% by the BBC, according to reports. This is unlikely to improve. But who needs to bet on licences exclusively in the age of video on demand broadcasting?

The SABC said a better collection rate could rake in more than R1 billion and make the corporation profitable. Assuming this will not happen, let us pin our hopes on other more contemporary sources – those that will make the SABC compete with the likes of Netflix, Hulu and YouTube TV!

The urgency of finding alternative revenue streams is the reason for my excitement over the SABC-Telkom content streaming deal, TelkomONE. It opens a channel for local content creators to develop more work for streaming via the TelkomONE, provided data prices continue to fall and internet connectivity improves.

Local content is the foundation of successful global commercial successes like Hollywood, Nollywood and Bollywood. The locals must first produce and consume their own content before exporting it to the rest of the world – not the other way around. This is why credit is due when the SABC’s public broadcasting stations and public commercial stations comply with the Independent Communications Authority of SA directive to raise their local music quota to 70% and 35%, respectively.

The SABC is going to have to explore many other revenue streams.

Some might be gone. For example, SuperSport has more than 10 sports channels – literally eating the SABC’s lunch. Let SuperSport broadcast the English Premier League or La Liga, but local soccer should not have been allowed out of public broadcasting into the clutches of pay TV. Big sporting codes could have helped create a robust sport offering for the public broadcaster.

Local movies are another gold mine not being tapped into.

Creative South Africans generate lots of films annually which do not get seen. Most of the productions are made with public funds, but they fail to reach the market because conventional distribution channels are not available.

The SABC could start by hosting a local film screening weekly to generate lots of advertising revenue.

Another underutilised cash cow is Channel Africa, a radio station managed by the SABC on behalf of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies. Channel Africa has audiences all over the continent because it broadcasts in English, French, Chinyanja, Portuguese, Silozi and Kiswahili.

Somehow, 96% of Channel Africa’s staff is reportedly redundant.

How? The SABC, like several companies, need to start thinking of Africa’s billion-plus population as a broadcast revenue market instead of treating Channel Africa like its dirtier, poorer and undesirable cousin.

Necessity – the mother of invention – is here; and retrenchment is not inventive enough.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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