TV Licences – SABC vs the BBC

The SABC has been plagued by problems in recent years, including a mass exodus of its top executives.

Various communications ministers have been unable to change the tide at the broadcaster, while several have been implicated in its collapse.

Many problems the SABC faces have been linked to former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who was defended by Zuma loyalists despite his horrific performance.

This has led to a negative attitude towards the broadcaster from the public – which has had significant consequences.

TV licences

The SABC’s latest annual report shows that revenue collected from television licences declined by R178.5 million – 17.4% – to R847.4 million in the past financial year.

This is R449.4 million below budget.

In simple terms, many South Africans who were paying their TV licences have stopped doing so.

The unwillingness to pay may be linked to several factors, but a loss of confidence in the SABC and its financial management structures can be considered one of them.

This is despite a TV licence costing the relatively low price of R265 per year.


In the UK, the BBC – its public broadcaster – runs a similar licence system to the SABC, which is also reported to be unpopular among TV owners.

Despite the UK’s TV licence being viewed in a negative light by locals, and costing much more than South Africa’s, the BBC has become an internationally-successful broadcaster.

A standard annual TV licence in the UK is £147 for a colour TV (R2,600) and £49.50 for black and white (R875) TV.

It is worth noting that the BBC does not require you to pay a TV licence if you only use your TV as a monitor for your gaming console. If you use any device to watch its linear broadcast services live, however, you must pay.

Despite the concession, the BBC brings in significantly more revenue from TV licences than the SABC does.

It is not just the volume of public funds channelled into the broadcasters that sets them apart, though, as there is also a major difference in attitude when it comes to the type of content produced with those funds.

The BBC has a content strategy much like that of Netflix, where it develops content that speaks to a local audience – but which will also travel well around the world.

This includes dramas such as Sherlock, Doctor Who, and The Missing, as well as shows like Top Gear, Masterchef, Live at the Apollo, Robot Wars, QI, and Strictly Come Dancing.

In addition to airing these shows in its home market, the BBC licenses the content to international broadcasters – including platforms like DStv and Netflix.

For the SABC to remain relevant when the world is moving from broadcast TV to streaming and on-demand services, it should adopt a similar content strategy – produce a variety of shows which are relevant to all South Africans, but which may also excite international audiences.

Not only will this raise the quality and reach of its content, it will expand the SABC’s income streams beyond South Africa.

This is an opinion piece.

Now read: How to cancel and stop paying your TV licence

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TV Licences – SABC vs the BBC