Despite being loathed by many, South Africa’s TV licence fee is actually among the cheapest of its kind in the world.
The local TV Licence fee recently came under the spotlight following reports that the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was pushing for stricter enforcement of payments and working on regulations that would allow for additional avenues of collection.
Among these proposals, the broadcaster wants to compel other service providers like Netflix and MultiChoice to collect TV licence fees on its behalf.
It is also seeking to expand the definition of a TV set to include streaming-capable devices like smartphones, tablets, and set-top boxes, meaning owners of these products would have to acquire and pay for a TV licence.
This comes as an increasing number of TV licence holders are not paying their fees.
In its annual report for the 2019 financial year, the SABC said it only collected payments from 2.9 million of the 9.4 million licence holders on its database.
Currently, the SABC charges an annual fee of R265 for this licence, with the option to spread renewal fees in 12 monthly instalments of R28 each for a total payment of R336.
The evolution of the broadcasting industry has seen many South African households move to private entertainment providers like pay-TV broadcaster DStv and streaming service Netflix.
Given that many of these viewers may no longer be using their TV sets for viewing SABC content, analysts and experts have called for the scrapping or revamping of the current system, often labelling it as “archaic”.
However, it should be noted that there are numerous countries across the world who still charge a fee for equipment capable of receiving TV broadcast signals.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications explains that TV licences serve three main purposes:
- It assigns the costs for broadcasting directly to its consumers, which;
- creates a mutual and reciprocal sense of responsibility between the broadcasters and the audience members that ultimately;
- frees the broadcasters from control and influence by governments or advertisers.
According to the Museum, around two-thirds of European countries and half the governments in Asia and Africa employed TV licences to fund public broadcasting by 2013.
Most and least expensive countries
While a number of these governments have since abolished the practice, there are still at least 29 known countries around the world which charge some form of TV licence fee.
Of those who still charge discreet TV licence fees, Switzerland is the most expensive at an annual price of 365 swiss francs – or around R6,414. This is over 24 times as much as the SABC’s fee.
Austria is second most expensive – with TV licence fees ranging between €251.16 (R4,737) and €320.76 (R6,050), depending on the state in which the licence holder resides.
This is separate from an additional radio licence fee, which can vary between €70.80 and €90.00.
The rest of the top five most expensive countries comprises Denmark (R4,868), Germany (R3,961), and the United Kingdom (R3,393).
South Africa has the most expensive TV licence fee of African countries included in our comparison.
Northwesterly neighbours Namibia charge 204 Namibian dollars (R220) per year, while Eswatini (Swaziland) has a total annual fee of 180 Swazi lilangeli (R178).
Ghana’s annual TV licence ranges between 36 and 60 Ghanian cedi (R99 to R161).
The graph below shows a comparison of the known annual TV licence fees of several countries arranged from most to least expensive. South Africa’s fee is indicated in black.
Annual TV Licence fees compared
Breakdown of licence regimes
While South Africa and the countries named above charge discreet TV licence fees, other governments have included the cost as part of certain taxes or as an add-on levy to electricity or telephone bills.
These include Egypt, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Turkey, and Norway.
Notable countries which presently don’t require a TV licence include the US, Canada, India, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, and Portugal.
The table below shows the countries which are known to charge a TV licence fee, those which have abolished TV licences, and those which have never had TV licence fees in place.
|TV licence regimes across the world|
|Licence fee||Abolished||No TV licence fee in history|
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Egypt (part of phone bill)
Greece (part of electricity bill)
Italy (part of electricity bill)
Portugal (part of electricity bill)
Serbia (part of electricity bill)
Turkey (part of electricity bill)
Norway (now part of income tax)
While it is good news that South Africa’s TV licences are very affordable when compared to other countries, it should be noted that the range and quality of content will vary greatly between different countries.
Although the SABC’s locally-produced TV shows, soaps, and news bulletins remain highly popular among the general populace, it is facing tough competition from Netflix, particularly in the middle class and more affluent markets.
The SABC also only offers three channels for free-to-air broadcasting on a national level, which is meagre when comparing to a broadcaster like the UK’s BBC, which provides 10 national channels, in addition to regional TV programming, and over 40 radio stations.
Its flagship BBC One channel is the second most-viewed TV channel in the UK, while its other channels also cover significantly more sports, news, and entertainment than the SABC.