The SABC’s plans to have DStv and Netflix collect TV Licence fees on its behalf and to expand the definition of devices which require such a licence are “insane” and attempt to shift the blame for its shortcomings onto other parties.
This is the view of television journalist and analyst Thinus Ferreira, who runs South African television news website TV with Thinus.
The SABC has been in discussions with Parliament around the current dismal compliance levels for payment of TV licence fees, which have led to huge revenue shortfalls at the broadcaster.
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.
To try and increase compliance levels, it has also floated the idea of asking pay-TV broadcasters like DStv to help crack down on TV licence compliance and possibly require decoder buyers to own valid TV licences before they complete their purchase.
Other submitted regulations aim to make it obligatory for Internet streaming and television streaming websites to pay a percentage of subscription fees to the SABC, where these websites stream SABC content.
Ferreira told MyBroadband that the fact that the SABC completely lost control of its self-managed TV licence process through mismanagement, corruption, and years of incompetence should not become the problem of private companies.
He labelled the plan as a “fake easy” and “parasitic” idea.
“If the SABC isn’t able to cost-effectively and practically collect SABC TV Licence fees, it is pathetic to want to force that burden onto the subscriber management systems of private commercial companies,” Ferreira said.
“The SABC doesn’t want to or can’t do the actual or proper hard work and wants to shift the burden for its own incompetence to places that manage their interaction with their customers well and know who they are,” he said.
Ferreira said he does not think the SABC would be successful in getting legislation passed to compel DStv or Netflix to collect fees on its behalf, but if it does, it would create an uproar.
“Pulling private video companies into your inept quagmire is not the answer. Private companies will rightly refuse,” Ferreira said.
Ferreira added that the law determined the SABC had an obligation to safeguard their customers’ personal information.
This means it may not divulge this information to companies, which presents a problem.
“Neither MultiChoice nor Netflix sold a TV set or were present when someone bought a TV set – but it was and is the SABC’s job to know that and to make sure a TV household has a valid licence.”
MultiChoice CFO Tim Jacobs previously told The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield that it would be difficult to implement the collection process under current law.
“Right now the regulations do not allow broadcast services to collect licence fees. It’s not even a debate at the moment. But certainly that would be something we would engage with the regulators [on] once it comes up in discussions,” Jacobs said.
He added that DStv’s customers often subscribe to and drop packages throughout the year, which would make it difficult to calculate and manage licence fees.
“The question becomes how do you charge and how do you recover that money? It’s really complicated when you get into the real detail behind it,” Jacobs explained.
Plan to include other devices
The SABC also wants to expand the definition of the TV Licence requirement to include devices like smartphones and tablets which are capable of streaming its content.
Ferreira labelled this plan as “sheer madness” and equated such an approach to countries who try to legislate the Internet.
These countries’ censorship boards first intend to screen all content on YouTube before it is allowed, while being clueless about how much of it is uploaded every second.
“It’s inconceivable how the SABC thinks such an outrageous idea is practically implementable,” Ferreira said.
“The SABC makes the very big mistake of using old-school, outdated thinking, still longing to attach a SABC TV Licence to a ‘device’. We’re way, way past that,” Ferreira said.
He noted that South Africa previously also had a radio licence which was scrapped as it became impossible to ensure compliance with the proliferation of devices.
Create desirable content
Ferreira said the conventional approach of conducting household visits to inspect TV licences is as outdated as home doctor visits – being too expensive and practically impossible.
This meant the SABC had to change its view of the TV Licence’s function to something similar to a subscription-based offering.
“Don’t tax or demand a licence for the device – pivot the SABC TV Licence fee as a ‘membership’ and one that someone wants, and then needs and uses to log in, on whatever device, to get access to SABC content,” Ferreira said.
“Instead of forcing people to pay, make them want to pay because they find SABC content interesting and desirable,” Ferreira said.
“Then, allow the SABC TV Licence to function as the key to unlock that through a so-called “freemium” version, whether it is through a universal app or player or whatever – like the BBC iPlayer.”
“As a public broadcaster the bulk of content has and must always be free, but with a valid SABC TV Licence, users of the public broadcaster’s services on an app, for instance, can access special podcasts, or a back catalogue of library series, or a bigger number of back episodes,” Ferreira added.