SABC plan to take on Netflix with its own streaming service is crucial to its survival

The SABC’s plan to launch its own streaming service will not only be beneficial to the public broadcaster, but it is crucial to its future survival.

This is according to TV broadcasting journalist Thinus Ferreira, who recently spoke to MyBroadband regarding the state broadcaster’s plan to create an over-the-top (OTT) media streaming platform for its content.

The idea for a platform similar to the BBC’s iPlayer has been in the pipeline for years, with a URL even being registered for the service as far back as 2013.

In recent years, the SABC has mainly relied on YouTube, its own website, and social media to publish its content online.

However, it recently provided information about its iPlayer platform in a Request for Information (RFI) document published on 30 October.

The broadcaster believes this does not allow it to be competitive enough against players like Netflix and Spotify, or to monetise its content to its full marketing value.

Ferreira told MyBroadband that it is shocking that the SABC has not yet launched a streaming service.

“The SABC thought digital was a different ‘thing’, instead of realising it’s like the electric light replacing oil,” Ferreira said. “The SABC waited too long but it has to and must start,” he said.

Independent media analyst Nozi Dikgale also told MyBroadband that the broadcaster had taken a reactionary approach as opposed to one that is proactive and moves with the market changes.

However, the fact that the SABC was finally progressing with this plan means that it could potentially boost its revenue streams.

“This is a positive move and if executed well it can turn around the broadcaster in the long term,” Dikgale said.

Streaming is the future

Ferreira explained that most major broadcasters in the world were shifting to Internet-based streaming services as their core offering.

“In Hollywood, every single commercial broadcaster and the remaining legacy studio groups have and are dramatically pivoting and reorganising all of their resources, company structures, budgets to make streaming, their streaming services and digital their main focus – even over their legacy pay-TV channels,” Ferreira said.

“As a content provider – like a broadcaster – if you don’t have or own a space in the very near future in whatever way, for instance, an app or on a smartphone, you might as well not exist,” he explained.

Ferreira cautioned this should be a dire warning for the SABC, Etv and anyone in broadcasting in South Africa, that a streaming service, on-demand service, and digital service is what the future is and will be.

He added that the SABC had to switch to digital and grow its video streaming ecosystem or risk becoming irrelevant.

“It’s not that the dinosaurs thought the sun would come back at some point, it’s that they couldn’t even conceive of a sun or the dramatic events shaping their extinction,” he warned.

“It’s absolutely crucial for the SABC to move from being a public broadcaster to literally being in the pocket and in the hand of the average South African and everyone who has a smartphone,” Ferreira said.

Dikgale said that the SABC can capitalise on its important purpose in the South African broadcasting space.

“The SABC has a unique role to play which is to be the people’s information, education and entertainment hub, though the most important remains and will always be as the people’s public mouthpiece,” Dikgale noted.

The major obstacles

However, Dikgale said that the SABC had the disadvantage of being behind well-established competition in the form of both local and international streaming services.

“It will take extra effort to drive this service and realise its full potential growth to become a challenger in the OTT space,” she stated.

“The right strategy to execute the OCS [On-Demand Content Services] will be the first step the broadcaster will need to overcome, including how the product is taken to market.”

Ferreira highlighted that one of the biggest challenges with rolling out the streaming service will be the big costs associated with a major overhaul.

“It will be expensive. Organisation-wise, the SABC has a lot of duplication and it’s not geared towards digital or digital-first – it’s anchored in legacy broadcasting systems,” Ferreira said.

“Staff are not digitally trained. The entire SABC engine will have to almost be remodelled while the car is moving and it’s extremely difficult,” he added.

How the service should work

With regards to how the service will be funded, Dikgale said the SABC could try and monetise the content offering by charging a small access fee or perhaps opt for an ad-funded model.

According to Ferreira, however, the planned streaming service will likely function in a similar manner as BBC’s own iPlayer platform – which requires a user to put in a valid TV licence number and register to get full access.

“The SABC needs to remodel the hated SABC TV Licence into something akin to the idea of a loyalty programme – something people want to belong to because they derive, see and receive value-added benefits from belonging to it and see it as giving them access to something that they want in their life and want to support,” Ferreira said.

He said that many UK citizens gladly pay their TV licence because it provides good value.

“They get quality content, they get back catalogue content on-demand, they can access it immediately and watch BBC content through their phones wherever they are,” Ferreira said.

“People don’t think of it like that but the BBC has moved from being a broadcaster – although it is still the public broadcaster – to a content utility.”

“And even the BBC is very scared of Netflix although it’s lightyears ahead of the SABC,” Ferreira warned.

Expected availability

Ferreira said a first version of the SABC’s iPlayer could be ready in the latter part of 2021, although the SABC should only start small at first.

“It should be a streaming service with a wide foundation that could adapt and expand in services and functionality, roll out a few basic content services and then build and expand and add – the sooner the better,” he said.

Dikgale said she also believed that a possible launch for the service could happen in late 2021, or early 2022.

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SABC plan to take on Netflix with its own streaming service is crucial to its survival