The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies is set to present its proposal to extend the payment of TV licence fees to include streaming services like Netflix today.
The Broadcasting Act currently requires South Africans to pay a TV licence fee for viewing “broadcasting services”.
South Africans are also not allowed to buy a television without a TV licence, a requirement that is enforced by retailers.
Failure to be in possession of a valid television licence when owning a television and watching broadcasting services is a civil offence.
As it currently stands, the definition of “broadcasting services” applies to content viewed on a television.
The department now wants to broaden the definition of a “broadcasting service” to include online broadcasting services.
If this proposal goes through, it means that people will require a TV licence to watch streaming services like Netflix, Apple +, Showmax, and Amazon Prime.
This is part of an attempt to increase TV licence revenue and compliance, which has come under pressure over the past few years.
The SABC’s annual report for the 2019/2020 financial year revealed that less than a quarter of TV licences were paid over last year.
The broadcaster said TV licence revenue declined by 18% year-on-year to R791 million, which added to the company’s financial woes.
Backlash from industry
The proposal to expand TV licence fees to streaming services has been slated by industry players who highlighted that it is very challenging to enforce.
MultiChoice CFO Tim Jacobs said 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,” he said.
Jacobs 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,” he said.
Stuff Magazine Editor Toby Shapshak said there are many problems with the proposal, like who is going to charge the TV licence fee.
“I subscribe to Netflix, DStv, Showmax, and Amazon Prime. Which one of these four companies are going to charge the TV licence fee?” he asked.
“How are they going to cooperate with each other, and what if all of them are charging me the fee?”
Not even Telkom, which recently partnered with the SABC to launch TelkomONE, is interested in collecting TV licence fees.
Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko said adding TV licence fees to the TelkomONE subscription is not on the cards.
DA shadow minister of communications Phumzile Van Damme said most streaming are international companies, which makes the proposal a “pie-in-the-sky and unworkable”.
“This could put the government on a collision course with streaming services and barren harvest litigation it will not win, leading to more wasteful expenditure,” she said.
Have your say about TV licence fees
The TV licence fee proposal is contained in the Draft White Paper on Audio and Audio-visual Content Services Policy Framework: A New Vision for South Africa 2020.
This draft white paper is open for public comment until the end of the month (16:00 on 30 November 2020).
Comments can be sent to the acting Director-General of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies via email – [email protected]
The full Draft White Paper on Audio and Audio-visual Content Services Policy Framework is embedded below.