With broadband Internet bringing about a vast change in how information is consumed, the South African government is working on new legislation that seeks to drastically revamp the current TV Licence regime.
Possible changes include a new public broadcasting tax for households, as well as the amendment of the definition of TV sets in the Broadcasting Act to include devices like tablets and laptops.
This comes as South Africa’s public broadcaster the SABC struggles with TV Licence compliance, which is heavily affecting its revenue.
A common misconception is that you don’t require a licence if you do not use your TV or don’t watch SABC content.
In terms of South Africa’s Broadcasting Act, however, any person or entity that has a TV in his/her/its possession and/or uses it must have a valid licence.
This remains payable, irrespective of whether a television set in one’s possession is used or not.
According to the Act, any device designed or adapted to be capable of receiving a broadcast television signal is defined as a TV.
The SABC says that this includes a PC fitted with a TV tuner card or a videocassette recorder (VCR) connected to a monitor or TV screen.
While these two pieces of hardware have become redundant in recent years, there is now a wider variety of tech products that allow for watching SABC content.
Here follows a breakdown of which of the devices that can be used to access SABC content require or don’t require a TV licence.
Televisions – Both purchase and use
TV sets sold in South Africa are equipped with hardware that makes them capable of receiving free-to-air analogue broadcasts from the SABC.
Computer monitors – Only with a TV tuner
Computer displays do not require a TV Licence when purchased as they are not capable of receiving broadcasting signals on their own.
When connected to a computer with a TV card, however, they will provide a means to watch publicly broadcasted content and will therefore require a TV licence to operate.
Decoders – Only for operating
Customers of Pay-TV broadcasters like DStv and Openview use digital decoders to receive satellite broadcasted content, which includes the SABC’s free-to-air channels.
Neither DStv nor Openview requires that customers present a TV licence to purchase one of their decoders, nor to own them.
However, once connected to a TV, a licence will be required.
Smart TV boxes – No
Smart TV boxes such as the Ematic AGT419 or Xiaomi Mi Box S can be connected to TVs to give users access a wide variety of online video streaming services including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, DStv Now, Showmax, and YouTube.
The latter can contain SABC content, but since this is transmitted over the Internet and not via a broadcasting signal, you don’t require a TV Licence to buy or use a smart TV box.
Gaming consoles – No
Modern gaming consoles such as the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X also provide support for streaming apps.
This means they can view SABC content which is available on platforms like YouTube. This is different from being able to view publicly broadcasted content, however.
As this is also delivered through the Internet, you don’t need a TV Licence to purchase or own a gaming console.
TV Tuner cards – Only for operation
It’s difficult to find a TV tuner card on the South African market these days, particularly as consumers with computers have largely shifted away from accessing broadcasted content.
Still, as the SABC states, you will require a TV Licence to use one of these modules, although you likely won’t have to present one to purchase it.