Big tech upgrades at the SABC — including a Netflix competitor

The South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) technological renewal project is making considerable progress, according to the public broadcaster’s responses to parliamentary questions.

The SABC said that it had issued a request for a tender to implement its own Over-the-top (OTT) Platform, which would provide viewers with access to movies and TV shows by sending the content directly through the Internet.

The SABC revealed details — via a Request for Information (RFI) document — of its intentions to launch an OTT streaming platform in October 2020.

Dubbed SABC iPlayer, the public broadcaster intends for its streaming service to compete against players like Netflix and Spotify.

“The SABC is working towards having a presence in the OTT space, and this RFI brings the SABC a step closer to achieving this goal,” it said.

“Part of the digital strategy is to implement an OTT streaming platform that will allow it to enter the OTT market effectively by providing different offerings to the public with ease of access, similar to the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime [Video], and Spotify.”

In answers to questions from members of the National Council of Provinces, the SABC provided further details on the progress of its technology update.

“There has been considerable progress with regards to the SABC’s technological renewal plans,” it said.

“The old TV, Sport, and News Playout workflow systems are being revamped. The new Graphics and Branding Systems are being implemented.”

“The contract for the Newsroom Computer System has been awarded, and implementation plans are in place,” the SABC added.

It has awarded several other tenders, including contracts for content digitalisation, a new Scheduling and Advertising Management system, a revamped Enterprise Digital Library, and the SABC’s own Over-the-top (OTT) Platform.

Content digitalisation refers to preserving legacy materials — content unavailable in a digital format.

The SABC also said that all of its essential TV and radio facilities were being updated and that it is working on implementing Internet Protocol (IP) Broadcasting.

IP broadcasting is another term for video streaming, like the systems used by YouTube, Netflix, and Showmax. Content is streamed on-demand to viewers rather than broadcast over a shared network like satellite or regular terrestrial TV signals.

According to the SABC, it is also about to conclude the implementation of its radio playout (Dira!) system.

Red Tech reported that CGI — the company behind the new system — was awarded the contract via a tender process. It says the agreement has seen the SABC invest in CGI’s full Dira! Solution Suite, including Onair Player, Highlander, Scheduler, Startrack, Orion, and Broadcast Report.

The SABC’s aggressive technological renewal plans align with the public broadcaster’s digital migration drive.

During Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2021 State of the Nation Address, he announced that South Africa would switch off all analogue TV transmissions by April 2022.

In May 2021, the public broadcaster began warning viewers who don’t have satellite TV that they would need to register for a digital decoder to continue receiving television broadcasts.

As of 15 February 2022, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies has successfully switched off analogue transmissions in four of South Africa’s nine provinces.

The first province — the Free State — had its last transmitter switched off in November 2021. The other provinces that have switched off their analogue transmitters are the Northern Cape, North West Province, Mpumalanga, and, most recently, Limpopo.

Now read: DStv streaming data use tested — and compared to Netflix

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Big tech upgrades at the SABC — including a Netflix competitor