Goodbye TV Licence — South Africans say no to paying for SABC

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has a significant problem collecting TV licence fees. Even its registered users are refusing to pay them.

The broadcaster had a TV licence fee evasion rate of 82% in 2021 — up from 81% in 2020 — and the revenue generated from collections declined by 0.4% year-on-year to R788 million.

“Overall, 2,2m (2020: 2,5m) licence holders managed to settle their television licence fees in full or in part against a known database of 10,3m (2020: 9,5m) television licence holders,” the SABC said in its 2021 annual report.

“The licence fee collection rates indicate an evasion rate of 82% (2020: 81%.).”

It appears the evasion of SABC TV licence fees stepped up a notch between 2019 and 2020, with the broadcaster reporting payment compliance of 31% in March 2019, which dropped to 19% in March 2020.

The broadcaster first reported on licence fee evasion rates in its 2018 annual report, and its subsequent reports show a negative trend:

  • 2018: 72%
  • 2019: 69%
  • 2020: 81%
  • 2021: 82%

The SABC said it had rolled out several initiatives to simplify the payment process to make it easier for licence holders to pay the fees.

However, despite the broadcaster observing a 26% increase in online payments year-on-year, the licence fee evasion rate continues to increase.

In recent years the broadcaster has proposed several other means of collecting fees to combat the lack of TV licence payment compliance, which it says is critical to improving its financial situation.

Most recently, the SABC proposed that TV licence fees be replaced with a public media levy — a tax households and businesses must pay regardless of whether they watch the broadcaster’s content or own a TV.

The broadcaster also wants other players in the industry like MultiChoice to help with the levy collection.

SABC board chairperson, Bongumusa Makhathini

SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini said replacing the existing TV licensing scheme is one of four steps the broadcaster would be taking to improve its financial sustainability.

He added that it was crucial for significant players in the industry to assist with collecting the levy.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and MultiChoice agree that replacing TV licences with a device-independent, technology-neutral household levy is a good idea.

However, MultiChoice said that the levy collection should not fall to the SABC’s competitors.

Instead, it suggested that the levy could be collected as a tax at the local or national level.

SABC haemorrhaging viewers

The SABC’s failure to collect TV licence fees is not the only factor contributing to its deteriorating financial situation.

In May 2022, the broadcaster revealed that it had lost R600 million in two years, which it attributed to a declining audience. It said it is the most significant loss it has suffered to date.

During a hearing with the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), COO Ian Plaatjes explained that the decline in viewers led to a reduction in advertising revenue.

Later in the same month, communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni gave the broadcaster until 30 June 2022 to explain how it plans to generate more revenue.

“We have given the Board and management of the SABC until 30 June 2022 to submit a Plan on how the public broadcaster is going to commercialise and monetise the opportunities availed through the broadcast digital migration,” the minister stated.

Now read: Why DStv was allowed to drop four E-tv channels

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Goodbye TV Licence — South Africans say no to paying for SABC