South Africa going after Netflix and Disney+

Over-the-top (OTT) video services like Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney+ could soon face stricter regulations in South Africa and require a licence to continue operating in the country.

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies published a draft white paper proposing an overhaul of the licensing scheme for audio and audiovisual content services (AAVCS).

The primary change proposed in the white paper involves restructuring the current licensing framework to replace “broadcasting services” with the broader AAVCS category.

“The proposed approach in this Draft white paper, going forward, is to regulate platforms similarly providing AAVCS, regardless of the platform used,” it says.

Essentially, regulations within the AAVCS category will address the licensing of broadcasters and content providers in South Africa, both local and international.

This includes requiring digital and OTT services to obtain licences to operate in South Africa.

Currently, these services, which include Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney+, aren’t obligated to hold an operating licence in South Africa, while traditional services like the South African Broadcasting Corporation and DStv are.

To address this, the communications department is proposing an update to the current regulations to ensure OTT services are subject to the same scrutiny that traditional services are under.

“This proposed policy will distinguish between broadcasting services (linear) and non-linear services in graduated fashion and create a level playing field between competing services by imposing regulations and public interest obligations on licensees,” the proposal reads.

The department also wants to make sure local content is produced and promoted, which providers could be required to do.

However, this likely won’t be enforced through obligations for each provider to produce local content but instead through various methods, such as contributing to a fund to promote local content.

Smaller content providers won’t be subject to the same level of regulations as national broadcasters and large providers.

“Small, medium and microenterprises and businesses will… not have the same level of regulatory constraints imposed on them while they are nascent and facing competition with big businesses in the mainstream economy,” the paper states.

To this end, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies wants to introduce new licences:

  • Individual licences — for groups that use spectrum for radio or broadcast frequencies
  • Class licences — for those that don’t use spectrum but still operate in South Africa

It proposes that the issuing of such licences will be determined by the content provider’s income threshold and its impact on the country.

These will be set at R100 million and R50 million for individual and class licences, respectively.

The proposed licensing framework is summarised in the table below.

Proposed licencing framework
Platform / Means of transmission Regulatory tool Exemptions
Satellite pay-TV platforms Licensing No applicable exemption.
IPTV platforms Licensing
Digital terrestrial platforms Licensing
Video OTT and Audio-on-demand platforms Licensing Exempted service providers are required to notify the regulator if the exemption criteria referred is applicable to the service provided.
Internet radio platforms Registration Exempted service providers are required to notify the regulator if the exemption criteria referred is applicable to the service provided.
Video sharing platforms Notification No applicable exemption.
Esports participation platforms Notification
Social media platforms Notification
Online gaming platforms No licensing registration or notification is required, but service providers must comply with the provisions of the regulations. No applicable exemption.
Online advertising platforms

Now read: Big DStv streaming changes

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South Africa going after Netflix and Disney+