SABC+ subscriber numbers revealed

South Africa’s public broadcaster says the number of registered users of its over-the-top (OTT) streaming service — SABC+ — has grown to over 600,000 a year after it took over the service.

The SABC inherited its video streaming platform from Telkom in mid-November 2022.

Previously called TelkomOne, the service had already amassed 135,000 subscribers thanks to its live streaming of the SABC’s free-to-air channels and radio stations.

It also boasted a small catalogue of paid-for movies and TV shows under its paid-for plan, Telkom Amp.

The relaunched SABC+ streaming service did away with the latter and focused solely on the SABC’s live TV channels, radio channels, and popular catchup content like its soapies.

In the early days after its takeover, the public broadcaster told journalist Thinus Ferreira the service was growing its subscriber base by about 15,000 registrations every week.

If it could sustain that momentum, it would have added another 780,000 subscribers in a year — putting its total registration at roughly 915,000.

However, it had a far more ambitious target of 2 million subscribers by “late 2023”, 1.4 million more than it had reached by November 2023.

SABC+ streaming service

Despite not achieving anywhere near its target and losing some momentum from its initial uptake, the broadcaster said SABC+ is the fastest-growing OTT platform in the country.

While a lack of official data from rival streaming services makes that difficult to confirm, some industry estimates suggest the broadcaster’s claim rings true.

Digital TV Research has forecasted that South Africa’s most popular streaming service — Netflix —will have about 4.15 million subscribers across all its African markets by the end of 2023.

Even if one assumes that as much as 80% (3.32 million) of these subscribers were in South Africa, Netflix would have added an average of about 474,000 subscribers each year since launching in the country in  January 2016.

South Africa’s biggest pay-TV broadcaster, MultiChoice, previously estimated that Netflix added between 300,000 and 400,000 subscribers in the first two and a half years after its launch.

Taking the above estimations into account, the SABC+ uptake seems rather impressive.

However, one needs to consider that the SABC+ service is free, while Netflix and many of its rival streaming are subscription services.

A Bok-sized boost

There was one major event in the past few months that helped boost SABC+ growth.

The broadcaster told MyBroadband it recorded a “huge” surge in registrations during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

It very nearly missed out on offering the tournament, only securing a last-minute deal with MultiChoice to sub-license the rights to 16 matches.

After it refused to pay a reported $2 million for the rights to show all seven confirmed and potential Springbok matches, three companies funded the final deal in exchange for advertising spots.

While the broadcasts appeared to go smoothly on TV, SABC+ got off to a shaky start when it went down for most of South Africa’s first match of the tournament.

Examples of error messages and issues on the SABC+ app and website during the Springboks’ game against Scotland on 10 September 2023.

The SABC blamed the issue on “unprecedented” demand and promised a fix.

The broadcaster told MyBroadband that the capacity thresholds of the offering were increased to accommodate the spike in demand,

Several users continued to report some intermittent issues with the platform in a few subsequent games, but by the knockout stages, the service seemed to be holding its own.

The highest number of concurrent viewers on SABC+ during the RWC 2023 was over 210,000 during the final between the Springboks and All Blacks.

The unique viewer count for the final stood at 100,000.

While these numbers are solid, they are nowhere near the 2.5 million who tuned in for the final on SABC 2.

Over the duration of the tournament, SABC recorded 15.5 million total viewers and 12.4 million viewers over the age of 15 on its TV channel.

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SABC+ subscriber numbers revealed