Television in South Africa has changed significantly since it launched in January 1976. From just 37 hours of TV a week on one channel, the medium now offers substantially more choice, with 24/7 viewing on 180 channels, according to IBIS Media Manager.
With so much choice, what are the genres that rise to the top and exert the most pull with South Africa’s 35.876 million TV viewers (aged 7+)?
Looking back over the past five years, Dr Tiffany Tracey, senior technical support executive at the South African Audience Research Foundation (Saarf), says that South Africans’ viewing preferences have remained quite stable.
“Since programmes come and go, a good way to gauge changing television tastes is to look at each genre’s share of viewing over time,” she says. “If we compare genre share for 2012 over 2008, we find that viewing levels do fluctuate, but generally, soaps, drama, actuality and educational programming continue to dominate viewing, while reality, music, sport and documentaries still bring up the rear.”
Programme data from Saarf’s Television Audience Measurement Survey (TAMS) is segmented across 17 genres. This is how they are ranked according to their share of total TV viewing in 2012, for all viewers aged 7+.
The top five are:
- 1. Soap operas
In a sport-mad society, a logical guess would be that sport is the top TV genre in South Africa, or at least close to the top. Yet by share of viewing, it is only 14th out of 17 genres.
“SA’s number one genre is soap opera, and by an extraordinary margin,” says Tracey. “Of all TV viewing in 2012, 36.7% of it was devoted to soapies, 220% higher than the second-ranked and 230% higher than the third-ranked genres.”
Soapies commanded 54% more share of TV viewing in 2012 than they did in 2008, although today’s average daily audiences are smaller than they were five years ago: an average 1.418 million viewers per soap flighted in 2008, compared to 1.215 million in 2012.
This genre’s dominance is due primarily to one programme: ‘Generations’. In 2012, ‘Generations’ commanded a hefty average audience rating (AR) of 21.2, meaning that 21.2% of all TV viewers that year tuned into the show, giving it an average audience of
7.592 million per programme, compared to the 2.636 million of the show’s nearest soap opera rival, ‘7de Laan’.
“‘Generations’ attracts a majority middle-class audience, with 70.7% of viewers coming from LSM 5-7. In terms of its age profile, this soapie appeals to a wide audience, with each age bracket from 15-24 up to 50+ comprising around 20% of the total viewing base. Viewing is skewed three to two towards females.
Viewers’ soap opera diet is a mix of homebrewed and American; the top five soaps for 2012 were ‘Generations’ (AR of 21.2), ‘7de Laan’ (AR of 7.3), ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ (5.6), ‘Isidingo: The Need’ (5.2), and ‘Days of our Lives’ (4.8).
Screenwriter Rohan Dickson, creator and head writer of ‘The Wild’ and head writer on ‘Scandal’, ‘Zone 14’ and ‘Jacob’s Cross’, says ratings for this genre are so high because viewers crave the cathartic release they get from watching characters living out situations similar to their own lives.
“In developing countries such as ours, soapies are prioritised above all else,” he says. “People’s lives are tough here. The currency in soaps is pure emotion. Soapies take viewers on a heightened emotional journey, letting them live vicariously through characters who resemble them, or letting them escape into the glamorous lives of characters in exotic locations.”
Dickson says this is why soapies have greater significance locally than they do in the US, where soap operas are reduced to daytime viewing. “In South Africa, soapies are primetime viewing, with soaps like ‘Generations’ becoming a way of life for millions of viewers.”
Coming in second in the genre race is advertisements, of the 10-minute infomercial kind. Flighted from midday until around 4pm, these advertising ‘programmes’ pulled 11.4% of TV-viewing share in 2012 – 0.6 ARs on average for the year, or 215 846 viewers on average per show. In their particular slots, the higher-ranked shows can secure as much as 36% share of all viewing for that time.
The top programme in this genre for 2012 was created for Assupol. It pulled almost
904 000 viewers on average for each flighting, with an AR of 2.5.
Feeding South Africans’ need to learn and improve their understanding about life, the educational genre commanded 11% of total TV-viewing share in 2012. Average audiences numbered almost 210 000 per programme flighted.
The top-ranked programme for 2012 was SABC 1’s ‘Relate’, which offers “educational healing through counselling”; its average AR per programme was a sizable 6.8, with an average audience of 2,441-million.
This genre has an average annual share of 6.2%, with an average AR of 0.4, or 165 460 viewers tuning in to each show. This audience is generally older, more educated and from a higher LSM than the genres which ranked first through third.
The top four dramas – SABC 1’s ‘Skeem Saam’, ‘Zone 14’, ‘Tshisa’ and ‘Montana’ – are all within the five-million-viewer bracket. ‘Skeem Saam’, which ranked fourth overall in the 2012 programme ranking, had an average AR of 16.9 for the year, with an average audience of just over 5.925 million per programme.
With an average AR of 0.3, the actuality genre attracted 5.5% of total viewing share for 2012. Audiences of just over 132 000 tuned in to watch actuality shows, the biggest of which was SABC 2’s ‘Speak Out’ with 6.1 ARs and an average audience of 2.173 million per show. Four government broadcasts made it on to the list of top-10 actuality shows for 2012: an interview with President Jacob Zuma, the 2012/2013 budget speech, the State of the Nation address and the president’s New Year message.
This audience is older still than dramas, while also resonating with an upper LSM, more educated market.
Genres with under 5% share
Far from being tired of doom and gloom, South Africans are watching more news now than five years ago. This genre’s share rose by 115% over this period, from 2.1% to 4.6% in 2012. Average audiences were around 119 000 per broadcast, although the top news broadcasts – the Zulu news and Xhosa news – attracted over 3.5 million viewers on average. More men than women watch the news (55%:45%), with 61.8% of news watchers aged 50+, and 70.1% of them coming from LSM 8-10.
3.3% share, an average 82 259 viewers per movie.
2.9% share, 67 235 viewers.
2.8%, 74 838 viewers.
2.7%, 65 665 viewers.
2.5%, 69 198 viewers.
12. Children’s programmes
2.4%, 58 415 viewers.
13. Reality TV
In South Africa, reality TV scores a low 13 out of 17 genres in terms of share of viewing. In 2012, it had an average AR of 0.2, with on average 68 855 viewers per show. Share of viewing declined by 51% over the past five years. Back in 2008, reality TV ranked seventh on the genre list, with a share of 4.7% and an average 232 411 viewers per show. Now, reality TV commands only 2.3% of viewing share.
In 14th position is sport, up one position since 2008 when its share was 1.3%. Today, it is 1.9%. Despite drawing massive audiences at times, such as the 6.443 million viewers for the Carling Black Label Cup match between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs (2012’s third most watched TV programme), with an AR of 17.8, average audiences for sport broadcasts are much smaller: on average 48 824 per broadcast, with average ARs of 0.1. The typical viewer is male (61%), aged 50+ (43.6%), and in LSM 8-10 (72.1%).
1.8% share of viewing, 40 940 viewers.
1.6% share, 48 822 viewers.
This genre has the lowest share, at 0.8% of total viewing. It has, however, upped its share by 49% over 2008. Average audiences were 19 010 per show.