It has been a particularly torrid time for the SABC: the delayed 2015/16 Annual Report was met with media and public outrage, while the portfolio committee on communications was scathing in its condemnation of the SABC board as dysfunctional and ill-governed. (At least, there is one issue on which members of parliament are able to find consensus!)
Scanning the 2015/16 Annual Report, I was not surprised to find mentions of “an increasingly competitive and fragmented South African media landscape” and the “enormous challenges” facing the South African economy. The slow growth rate, high unemployment, growing inflation, the depreciation of the rand, the need to broadcast unprofitable events of national interest and cut backs by advertising clients in the third and fourth quarter were all cited as factors contributing to the Corporation’s net loss of R411.6 million.
However, under the section on revenue collection there was an unequivocal statement that: “Advertising sales are inextricably linked to audience share and performance levels. For the 2015/16 financial year, the television audience share was 48.8% against the target of 52%.” It was disconcerting to read that this variance was considered “slight”, but in the strategic overview section, I found the reassurance that, “towards the end of the financial year, the SABC introduced short- and medium-term interventions to build television network audience share. These initiatives form part of the larger strategy rollout that will continue into the new financial year”.
This led me to wonder how Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s 80% local content quota for SABC TV had impacted on audience share. Looking at Telmar’s Transmit all adult audience station shares from May through to September, I discovered that the initial strategies seemed to have paid dividends, because in May SABC had, indeed, recovered its goal share:
Unfortunately, this share was not sustained and at last reading, SABC’s share had declined with both e.tv and DStv gaining share. The stringent SABC local quotas were announced at the end of May and introduced in July. It appears that the initial implementation of the quotas served to undermine the earlier recovery.
The all adults measure is a very broad one. I was curious to see what the impact had been on the various LSM groups, although I felt the results could be easily predicted. With the BRC RAM Diaries recently released, the industry has been reminded of the importance of time spent with a medium, so it struck me that this metric could give an interesting perspective on viewer preferences.
Not unexpectedly, the LSM 9-10 group spends most of its time with DStv. From July, when the new quotas came into effect, we can see that the DStv share of daily time spent viewing is edging up:
More surprising is that LSM 7-8 is showing signs of decamping to DStv. In August, for the first time this group spent slightly more time with DStv than SABC. This continued into September:
Among LSM 5-6, SABC1 has retained its share of viewing time, but e.tv has edged up, benefiting from this group spending less time with SABC3:
These are perturbing indicators which will spell ominous times ahead for SABC TV advertising revenue, and suggest that SABC losses for this fiscal will balloon. Not only will advertising revenue be lost, but the greater costs of producing local programming will compound the problem.
Britta Reid is an independent media consultant.