Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Caught in a vicious vortex, the SABC's TV channels are doing worse and worse – especially SABC3.

by Thinus Ferreira

The struggling South African public broadcaster's TV channels are doing worse and worse - especially SABC3 - caught in a seemingly inescapable vicious vortex where a lack of money to buy quality international content and to make attractive local content leads to repeats, that leads to lower ratings, that leads to lower ad revenue, which means less money to make content.

The SABC's latest financial report for 2019/2020 tabled in parliament on Tuesday noted that the embattled broadcaster once again made a net loss - this time R511 million - and once again makes for gloomy reading, especially as far as its beleaguered TV division is concerned.

While constantly touting various "turnaround plans" the past 4 years, and constantly repeating the phrase of the need to make "compelling content", the SABC fails to actually get around to commissioning and scheduling such TV content.

Instead, the SABC has cancelled a litany of legacy shows - now too expensive to make - that used to bring in viewers, and have been replacing them with low-budget fare that fails to lure audiences who jump to pay-TV and subscribe to available video streaming services like Netflix SA and MultiChoice's Showmax.

During the financial year, the SABC's TV audience share during prime time has shrunk from 47.5% to just 42.4%.

Very little has come of the broadcaster's numerous plans to revitalise SABC1, SABC2 and especially SABC3 and to stem the tide of sagging ratings, its detrimental so-called "transversal" strategy of spreading repeats and rebroadcasts of shows across its channels and to infuse schedules with new, big hit shows that attract broad audiences.

The SABC in its financial report says that its "repeat strategy, particularly on SABC2 and SABC3 further diminished viewer numbers, which in turn had a direct impact on revenue".

The SABC notes that it focused on yet another "complete turnaround of SABC2 and SABC3" but that the "planned development and growth of non-performing and struggling timeslot could not be implemented". Instead, the SABC decided to just try and stop the bleeding as much as possible with "stringent channel budget management and cost-containment activities that were implemented".

SABC3 as the broadcaster's only commercial TV channel remains under huge pressure and severely troubled. With falling ratings, SABC3 was budgeted to make R408 million in advertising revenue. It made only R251 million. That is also less than the R313 million in ad revenue that SABC3 made during the previous financial year.

Besides TV, things are not looking good at the SABC Radio division where revenue is also plummeting according to the SABC's latest financial report.

In another very bad trend, SABC radio advertising revenue from the SABC's 5 commercial radio stations fell R48 million during the 2019/2020 financial year, fell by R46 million at its African language stations combined, and fell a combined R19 million at its so-called "Fortune 4" stations of Radio 2000, LotusFM, SAfm and RSG.