South Africa’s TV licence system is a mess, and the SABC’s latest results for the 2016/17 financial opens a window into exactly how many – or how few – of South Africa’s TV households are actually forking out the annual R265 fee.
In the SABC’s latest report, it recorded a near R1 billion annual loss, with revenues decreasing across the board.
Looking closer at the TV licence revenue specifically, the state broadcaster billed R1.93 billion in fees for the year – but wrote off R1.02 billion as doubtful to ever be collected.
Operating revenue for licence fees totaled R915 million, but the SABC only made cash revenue of R847.4 million from TV licence fee collection in the year, which was 34.7% below the projected budget – or R449.4 million less that what the group expected.
This continued the trend of declining TV licence numbers – which have been sliding for a number of years – while, statistically, more South African households are owning TVs.
To figure out exactly how many people pay their TV licence in South Africa, it’s a fairly simple calculation – if the SABC billed for R1.93 billion in fees, at R265 a year, it means there are approximately 7.3 million TV households and businesses being billed.
If the SABC collected R915 million in fees, then just over 3.45 million of these households and businesses are paying up each year – only 47% of the total.
This is not the full story, however, as the SABC can only bill the households it knows of (ie, households that have a TV licence).
According to data published by research group Dataxis at the end of 2015, the number of TV households (households that own one or more TVs) in 2017 is estimated to be around 12.8 million households – which means the vast majority of TV owners are shirking TV licence fees, and only 1 in 4 households are coughing up.
And if the current trends continue, this is only going to get worse.
The same data projects that TV households in South Africa will climb to 13.3 million households in 2018, with the SABC’s TV licence revenue expected to continue its declining trend, as more South Africans turn away from the fee in a form of protest, or in simple frustration.
In 2016/17, the SABC wrote off R1.43 billion in outstanding TV licence fee debt as ‘doubtful’ to ever be collected.
Earlier in 2017, former SABC acting CEO James Aguma admitted to parliament that the broadcaster wasn’t really sure who had a TV licence or not.
Aguma told the Parliamentary portfolio committee on communication at the time that the SABC was cleaning up its books, and the consultants brought in to help discovered that, of the R23.8 billion the TV licence database was worth, about 1 million accounts – adding up to R4 billion – were either people who shouldn’t have been added as licence holders or were deceased.
After cleaning up the database, the value dropped from R23.8 billion to R6.1 billion – a R17.7 billion write-off.