The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has proposed a number of changes to South Africa’s TV licences as it continues to battle with revenue collection.
In a presentation to parliament’s portfolio committee on Tuesday (20 October), the national broadcaster said that it needs a number of key regulatory reforms to remain viable in South Africa’s changing media environment.
The proposals come after meetings between the SABC, Sentech and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), presented by the Department of Communications.
Some of the proposed changes include:
TV licence change
The SABC said that regulations are needed around pay service providers like Multichoice (DStv) and video on demand providers like Netflix to collect TV licences on behalf of the SABC.
The SABC said that this would be similar to municipalities collecting traffic fines and motor vehicle licence disks. The SABC said that the expanded definition of a TV licence is outdated and needs to be adjusted to current realities.
In her presentation to parliament, deputy minister of Communications Pinky Kekana indicated that TV licences could be expanded to include other devices and not just TVs.
“How do we, through Icasa ,make sure that they too are able to assist us to collect TV licences but we are not only limiting it to TV? We also have other platforms where people consume content and in all of those areas that is where we should look at how we are able to get SABC licence fees from those gadgets,” she said.
Removal of must-carry rule
The SABC has also called for the removal of the must-carry rule. These regulations ensure that all subscription broadcasters with more than 30 channels must carry the SABC’s three free-to-air television channels.
However, contrary to the enabling legislation which provides for “commercial negotiations” between the parties, the regulations state the SABC “must offer its television programmes, at no cost,” to subscription broadcasters.
The SABC said that it instead wants to negotiate with pay-TV providers to pay for these channels as it noted that the current regulations meant the deal was ‘one-sided’ in favour of Multichoice.
The SABC said that national sports (rights) must be made available to the SABC at ‘a very affordable price’.
The SABC says TV licence cash collections were severely impacted during the coronavirus lockdown as its usual collection methods were closed.
In a presentation to parliament in September, the national broadcaster said that Debt Collection Agencies (DCAs) commenced collections in the last week of May 2020 and considerable improvement was recorded in June and July 2020 compared to prior months.
“TV Licences’ cash for all the revenue streams started to improve slightly in the month of June, the period where many restrictions were eased and suppliers were able to operate,” it said.
“However, owing to the economic climate which has had an effect on licence holders’ disposal of cash, compliance levels have not improved and are expected to steadily decline for the remainder of 2020.”
The SABC said that TV licence fees collections are pursued on a monthly basis despite all the challenges faced. It added that there are plans underway to minimise the shortfall in cash collections.
These include new marketing campaigns, developments in technology requirements, campaigns to increase debit orders, and settlements of licence fees in arrears.
The broadcaster said that its collection process is executed internally prior to handover to DCAs. These processes are repeated throughout the month depending on the client’s payment patterns. Thereafter unpaid accounts are handed over for debt collection after 60 days, it said.
A TV Licence is valid for twelve months and renewed at the end of the licensing period.
“Licence holders who have not made payment during the renewal phase will be referred to debt collectors 60 days after the renewal date. This is the only recourse available to the SABC to pursue payments from non-compliant licence holders.”