Big TV licence changes planned for South Africa – including a new tax

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is moving ahead with plans to introduce a new tax to replace the longstanding TV licence fee.

The proposal, which is included in the national broadcaster’s latest annual performance plan, will see the implementation of a ‘technology-neutral’ public media levy to replace the existing television licence.

The SABC noted that this levy would be ‘device-independent’, meaning South Africans who do not have a television set will still be required to contribute. The proposal also states that part of the levy’s revenue is expected to be collected by the ‘dominant subscription broadcaster’ – in this case, DStv and Multichoice – on the public broadcaster’s behalf.

The shift away from the TV licence model comes as the SABC continues to see declining revenues from TV licence payments.

In its annual report released at the start of October 2021, the SABC told parliament that TV licence revenue had declined by 0.4% to R788 million.

This resulted in only 18% of the total licence fees billed being realised as revenue, which is very similar to that realised for the year ended 31 March 2020, the SABC said.

The SABC depends mainly on commercial revenue to finance its operations. However, there is huge legislative pressure to fund news and sports, specifically of national interest, which are not profitable. This creates significant pressure on the SABC’s cash flows in the long run, it said.

Data for the 2021 financial year shows that the evasion rate currently sits at 82.1%. Overall, the SABC said that 2.2 million TV licence holders managed to settle their fees in full or in part against a known database of 10.3 million television licence holders.

SABC chief operating officer Ian Plaatjes has attributed the decline in revenue to a loss of its viewer base. “The decline in the audience is multi causational and is a global trend, and there is not much that can be done about that,” he said.

Under current regulations, first-time applicants for a television licence must pay the full annual fee of R264. Renewals must then be made annually before the licence expires, with users given the option of paying R264 each year or R28 in monthly instalments.


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Big TV licence changes planned for South Africa – including a new tax