The announcement by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) that it plans to implement section 189 of the Labor Relations Act which has potential retrenchment implications for approximately 1000 staff members has been met with hostility by organized labor and has led to divided opinion in the country. The SABC finds itself in a dire financial situation and with a limited fiscus is left with little room to maneuver.
Beyond cutting costs, the SABC needs to start considering how it becomes a cutting edge, high quality broadcaster in the 21st century. The technological revolution worldwide has seen the decline of traditional television and rise of streaming services such as Netflix. The SABC must be acknowledged for creating great content in the form of shows such as Uzalo, Skeem Saam and Generations to name a few.
However, by limiting this content to South African viewers the SABC is losing a fundamental opportunity to export the content we produce within the borders. I often argue that we do not sufficiently use our position as the most developed country in Africa to our advantage. The SABC could for example, create an online streaming service, using the lower telecommunications cost in the rest of Africa to sell the content created and increase its revenue.
Multichoice in South Africa has begun a fightback against streaming and is trying to protect is DSTV brand in the face of falling subscriptions by requesting regulation. This is unlikely to happen because DSTV is running an outdated business model. It does retain some level of competitive advantage through is highly developed and integrated sports offering. The SABC should however have a vision of taking on DSTV in this space – yes it will require significant capital investment, but the potential returns are huge – and it is governments role to break down monopolies. That is why the standoff between the South African Football Association and the SABC is not good for anyone. Surely, the SABC should measure what the potential return on investment is in terms of broadcasting these events and then negotiate a fair market deal through a political solution rather than lowballing and the parties having an ugly public spat.
Previously, I referred to an annual music festival to boost our tourism numbers. The SABC could be the ideal partner with tourism for such a festival to create an alternative revenue stream beyond its current offering.
Globally, in media, content is becoming critical – therefore there is a high level of competitiveness of the best content. Yet, African stories represent blue sky in terms of content development. The SABC should partner with the Department of Arts and Culture to develop and create a pipeline of independent filmmakers and content producers to create the type of content that can gain global popularity. One, only needs to look at the strength of the Winnie Mandela documentary and its invigorating nature – yet we have so many of these untold stories. We can also capitalize on the creative nature of our people and create a multitude of jobs in the creative arts sector.
We are also aware of the poor collection of TV licenses – the only time that citizens generally pay their TV licenses is if they must purchase a new television set. While, subsidizing broadcasting for the poor is an accepted principle, the affluent should pay their fair share. I see no reason why, citizens should not pay their licenses when they file their annual tax returns.
There should never be a search for a silver bullet. However, if we want to be a real player we must be prepared to out think and out innovate everyone else – and that includes a commitment to stay at it — to be persistent — to keep trying every new idea that works.
Waseem Carrim is the Chief Executive of the National Youth Development Agency