Many South Africans are jumping on an online petition initiated by the country’s main opposition party, Democratic Alliance (DA) in protest against the government’s plans to mandate streaming services such as Netflix and DStv’s Showmax to collect TV licence payments.
Through its petition titled “Why pay for a TV licence to stream Netflix etc.?”, the opposition to the country’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) is pushing to stop the government from enacting a bill which will compel South Africans to pay TV licences before gaining access to VoD platforms.
As at the time of this writing, the petition has received up to 2,345 signatures.
DA’s online petition comes after the South Africa Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) released a white paper draft proposing that online streaming services be included under the definition of a “broadcasting service”.
Going by this clause, streaming devices including smartphones and laptops would then be categorised as conventional TV sets.
South Africans Want TV Licence Fees Scrapped
Reactions across social media to DA’s online petition show that South Africans want the government to stop the collection of TV licence fees altogether.
TV viewers are required by law to pay licence fees to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) on a yearly or monthly basis. This means that if the latest draft proposals are implemented, people will be required to pay licence fees for “broadcasting services” when they purchase smartphones and laptops regardless of whether they watch SABC content or not.
But many people have slammed the policy, stating that the SABC has failed to improve on its broadcasting service quality and content offerings despite charging high licence fees of up to $17.5 per annum.
Abolish the SABC as a government department (looting opportunity) cancel “license fees” and task it to be a public broadcaster that it should.Markus Maximus on Twitter
Many South Africans have refused to pay SABC TV licence fees due to growing disinterest in the local broadcaster’s programmes, with people instead opting for streaming services such as Netflix and Showmax.
SABC Revenues Could Keep Dwindling
SABC could yet suffer more revenue losses as the government’s strategy to boost revenue collection through streaming platforms could backfire.
The corporation reported in November that its TV licence revenue had declined by 18% Y-o-Y from $64 million to $53 million.
The figure represented only 24% of the obtainable licence revenue, culminating in a $34 million net loss for the national broadcaster. While the SABC attributed this to the non-payment of TV licence fees by many South Africans, the corporation has been plagued with corruption scandals in recent times.
However, the SABC’s plans to recoup unremitted revenue could backfire as the petition by the DA would perhaps spur more people to default in their payment of TV licence fees and vehemently oppose its extension to VoD platforms.
In light of this, it is possible that the government is compelled, not only to review its proposed Netflix licensing policy going forward but the very existence and usefulness of the SABC.
Netflix Likely to Retain Subscribers
The online petition by South Africa’s leading opposition party would drive more confidence among viewers of streaming services including Netflix.
What this means is that subscribers would be more assured in expecting that the government could perhaps make a U-turn on its plans to extend TV licence fees to the likes of Netflix.
With over 152,000 (11%) of the Netflix’s 1.4 million subscribers, South Africa remains Netflix’s biggest market in Africa.
In the current situation, Netflix is better placed to retain subscribers – who may have considered opting out should they have to pay licence fees to access the global streaming service.
While the TV licence fees remain a subject of contention in the country, it appears more South Africans would have been willing to pay these fees if SABC offered thrilling and captivating Netflix-like content to viewers.
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