Should the SABC be trying to get fees for streaming when it can’t get TV licenses right?

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During a meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Communications on Tuesday morning, deputy minister of communications, Pinky Kekane, dropped a bomb.

That bomb was the suggestion that South Africans who are streaming content should pay for a TV license.

The suggestion was made while Kekane was outlining the priorities for the SABC in future. One of those priorities is increasing revenue.

“They [SABC] have done a spreadsheet to show how they can cut on costs. We should also help with urgent policy and legislation recourse that will directly increase SABC revenue. Issues with TV licenses include engaging with those who are currently getting their SABC TV programmes through pay-TV. Those who ‘must carry’ must also pay,” said Kekana.

“How do we through ICASA make sure that they too are able to assist us to collect TV licenses. But we are not only limiting it to TV we also have other platforms where people consume content and all those areas, that’s where we should look at how to get license fees from those gadgets,” the deputy minister added.

For now this is only a proposal however and there would have to sweeping changes made to regulations surrounding TV licenses.

Penned in 1994, there is no mention of streaming or smartphones in the legislation for TV licenses and so those laws would need to be amended.

The fly in the ointment here however is that the SABC is currently struggling to collect TV licenses due to the economic conditions lockdown has brought about.

“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,” the SABC said in September according to a report by BusinessTech.

“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 broadcaster added.

Add the fact that the SABC contracts debt collection agencies and attorney to chase down non-payers and you have a costly exercise on your hands.

Now the SABC wants to add even more licenses to the environment? That just sounds like a bad business idea.

The other issue we keep coming up against is how the SABC would police this.

VPNs and services such as PayPal make appearing as if you are in another country trivial. Hell, right now my VPN makes it seem as if I’m writing this from Switzerland.

Of course, the SABC could ask that Netflix tack an additional licensing fee onto the subscription fee of consumers but what about other platforms.

Will YouTube be lumped into this license fee even though it’s a free platform? What about Twitch? Vimeo? Quibi, okay nobody actually uses Quibi but the point stands, where does the line for streaming services end? Honestly we don’t know and we doubt the SABC knows either.

Furthermore, should Netflix and other services refuse to do this, will we then be required to present a TV license when purchasing computer components or other “gadgets” as the deputy minister put it? Do we just then ignore the second-hand market place much as the SABC has with existing TV licenses?

There are so many more questions we have about this suggestion and we worry that much like the FPB amendment bill, government is shooting from the hip without thinking about the effects a change like this might have.

With that in mind, we’re hopeful that any changes that are proposed for the regulations of TV license fees are submitted for public participation and comment. Should that day come we hope that all our readers will be active citizens and submit comments.

Call us crazy but suddenly having to police even more people to pay a TV license when the SABC clearly can’t get it right with just TVs in play seems like the opposite of the goal to increase the broadcaster’s revenue.

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.