Eye on South Africa: trends in broadcasting.

Broadcasting in South Africa has undergone radical changes in the

past few years. A primary goal of the new government was to reregulate

broadcasting so that previously sidelined communities could own and

operate radio and TV services as well as provide previously neglected

audiences with programs suited to their requirements and reflecting

their cultures.

The Independent Broadcast Authority (IBA) was charged with monitoring

the radio and TV industry and establishing policies for the regulation

of broadcasting and the granting of new television and radio licenses.

Prior to the allocation of frequencies. the IBA contended that the

state-owned SABC, which previously functioned on a commercial as well as

a public broadcaster basis. should shed its commercial radio stations

and take on the sole role of public broadcaster. Consequently, in 1996

the SABC relaunched its three television channels and sold its six

commercial radio stations to private, primarily black-controlled


The Terrestrial TV Ground

The relaunch of the SABC's three terrestrial channels realigned

the channels not only in terms of program content but in terms of

geographical coverage.

SABC1 is an entertainment channel that broadcasts in the Zulu, Xhosa

and English languages during primetime. It also accommodates the minor

African languages isiNdebele and siSwati. SABC1, which reaches major

urban areas nationwide, is the second largest channel. In primetime,

SABC2 broadcasts in English, Afrikaans, Setswana, Sesotho and Sepedi,

and provisions have been made for the Xitsonga and Tshivenda languages.

This channel, the largest of the three, is available across most of the

country, although some rural areas cannot yet receive the terrestrial

signal and rely on the Ku-band signal from the PAS 4 satellite. SABC3

broadcasts exclusively in English and offers domestic and international

programs. The smallest of the three channels, SABC3 can only be picked

up terrestrially in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and

East London, although it is available nationally on the PAS 4 satellite.

To date, no private terrestrial commercial television license exists,

although hearings from applicants are to be heard in the next few

months. There are currently only three challengers for the national

commercial license: Free-to-Air, Station for the Nation and Channel Six.

The latter, however, is likely to concentrate on the regional

license.The successful applicants are expected to begin broadcasting by

June 1997.

IBA Regulations

All broadcasters are regulated by the IBA. Regulations include

stipulations concerning what percentage of total programming should be

local; restrictions on cross-ownership; and affirmative action (a

company's staff must include a certain percentage of blacks, and

blacks must be represented at management level).

The public broadcaster SABC must air 50 percent local content. For

commercial broadcasters, the percentage is significantly less.

Programming Trends

The problem with local production and increased local content quotas

is that local production costs are very high. It currently costs between

$1,300 and $2,173 per minute to produce a program locally, while the

average cost of an imported program is $6,000 per hour.

The SABC channels' Institution of Commissioning Editors has

addressed the high costs of local production by allocating funds to

assist independent producers. Commissioning editors can, on their own,

grant fees of up to $10,900; program managers, up to $54,000; channel

heads, up to $163,000; the CEOs of the channels, up to $435,000; and the

Group executive, up to $870,000. Larger grants have to be approved by

the SABC board.

The change in programming on the SABC channels, however, has led to a

drop in advertising revenues. In an attempt to broaden the source of its

revenues, SABC recently launched the satellite TV service AstraSat.

The Satellite Solution

Soon to become an independent division under the SABC banner,

AstraSat is expected to provide profits that will help fund SABC.

AstraSat currently offers, in analog format, six TV channels (movies,

sports, music, news and information, general entertainment and family

entertainment). AstraSat is negotiating to place seven additional

channels on the PAS 7 satellite, which is due to be launched early this

year. After AstraSat launched, the service was criticized for choosing

analog over digital technology. Gert Claassen, CEO of SABC operations

and head of AstraSat, explained the decision: "Not all TV

households are rich and we need technology to address these markets. It

is not necessarily the most up-to-date technology that works for

us." Unlike the privately held pay service M-Net, which is marketed

to high-income groups, AstraSat aims to make satellite channels

available to a wider audience. This is possible with analog technology

because analog equipment is significantly cheaper than digital


Digital satellite television was launched in South Africa in November

1995 by Orbicom, the satellite service provider for M-Net and

MultiChoice. According to Gerdus van Eeden, an Orbicom engineer

specializing in satellite and digital technology," DSTV was a first

not only for South Africa but for Africa and is also one of the first

MPEG-2 DVB-S direct-to-home systems in the world."

The launch of the PAS 7 satellite will allow Orbicom to deliver new

technology to MultiChoice and African DSTV subscribers and will allow

MultiChoice to add more channels to its digital bouquet. Claassen

believes that South Africa will soon "leapfrog" over cable

technology and become a predominantly multimedia country.

Meanwhile, Uplink Network, a new privately held satellite TV service,

is expected to be in service by the middle of 1997. Having completed a

$200 million deal with Scientific Atlanta, Uplink Network hopes to offer

a subscription fee considerably lower than those of AstraSat and

MultiChoice. Uplink Network's CEO, Craig Kinsman, said,

"We're offering an entertainment alternative, with all seven

of our channels slanted towards programming that's free of

violence, sex scenes and foul language? The bouquet includes a general

family entertainment channel; a Christian lifestyle channel; a sports

channel; the BSkyB News service; a European language channel

broadcasting to the Portuguese, Italian, Greek, German and Jewish

communities; an interactive learning service channel; and a business


South Africa TV Data

Average Cost of Local Production: $104,000 per hour Average Cost of

Imported Programs: $6,000 per hour Total Population: 41,237,000 Total

Color TV Ownership: 41.4 percent (3,445,000 TV HH) Total Black and White

TV Ownership: 23.1 percent (1,923,000 TV HH) Total SABC Viewers: 58.3

percent Total M-Net Viewers: 10.9 percent Total Satellite Dish Ownership: 0.3 percent (26,000 TV HH) Total VCR Ownership: 18.7 percent

(1,553,000 TV HH)