According to historical records, the South African Broadcasting Corporation was allowed to introduce a television service in 1971. Officially the state broadcaster launched the service in 1976. This was a major development in South Africa. In November 2022, SABC took another major step by launching its streaming service. One seasoned broadcaster said, “it was long overdue”. It comes at a time when the video content space is occupied by private streaming entities. For a very long time, SABC has relied on privately owned platforms to publish its video and audio content. In doing this, SABC has lost a significant amount of revenue in terms of opportunity cost. This technological development at SABC marks a very important transition that will change how South Africans access multimedia content. The public broadcaster has officially joined the streaming club, AppleTV, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Showmax, and Disney plus. Although the SABC Plus streaming platform is launched without an app, its presence in the digital sphere is a major game changer in South Africa. For now, SABC Plus is accessible via the internet as a website.
Currently, its three free-to-air channels (SABC 1, SABC 2, and SABC 3), the SABC sports channel, the station’s 24-hour news channel, as well as its 19 radio stations, are streaming on SABC+. The five TV channels are simulcast on the platform, including a seven-day catch-up window of content that may have been missed. For content outside of the SABC catalogue, SABC+ offers AMP, which is a subscription fee package formerly owned by video-streaming service TelkomONE. AMP features local and international TV shows, movies, lifestyle content, reality shows, and a mix of TV channels, with a variety of subscription periods and payment options. SABC has to be commended for finally enabling the public to access its content via a streaming service. This now enables people to access their services even on mobile phones. The public can now choose to watch SABC content anytime without the need to watch based on time. The move from linear to streaming is truly an innovative step for SABC.
Now that the public broadcaster has entered the digital race, it will have to match the innovation speed of current streaming platforms. Netflix is already moving into games to enable gamers to stream games on mobile. Netflix is also known for its data-driven culture. Netflix can deliver great service partly because it’s a tech company. For SABC to deliver its streaming service it had to rely on Hisense. This has been a wise move for SABC in the short run to close the tech skills gap to deliver such a service. In the long run, SABC will have to find a way of developing internal technology skills to avoid costs that will come with the demands of running a tech platform that is powered by a private entity. It will also be interesting how SABC will manage the absence of an app on both the Apple App store and Android Play store together with the absence on televisions such as Samsung smart TVs. The SABC seems to be committing a major mistake by no longer working with Telkom in delivering its streaming services. Telkom started sending SMSs to customers during the last week of its service, notifying them that the platform would be temporarily unavailable until 17 November 2022. It advised customers to “look out for a new and exciting service”. The TelkomOne website presented visitors with a similar notification from midnight on Tuesday, 15 November 2022.
SABC has chosen to work with a partner that seems to be offering a better service for now. Such a service may be difficult to maintain in the future if SABC does not change to become a technology company itself.