South Africa

Government spending R1 billion on its own streaming service – report


South Africa’s Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) is reportedly spending R1 billion on a new video streaming service.

Sunday newspaper Rapport reported that the GCIS has invited people to audition for its new over-the-top (OTT).

Citing an email from the GCIS with the subject line Call for auditions (OTT platform), Rapport said the auditions included presenters and background voices in the 11 official languages.

Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird said planning for the streaming service was underway and that R1 billion had been set aside for the project.

The GCIS’s chief director for media engagement, William Baloyi, said he could not comment on the matter.

Bird and other experts raised concern about the government spending R1 billion on a streaming service, considering the poor state of the SABC.

SABC CFO Yolande van Biljon recently told Parliament that revenue underperformed by 27% compared to its budget and was 8% lower than the previous financial year.

“The bottom has dropped out of our revenue generation initiatives, and as a consequence, the SABC’s loss increased by R949 million to R1.2 billion,” she said.

SABC Board chair Khathutselo Ramukumba added that the SABC’s current funding model is unsustainable to finance its public service mandate.

Curiously, the SABC launched its long-anticipated OTT platform, SABC+, in November 2022, providing access to 19 radio stations and five TV channels.

The channels include three free-to-air television channels SABC 1, SABC 2, SABC 3, the SABC Sports Channel, and the SABC’s 24-hour news channel.

The app also features a variety of local and international content to “extend the corporation’s mission to inform, educate and entertain citizens, everywhere, anytime”.

SABC+ was borne out of TelkomOne. Telkom launched TelkomONE in November 2020, offering a range of free content, including SABC, news channels, and paid-for movies and TV shows.

However, Telkom exited streaming and handed over its platform to the SABC, which in turn used it to launch SABC+.

What is particularly worrisome is that the GCIS seems to be spending a huge amount of money to launch something it can merely put on the SABC+ app.

Launching a new streaming service is very costly and resource-intensive, and it seldom succeeds.

South Africa is littered with failed OTT streaming services, including TelkomONE, MTN FrontRow, Cell C Black, Altech Node, Kwese Play, and Vodacom Video Play.

It makes no sense for the GCIS to throw its hat in the ring and spend taxpayer money on something likely to fail.

The table below shows the large number of South African streaming services which failed over the last few years.

Streaming services from South African operators
Service Operator Launched Closed Down
Telkom Media Telkom August 2006 May 2009
Node Altech September 2014 September 2015
Vu MTN December 2014 May 2017
Kwese Play Econet September 2017 August 2019
Black Cell C November 2017 November 2019
Video Play Vodacom August 2015 June 2022
TelkomONE Telkom November 2020 November 2022