How TV licence fees compare around the world

2015-01-30 12:54
(Duncan Alfreds, News24)

(Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - As the SABC prepares to launch a national campaign to push people to pay their TV licences, News24 finds out how much other nations fork out for their TV programmes.

The SABC’s chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng has declared that South Africans must pay up if they want to watch more original content from the broadcaster.

He said that people should understand they are not paying for salaries, but that they are “paying for content...paying for universal access”.

But how many other countries insist on TV licencing, and what sort of service do they receive in return? News24 finds out.

Who pays and why?

The TV licence fee was first modelled on the British scheme of taxing TV sets in viewers’ homes in the 1920s. Today, TV licences in Britain provide more than 90% of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) income.

In the UK, BBC television and radio programmes do not carry advertising, with commercial activities - mainly abroad - providing less than 10% of the BBC’s income in 2012, according to government figures.

The British system was taken up in many countries across the globe, with more than two-thirds of Europe, half of Africa and Asia, and 10% of those in the Americas and the Caribbean now relying on licence fees to support their systems - at least in part.

Broadcasting in these countries is seen as a “public good”, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago



The graphic above shows that South Africa has one of the cheapest TV licences in the world.

Who else refuses to pay their licences?

Poland alsos seems to have a relatively low licence fee - yet there is an even higher rate of dodging TV licences in Poland than there is in South Africa.

According to Channel24 reporter Thinus Ferreira, the SABC estimates that only around 30% of South Africa’s TV owning households are paying their licence fees, which means two thirds of South Africans who have TV sets are not paying.

In Poland, the evasion rate is a whopping 65%. Elsewhere, some 26% of Italians leave their licences unpaid, 12% in Ireland and Sweden, 9% in Norway and just 5% in the UK, according to figures from the UK communications watchdog Ofcom. 

While evasion figures are low in the UK, under the current law people who do not pay off their fines for dodging the licence fees can end up in jail.

In 2012, 50 people were imprisoned in the UK for not paying their TV licences, government figures show.

How much does the SABC need our money?

Unlike the BBC, SABC does not rely on TV licences for its funding.

In fact, licence fees made up just 13% of SABC’s revenues last year - and unlike the BBC where advertising is banned at home, advertising is welcomed on SABC.

TV advertising hauled in R3.6 billion for SABC last year - that’s more than half of all its revenues and almost four times more than the amount generated by TV licences.

By comparison, TV licences produced R927m last year.

South Africa is not alone in using advertising to boost public funds - public broadcasters in France, Italy and Germany, among others, also use advertising funds.

In Ghana, where licences cost just R3 a year, TV licences account for just 1% of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) revenues - the government contributes 39% of funds, while advertising generates 60%, according to the GBC. 

How much SABC do we watch?

SABC boasted in its annual report that SABC TV “continued to be the most watched TV channels in the country, effortlessly meeting their public service mandate and delivery of public value”.    

Yet a closer look reveals that its share of the market has been on a downward trend - with just 49% of the audience share in 2013-14, compared with 53% in 2012-13 and 57% in 2011-12.

The year before that was a happy exception - with the SABC reporting that thanks to the 2010 Fifa World Cup, the broadcaster had surpassed its own target - grabbing a massive 73% of the audience share.

Interestingly, this is the kind of market share that the BBC enjoys. The broadcaster’s flagship TV channel, BBC One, is the UK’s most widely watched TV channel - drawing in 75% of UK adults, according to figures submitted to the British government.

These figures also show that in the UK, 75% of BBC1’s content is original and during peak time this rises to 90%.

By comparison, 64% of SABC1’s content is locally produced, according to a 2012 report by Media Monitoring Africa. 

However, the report claimed that once you strip out repeats and the news programmes, that figure drops to 39%. It also pointed out that news receives the lowest amount of airtime on SABC.

What’s more, 21% of SABC’s programme schedule was filled with repeats, and on SABC3, more than half of the programmes hailed from North America.

Read more on:    sabc  |  hlaudi motsoeneng  |  media

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