SABC wants 24-hr news channel

2010-12-05 09:36

The cash-strapped SABC is considering setting up a 24-hour news channel similar to that of competitor eNews despite still bleeding money from a similar drive less than a year ago.

SABC News International underwent drastic cutbacks in January after being in operation for almost two years.

According to its 2009/10 annual report, the closure of bureaus cost R2.2 million but the SABC expected future savings of R51 million.

In the year that the SABC lost almost R1 billion, it partly blamed unbudgeted foreign expenditure due to the expansion of foreign news bureaus and News International.

Previous estimates put the channel’s start-up costs at R240 million for 12 bureaus and annual running costs of between R60 million and R100 million.

The board also admitted that employee compensation costs were still high in the news division, with 2010 estimates putting the salary bill at R448 million for 1?014 employees.

But an internal SABC document seen by City Press says the SABC board wants an operational plan for the 24-hour channel by March.

It states that it wants news head Phil Molefe to present a return on investment estimation from international bureaus to give the board a clear idea of the costs versus the value of news stories.

In the document, written by former SABC radio news boss and current board member Pippa Green, the news sub-committee requested details of specific costs for running the remaining four ­bureaus.

The news division reported to the board news sub-committee that SABC News International had been “scaled down” due to the unavailability of a suitable platform to broadcast it.

The SABC says the curtailed service would now provide the basis for a future 24-hour domestic news channel that will be part of the broadcaster’s digital terrestrial television offering.

This would give the broadcaster access to more channels in addition to SABC 1, 2 and 3.

It admitted that News International faced considerable challenges and the lack of viable distribution points meant that full-scale operations were no longer financially viable.

The relative success of eNews Channel, launched in June 2008, may have forced the SABC to rethink its 24-hour news channel.

But the SABC denied this, saying the “assumption that eNews Channel had prompted the resumption of the SABC’s plans for a 24-hour news channel is unfounded”.

“It’s incumbent on the corporation to investigate whether this service would be feasible,” said spokesperson Kaizer ­Kganyago.

Kganyago said its cost and the platform on which it would be distributed were still being investigated.

Last year, Hosken Consolidated Investments, the owners of the eNews Channel, announced that the channel had broken even and was expected to make its first profit this year, while took five years to be profitable.

Figures from Nielsen AdEx show that advertising revenue on eNews Channel increased from R87 million in 2008 to R214 million last year.

According to the latest AMPS figures, eNews Channel has 1.1 million viewers and is the most watched news channel on DStv.

 An eNews 24-hour continental news channel is in the pipeline.

Green said she only wrote the document because the chair of the news sub-committee, Felleng Sekha, was one of the board members who had resigned.

“We don’t deal with the operational issues,” she said, referring enquiries to Kganyago.

The SABC admits that audience ratings on its radio and television news shows have fallen sharply.

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