e.tv wants to cut news from its primetime slot

Inside the eNews studio. (Photo: Gallo Images)
Inside the eNews studio. (Photo: Gallo Images)

Cape Town – South Africa's broadcasting regulator has set 25 October as the date for a public hearing into e.tv's controversial application to get its broadcasting licence conditions changed because they no longer want to do a half hour TV news bulletin during prime time.

If e.tv is successful in getting its longstanding broadcasting licence conditions changed and stops broadcasting a daily half hour TV news bulletin during prime time, it will leave the SABC as the sole terrestrial television broadcaster in South Africa to do national news bulletins in the country.

e.tv wants to get rid of its responsibility to do a daily half hour TV news bulletin during prime time, saying its not lucrative enough and that e.tv as a free-to-air broadcaster is a commercial channel with entertainment programming that would benefit its financial bottom-line more than giving viewers a half hour news bulletin.

It's move to dump its half hour news bulletin would marginalise the diversity of voices and TV news offering that tens of millions of South African TV households rely on who do not have access to pay-TV services and those services' 24-hour TV news channels.

"In short, e.tv would like to move their prime time news bulletins outside the prime time period," says the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).

Icasa has received one submission about e.tv's application to dump its half hour TV news, has scheduled a public meeting for 25 October that anyone can attend, at its Sandton offices in Pinmill Farm from 10:00 in the morning.

e.tv says in its submission that if it's forced to do a half hour TV news bulletin during prime time, "English news bulletins in prime time have seen a rapid decline in ratings across all free-to-air channels over the last few years".

"As a commercial broadcaster generating most of its revenue in prime time, this presents serious revenue challenges – which ultimately lead to commercial viability challenges".

Bad news moves

The broadcaster has already dumped a half hour Zulu prime time TV news bulletin it introduced in 2015.

e.tv's eNews Prime Time, renamed eNews Direct, was the most watched TV news bulletin on South African television for several years.

Debilitating tinkering as well as bad and perplexing time slot and style changes has seen its viewership fall as e.tv gave its soaps Scandal! and Rhythm City more attention and better timeslots, leading to the very viewership drop e.tv is complaining.

The news bulletin was moved from its prime TV real estate at 19:00 to a dead zone 20:30, and then to 18:30 where eNews Direct is a ratings failure. 

e.tv at the time said the move to 18:30 is because market research showed that viewers want to see the main English news bulletin earlier. 

e.tv's claim that South African viewers don't watch TV news and that TV news ratings are falling appears to be untrue.

SABC1's Xhosa news bulletin at 19:30 drew roughly 4.2 million viewers (12.6 AR) in September and the Zulu TV news on SABC1 4.17 million viewers (12.2 AR) – both making the top 20 most watched shows on the channel during the month.

On SABC2 the Afrikaans TV news bulletin pulled 1.45 million viewers (4.3 AR) during September, while the SABC's flagship English news bulletin on SABC3 grabbed 666 162 viewers (2 AR).

While e.tv's eNews Direct has plunged and doesn't even rate high enough to make its monthly 20 most watched programming, its one minute eNews Direct headlines at 18:00 is very strong and lured 3.2 million viewers (9.6 AR) in September, indicating that viewers will watch news on e.tv when it's done at a time that works for them.