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Load shedding gives rise to growth in SA streaming

The end of Prime Time

The result? It’s wiping out television’s Prime Time as we know it. While it may come as a surprise to no one, the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) annual performance plan shows a direct link between increasing power outages and the decrease in the amount of time viewers spend watching TV.

The SABC is not alone in this. MultiChoice’s shares dropped by 15% — a loss of almost R8-billion in value — after it admitted that load shedding was impacting its South African margins.

At the end of June 2022, shedding saw TV viewership sink dramatically; it was down 34% in the first week of July 2022 compared to 2021. By the end of September, there was a steep 17% decline in television ratings from the previous month.

In 2023, we know things will only get worse from a load shedding point of view before they improve, which will naturally impact television viewership.

But that doesn’t mean people have or will stop indulging in their favourite shows — far from it. While broadcasters are bearing the brunt of load shedding (evident in their annual results), streaming or video on demand (VOD) services, on the other hand, are on the rise.

Despite load shedding, streaming continues to grow

The rise in load shedding is happening parallel to VOD platforms’ proliferation. We’ve seen new players enter the local market, such as Disney+, while well-established platforms locally (like Showmax and Viu) continue to show positive growth.

Take South Africa’s largest streaming platform Viu, for example. Viu reported a 2% increase in cumulative downloads between August to September 2022 (from 5 307 688-5 416 177) and a 5% growth in app downloads.

While this might seem small, remember the decline TV viewership saw in that period. Any growth, given the context, is significant.

Reasons for the growth in VOD

A key reason for this growth is that when load shedding strikes, consumers access their favourite shows across other devices, such as their laptops and mobile phones. They only need mobile data or a secure Internet connection, and they can watch Skeem Saam to their hearts’ content.

But that’s only one part of the equation. There is a move away from ‘appointment viewing’ (watching content at a specific time on a specific day) to ‘content on demand’ as another contributor. This fundamental shift in user behaviour was catalysed by Covid-19.

This was evidenced in reports from South Africa’s national broadcaster, the SABC, which said, “In April 2020, when the country was just a few days into the hard lockdown, (the) Independent Communications Authority South Africa issued mobile operators with temporary licences for unused radio frequency spectrum, to ease network congestion.”

“This meant that operators could offer their customers cheaper data. Even though this temporary arrangement ended 17 months later (in November 2021), South Africans had adopted data-enabling behaviours that are certain to remain,” added the SABC.

Finally, many streaming services have introduced viewing on the same day as live — or ‘VOSDAL’ — so you don’t have to wait a few days or weeks before your favourite shows are loaded.

While load shedding will be with us for some time, the actual consumption of broadcast content is not going anywhere; we’re simply changing how we view. 

This is less about TV versus VOD or the distribution channel of the content, but rather about ensuring that we get the content we need so that when the lights go out.

For more information, visit www.reachafrica.com

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