COMMENT: SABC waiting for a hand out has become the norm

The SABC building in Auckland Park on August 05, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The SABC building in Auckland Park on August 05, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Gallo Images/Sowetan/Veli Nhlapo

As sure as the All Blacks scoring a try just before halftime‚ the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) waited until‚ literally hours before Rugby World Cup 2019 kicked off‚ to announce it wouldn’t be broadcasting any games.

The timing of the SABCs statement on Monday is important because it was done to create maximum negativity towards pay channel SuperSport.

The implication in the statement was that ‘we the SABC‚ have done everything we can but the subscription service is holding a gun to our heads.’

In other words: ‘they won’t give us something for free‚ or close to it‚ which they paid millions for. How unreasonable.’

SABC employed the same tactic days before the African Cup of Nations this year. And we’ve seen this approach repeated in previous years as well.

World Rugby‚ the sport’s governing body‚ holds the rights to RWC and essentially puts them out to tender.

Broadcasters from across the world bid to broadcast them with the pie sliced into regions‚ or countries.

The RWC is World Rugby’s biggest single cash cow and the TV rights sold to broadcast the flagship tournament are the bulk of the organisation’s income.

It’s a fair process – classic supply versus demand scenario and the rights go to those willing to pay the most.

SuperSport were among the broadcasters willing to stump up the necessary cash‚ which ran into tens of millions of rands for a six-week event. The SABC were not.

If a rival had outbid SuperSport for the rights to show the tournament in South Africa‚ then SuperSport would’ve had to up their offer or miss out.

Although it’s an unlikely scenario given SuperSport’s stranglehold on sports broadcasting in South Africa and large parts of Africa‚ it’s not impossible.

Pay Channel Sky TV in New Zealand had for years controlled rugby broadcasting in that country.

But when RWC 2019 rights went out for tender Sky NZ lost out to a new streaming service called Spark New Zealand.

It is a straight battle for the rights to a sporting event New Zealanders hold sacrosanct‚ a 21st century tech company with little track record have beaten the might of Sky TV to show one of the biggest global sporting events in the world.

It led to an outcry in NZ‚ mostly from Sky subscribers‚ who much like their SuperSport counterparts in South Africa‚ only had pay-TV so they could watch rugby.

What didn’t happen was Sky TV implying it was unfair.

"It depends how you look at it really.

"We would love to have it (RWC 2019). It's really good content. But Spark paid a ton of money for it‚" Sky TV's director of sport Richard Last said in January.

“We always try to make sure that we're going to invest money in the best way we can.

"It's like buying a house. If somebody turns up and they want to pay a lot more than most people think what you should pay ... And that just happens. It's disappointing for us but it's not the end of the world."

That was a company not willing to pay more than it could afford for a product.

Contrast that approach to the SABC‚ which continues to ask for government funding after a succession of appalling audits.

If the SABC were a private company it would have been out of business years ago.

In March this year‚ SABC executives asked government for R6.8bn to stay afloat.

Already hundreds of jobs have been cut and shows cancelled‚ so it’s no surprise they didn't bid for the rights to RWC.

They simply couldn’t afford to‚ which is not only unfortunate for the majority of people in SA‚ but also a reflection of the sorry state of the national broadcaster.

Of course‚ in a country such as South Africa there is a bigger picture.

Bringing RWC to a wider audience through TV and even radio‚ whose rights are held by sports management company IMG‚ is necessary.

Whether the SABC negotiated with IMG about RWC radio rights is not clear.

Sadly what is obvious is that upwards of five million listeners to Springbok rugby games on the Xhosa language Umhlobo Wenene FM are going to lose out on hearing about the Boks’ exploits in Japan.

Not because of SuperSport or IMG. But because the SABC is broke.

In terms of TV‚ SuperSport were willing to reach a deal to allow some games to be broadcast free-to-air but even those terms could not be agreed. And the only losers are the public.

Could SuperSport do more to accommodate the public in the national interest? Maybe.

But given the amount of money they have ploughed into acquiring the RWC rights‚ in addition to the costs of expert panellists‚ pre-tournament content and marketing and promotion‚ maybe it’s the SABC who should be doing more?

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