Communication Workers Union is shocked and taken aback by media reports (23rd of November 2018), that ICASA (regulator) announced that Netflix is not obligated to abide by any local content quotas or requirements. The media report further indicates that ICASA said Netflix is a streaming service and not a licensee and rendered them exempt from local content expectations. Our view is that ICASA is incapable as a regulator to protect the SME’s in the sector, conventional and community broadcasters in the country. The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry is highly globalised, with all the online players (OTT’s) being multinational companies. The online players such as YouTube, Google and Facebook; are in the top list of sites most visited by South Africans, noting that not a single website that appears in the top 5 is locally based. In fact, within our country; Google-controlled websites are 30 times bigger than the biggest South African sites. The impact is huge – in 2015, estimates put local internet advertising spent at R3.5 billion, with R2.4 billion of this spend going to paid internet search, with Google being the beneficiary.
In South Africa, the conventional broadcasters are the most affected by this globalization phenomenon, such as the 3-tier SA broadcasting system which is composed of public, commercial and community broadcasters who are inundated with compliance to local regulations and policies and in some instances, to a point of shutting down. These global OTT’s players such as NETFLIX, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Apple TV, are growing at a fast rate and are also shifting the consumer’s behaviour from the traditional linear and therefore, the (local) content issue becomes central in putting policies in place. In large markets, such as the US; the online players had already overtaken the conventional broadcasters on subscription net, with the traditional TV penetration rapidly declining.
Therefore, leaving global OTT’s operators in an unregulated environment, without investing in the country’s development by creating employment, investing in infrastructure and paying levies is irresponsible. The regulator is actively opening flood gates for these operators to have unlimited access to revenue, exploit our infrastructure and further undermines the local talent. As CWU, we are worried that over 10 000 jobs created by South Africa’s conventional broadcasters are under constant threat from the non-leveled regulatory environment, which seems to favour these service providers. The collapsing of the traditional broadcasters means that the tax income towards the fiscus is also under threat. Therefore, for ICASA to be a toothless regulator, is a threat to the future of broadcasting in our country.
Issued by Communication Workers Union
CWU General Secretary