The data is in, and it’s official: things are not looking good for South African television.

The latest MAPS data overview from the Market Research Foundation shows a massive decline in television viewership over the past two years: In Q1 2021, 72% of respondents claimed to have tuned into a TV channel in the past week, while in Q3 2023, only 54% said they had.

This trend is expected to grow, with loadshedding anticipated to make its comeback as the country settles into winter.

In parallel to this, streaming is growing fast. According to the Broadcast Research Council of South Africa, almost a third of TV viewing now happens online. An estimated 8-million South Africans now have access to a streaming services.

But which services are the most popular among Gen Z?

“While YouTube doesn’t serve premium broadcast content, it does have scale,” says Leslie Adams, sales director at Reach Africa.

“Google’s advertising resources indicate that in YouTube has around 25,1-million users, which is largely thanks to its advertising video on demand (AVOD) model, where viewers can watch for free in exchange for having their viewing interrupted now and then by a few ads.”

And who is driving the shift to streaming? According to the MAPS data, it’s Gen Z (42%) followed by Millennials (41%), with Boomers only making up around 4%. And, as expected, Gen Z’s viewing happens mainly on mobile.

This evolution away from traditional TV makes sense, says Adams, when you consider that more so than any previous generation, Gen Z’s life is lived on demand. “If they want something to eat, they can order a takeaway via Uber Eats with a simple tap. If they want to listen to music, Spotify will not only find them the exact song they’re after but will also curate playlists for them based on their demonstrated preferences.”

When they want to watch something, there are now over 30 streaming services available locally, which they can toggle on any device, earning them the title of “Netfickle”.

Adams says that it is this growing up with life on demand that has steered them firmly away from the “appointment viewing” offered by linear TV. “Gone are the times when the household would plan the day around watching a show that airs at a certain time – Gen Z has never really known this reality, having grown up in a world powered by the Internet.

“They won’t wait till 7pm to watch the news or catch the morning papers – they will scan a news site immediately when they want to know something. And those that are doing well understand this – most of Disney’s new releases now happen on its Disney + app at the same time that they appear on cinema, for example.”

Adams says that “free” is driving this shift. “With the rise of AVOD and hybrid streaming services such as Viu – which has a huge youth viewing contingent and features South Africa’s biggest shows such as Skeem Saam and Uzalo – paid TV has naturally become the biggest victim of streaming.

“Free TV is still doing well, with SABC 1 being the country’s most-watched channel, followed by E-tv, SABC 2 and SABC 3. However, what we’re now seeing more and more – especially among younger South African viewers – is ‘platform stacking’. They might glance at the TV when it is on in the household and be pulled into a show, but their viewing is mainly happening online via streaming platforms such as Viu, at their convenience.

“And don’t believe the myth that expensive data is a barrier to entry: Gen Z has found a way around this, and are getting their content.

“There is no doubt that the streaming landscape is the space to watch right now, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves over the coming months,” adds Adams.