by Richard Lord (@rlord182) March. First month of autumn. Days are getting shorter, the mornings are fresher, and the gentle sound of generators fills the night sky! The first two months of 2020 have brought with them their fair share of uncertainty — loadshedding, SONA chaos, budget speech disappointments, rate cuts, increased sin taxes, covid-19, stock-market crashes, OPEC volatility, and runs on toilet paper and hand sanitiser — so how’s all of this impacted on our nation’s favourite pastime, TV viewing? Let’s find out…

Main market

Here are the top 10 shows (averaged data) for the main market (LSM 4–7):

Top 10 TV shows


LSM 4–7

Uzalo SABC 1 9 039 104
Generations: The Legacy SABC 1 7 636 835
Skeem Saam SABC 1 5 180 675
Absa Premiership: Pirates vs Chiefs SABC 1 5 146 626
Scandal 4 362 257
Muvhango SABC 2 3 840 512
The Jungle Book 3 601 958
Sgud’snaysi SABC 1 3 498 301
Ngempela SABC 1 3 381 287
Rhythm City 3 299 118

Despite all the chaos of the last few weeks — we’re certainly living in interesting times and the world seems to be going a little crazy — it seems in general that the main market hasn’t drastically changed its viewing habits. The top three programmes remain, as ever, Skeem Saam, Generations, and Uzalo.

The Chiefs/Pirates derby on 29 February 2020 took fourth spot which shows that, despite everything that’s going on, the people simply want to escape and be entertained — and nothing entertains in South Africa like a good old rivalry on the football pitch!

We see further evidence of this escapism with an movie, The Jungle Book, breaking into the top 10 (there was another movie, Legend of Tarzan, sitting at no. 11), and the continued nostalgia that the late Joe Mafela brings to the SABC with old reruns of Sgud’snaysi.

This isn’t to say that the main market isn’t interested in what’s happening in the world, as both the isiZulu news and isiXhosa news on SABC 1 came in at no. 12 and 14 respectively, and the live broadcast of the chaos at the 2020 State of the Nation (SONA) came in at no. 23 and was viewed by some 2.3m people in LSM 4–7.

High-income earners

What about the high-income earners? They seem to be more interested in current affairs than their main-market counterparts because, for the first time in a long time, we have a change in the top tjree programmes watched by this audience!

Top 10 TV shows


LSM 8–10

Uzalo SABC 1 1 106 570
State of the Nation 2020 SABC 2 794 866
Skeem Saam SABC 1 803 363
Generations SABC 1 797 901
Scandal 610 861
The Legend of Tarzan 611 322
The Queen Mzansi Magic 593 976
Absa Premiership: Pirates vs Chiefs SABC 1 547 394
isiZulu News SABC 1 476 847
7de Laan SABC 2 466 989

Uzalo on SABC 1 remains the no. 1 show watched by the high-income earners but coming in second spot in February was SONA 2020. We also see isiZulu news on SABC 1 breaking into the top 10. Now, remembering that this is an LSM 8-10 analysis, this should remind us just how strong local content is. LSM 8-10 don’t all live in Sandton and watch Sky News and the BBC… and they don’t all watch the English Premier League, either! The Absa Premiership derby between Chiefs and Pirates made it into the top 10 for February too.

But what of the EPL? How did that compare in February? Not too well, as it turns out. There were a number of other sporting codes that performed better… The T20 International between SA and England on SABC 3, played on 16 February, was watched by 361 000 LSM 8–10 viewers, followed by the first T20 International against the Aussies at Wanderers, which drew an audience of 317 000 viewers. Then there were a couple of Nedbank Cup matches, a EUFA Champions League game, and a Super Rugby match between the Bulls and the Blues — all of this before the best-performing EPL match, which was Liverpool vs the Hammers on 24 February.

Interestingly, the broadcast of the 2020 budget speech by our honourable finance minister, Tito Mboweni, performed better than most of these sporting broadcasts, watched by some 290 000 people — a remarkable figure, given that it took place at 2pm on a Wednesday!


Finally, what of the impact of loadshedding on all of this? It’s a question that we’re often asked. The truth is that loadshedding does have an impact on TV viewing. No power = no TV. On average, it would appear that loadshedding may account for a loss of anything between 2% and 10%, depending on the time band.

If we look at how viewing has fluctuated for the top 5 programmes among the mass market over the past four months, we can see that February audiences are lower than in January, and still aren’t back to their pre-holiday levels. This isn’t all down to load shedding. Other factors have an impact, too, but — whatever the reason — the simple reality is the numbers are down, times are tough, budgets are under pressure. Draw your own conclusions!

Top 10 LSM 4–7

Nov 2019

Dec 2019

Jan 2020

Feb 2020

Uzalo (SABC 1) 10 606 852 8 535 240 9 555 313 9 039 104
Generations: The Legacy (SABC 1) 9 331 778 7 217 946 7 949 566 7 636 835
Skeem Saam (SABC 1) 5 819 989 4 713 827 5 220 890 5 180 675
Scandal ( 5 079 616 4 047 442 4 403 907 4 362 257
Muvhango (SABC 2) 4 803 688 4 218 781 4 304 626 3 840 512


Richard LordRichard Lord (@rlord182) is media and operations director at Meta Media, South Africa’s newest media agency and part of the IPG global network and Nahana Communications Group of specialist agencies. With over 20 years’ experience in the media industry and having worked for FCB, UM in London, and The MediaShop, he’s spent most of his career with IPG. Richard contributes the monthly “Watched” column, which analyses monthly TV audience viewership figures in South Africa, to

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