by Richard Lord (@rlord182) What a difference a month makes! But, before we get to the March 2020 TV numbers, I thought I’d discuss the broad effects that covid-19 is having on media consumption in South Africa.

When I wrote the February column a month ago, covid-19 was something that we were only vaguely interested in from an intellectual POV as it was happening in other countries but not yet in SA. We were all still working in our offices, having face-to-face meetings, exercising in the gym, taking our dogs for a walk and going out for a run or a cycle.


Fast-forward several weeks and we find ourselves in lockdown.

Most of us have been working from home for three or even four weeks, and the world that we know is a very different place! Last month, we were worried about the effects of load shedding on media consumption; now we’re wondering what the impact of forced isolation means for advertisers and media owners alike!

First, all media that’s consumed in groups — such as cinema, events, sports — is no more. Cinemas are closed; sport has been cancelled; gatherings have been banned. Airports are closed, and the roads are empty as the nation is in lockdown so out-of-home (OOH) advertising is ineffective for now [with exceptions: see this piece by Margie Carr — ed]. If you haven’t already, chat to your media agency and review your strategies.

News24 traffic

However, if you’re not already investing in digital, then now’s the time to increase your budgets as digital’s seeing a massive spike in activity, especially social media and news websites. Below is a graph supplied by News24 and you can see the impact that covid-19 is having on its audience! Massive!

Impact of covid-19 on News24 traffic via Meta Media
Impact of covid-19 on News24 traffic via Meta Media.

TV viewership

But what about TV? What will the effects of the lockdown have on TV viewership in South Africa?

People are at home during the day, and daytime TV viewership is and will be increasing. Before the lockdown, daytime already offered advertisers great value. In this column, I’ve spoken about how certain shows outside of primetime (6pm–9pm) have really good audiences with really competitive rates and CPPs. This is only going to improve. In fact, we’ve already seen evidence of this happening.

Looking at just the SABC and, and comparing the week before President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster in SA and the week after, when people started to self-isolate and work from home (we didn’t have the complete data for the first full week of lockdown yet at the time of writing), we see a significant increase in average TV ratings across various time channels of the day:

Time channel

% Increase

Overall average weekly ratings (SABC &, all adults 15+) +28.1%
Average 2pm–4pm +15.0%
Average 4pm–6pm +47.9%
Average 6pm–8pm +32.3%

There’s an increase across the board but look at the increase in the 4pm–6pm time channel specifically… this is when most working people would be commuting home from the office but now they’re already home, and we’re seeing a massive jump in audience in this time channel. Advertisers who shift some spend to this time channel can benefit from increased audiences, and lower CPPs = better media efficiency.

Also, if we look at how specific programme genres are being impacted, as well as with the News24 digital example I shared above, we’re seeing that audiences tuning into news programming on TV have increased by 37%. This shows that South Africans are hungry for news information at the moment!

Main market

What are March’s top 10 shows (averaged data)? First the main market (LSM 4–7):

Top 10 TV shows


LSM 4–7

Uzalo SABC 1 9 486 146
Generations: The Legacy SABC 1 7 829 601
Skeem Saam SABC 1 5 784 067
Scandal 4 547 046
isiZulu News SABC 1 4 351 305
isiXhosa News SABC 1 4 149 079
Muvhango SABC 2 4 099 883
Sgud’snaysi SABC 1 4 097 619
Ngempela SABC 1 3 908 719
Mina Nawe SABC 1 3 623 974

To reinforce my point above about the audience growth for news content, we see isiZulu and isiXhosa news jumping firmly into the top 10 and taking up positions 5 and 6, replacing Muvhango, which is a consistent contender for the top five. Last month, by comparison, isiZulu news ranked no. 12 and isiXhosa news was no. 14. If we compare the average audience the week before and the week after the national disaster was declared, the picture becomes even clearer.

Before disaster

After disaster

% increase

isiZulu news 3 453 848 4 825 005 +39.7%
isiXhosa news 3 004 022 4 809 780 +60.1%

High-income earners

What about the high-income earners? For the longest time, the top three programmes watched by the high-income earners mirrored that of the main market. But last month we saw a change, with the state of the nation (SONA) address coming in at no. 2, and now, for the second month in a row, we have a new entry, which again drives home the point about how important news content has become during this time.

Top 10 TV shows


LSM 8–10

Uzalo SABC 1 1 133 361
SABC News: Covid-19 Lockdown SABC 2 963 753
Skeem Saam SABC 1 887 852
Generations: The Legacy SABC 1 833 858
Scandal 675 857
The Queen Mzansi 652 128
isiZulu News SABC 1 582 617
Our Perfect Wedding Mzansi 548 299
Xhosa News SABC 1 547 326
Imbewu: The Seed 518 027

Covid-19 has become a defining moment of our time and generation, and people want to keep abreast of developments. How long this will last before news fatigue sets in? We can only guess. But, for now, brands that want to capture a lot of eyeballs should consider the news genre an important one.

What’s important, however, is that brands be very careful about their tone during this time. We’ve plenty of examples of brands that are getting it right but others have been accused by consumers of being tone-deaf. Consumers are scared at the moment and, in times like these, we all draw comfort from the things that we trust — and brands are one of those things. But brands which try to exploit the situation to turn a profit are going to be panned by consumers. Brands need to be sensitive; they need to show consumers that they care, that they are here for people in their time of need, and that we are all in this together!

Stay home, stay safe!

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See also


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

This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.

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