by Richard Lord (@rlord182) In March 2020, we saw massive spikes in TV viewership across the country. What with people being forced to stay home during lockdown, time spent sitting in front the TV grew massively. This trend continued in April.

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Nielsen has created a wonderful dashboard that pulls information directly from TAMS and shows us the time spent viewing. Here’s a snapshot of the average daily minutes for the year so far, compared to 2018 and 2019. The spike in daily viewing minutes that you see starting from week 11 is the week that President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster, and the week when people started to seriously take note of the pandemic in South Africa and to stay home.

Nielsen South Africa covid-19 tv viewing up to week 20 2020
Source: Nielsen iPort

We can see that, as lockdown progressed, the daily viewing minutes stabilised. From week 18 (which is when SA moved to lockdown level 4 and some South Africans started to return to work), the average daily minutes have started to decline slightly.

At its peak, South Africans were spending an average of 252 minutes a day in front of the box — that is 4 hours and 12 minutes! This is a 70% increase in daily viewing minutes, compared to before the pandemic. If we look at daytime vs primetime, we can see that increased by 75%, while primetime grew by 67%. With people sitting at home, unusual media consumption patterns are emerging.

The daily breakdown for April looked like this:

Nielsen South Africa covid-19 average time spent viewing April 2020
Source: Nielsen iPort

Top 10: Main market

Moving onto the top ten shows. First, the main market…

Top 10 TV shows


LSM 4–7

Uzalo SABC 1 11 382 535
Generations: The Legacy SABC 1 9 671 777
Skeem Saam SABC 1 8 788 444
isiZulu News SABC 1 6 019 790
isiXhosa News SABC 1 5 967 203
Scandal 5 814 990
Sgud’snaysi SABC 1 5 150 855
President on Covid-19 additional relief SABC 1 5 110 472
Muvhango SABC 2 4 992 173
Rhythym City 4 892 026

The top three haven’t changed. We continue to see Uzalo, Generations, and Skeem Saam at the top of the table. What we do see, however, is a massive jump in the average audience, mirroring the spike we’re seeing in daily viewing minutes:

March 2020

Apr 2020

% Diff

Uzalo 9 486 146 11 382 535 +20%
Generations: The Legacy 7 829 601 9 671 777 +24%
Skeem Saam 5 784 067 8 788 444 +52%

Continuing with last month’s theme of news content being a highly sought-after programme genre, we see the president’s address to the nation about the R500bn relief package appearing at no. 8, and the isiZulu News and isiXhosa News both leapfrogging the long-time fourth place holder, Scandal on, and pushing it down into 6th place. Comparing the month-on-month performance of these two vernacular news broadcasts, we can see just how important news has become:

Feb 2020

Mar 2020

Apr 2020

% Diff Apr on Mar

isiZulu news 3 190 491 4 351 305 6 019 790 +38%
isiXhosa news 3 282 960 4 149 079 5 967 203 +44%

Top 10: High-income

Moving on to the high-income earners.

If you’ve been following this column for the last few months, you’ll have seen how the top three shows watched by the high-income earners has mirrored that of the main market. Uzalo, Generations and Skeem Saam have consistently taken the top three spots for as long as I can remember. Last month, however, we saw one of the president’s lockdown addresses pop up in position two, after Uzalo. Now, in April, we’ve seen yet another change — and this one I find amusing… Let’s look at the top 10 shows watched by people in LSM 8–10.

Top 10 TV shows


LSM 8–10

Contagion SABC 3 1 842 149
Uzalo SABC 1 1 444 715
Skeem Saam SABC 1 1 262 802
Generations SABC 1 1 094 402
The Queen Mzansi Magic 1 058 746
Gomora Mzansi Magic 931 159
isiZulu News SABC 1 752 410
Our Perfect Wedding Mzansi Magic 750 494
isiXhosa News SABC 1 738 144
Scandal 734 854

It’s funny to see how a movie about a mystery virus that overwhelms the world was the no. 1-watched programme by the high-income earners — and this programme was on SABC 3. SABC 3 hasn’t made any list, among any target audience, for a very long time!

Also interesting to note is how’s losing out against the top end as a result of covid-19. As with the main market, where Scandal (usually a dead cert for position 4) was pushed down the list due to news, likewise among the high-income segment, Scandal has dropped all the way down to position 10. Rhythm City, the other favourite usually in the top 10, is now down to no. 17. If we cast our minds back to January of this year (feels like five years ago), had four programmes in the top 10!, however, remains a strong proposition for advertisers wanting to reach both the main and high-income audience segments.

Mzansi Magic continues to do well, with a new show— Gomora, a rags-to-riches telenovela (not the Guardian of the Galaxy) — entering in at no. 6. The old favourites of Our Perfect Wedding (OPW) and The Queen remain firmly in place.

Future of media consumption

As SA starts to enter a new phase in our fight against covid-19, and as more and more South Africans are allowed to go back to work, it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for media consumption* in general, and TV viewing in particular. As shown by the average viewing minutes above, we’re already seeing the impact that level 4 is having. As we move to level 3, will we continue to see people sheltering in place and consuming daytime TV, or will we start return to normal viewing behaviour (whatever normal means)?

*The lockdown and subsequent economic problems that it’s causing has already begun taking its toll on the SA media landscape, with Associated Magazines and Caxton Magazines recently announcing that they’re closing. The realities of the pandemic are now coming closer to home. Covid-19 is having some dramatic effects on the media consumption habits of South Africans, and I personally wouldn’t be surprised to see more sad announcements from media owners before the year is out. But we also know that necessity is the mother of invention and so, on the other side of the coin, I think we’ll see many media owners changing their business models, diversifying and find new ways of making money, and reaching new audiences. Time will tell.

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

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