by Richard Lord (@rlord182) With a slow return to economic activity in South Africa, we’re seeing some of the television-viewing trends that we’ve been tracking over the last few months start to shift downwards.

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In the second half of March 2020 and all through April, because people were sitting at home for much of that, we saw a massive spike in the amount of time people were spending sitting in front of the TV. Last month in May, when South Africa went to level 4 lockdown and some people started returning to work, we started to see a decline in the numbers.

Nielsen South Africa covid-19 tv viewing up to week 51 2020
Source: Nielsen iPort

Using Nielsen’s iPort tool, the average daily minutes being viewed by South Africans started to decrease as soon as level 4 kicked in. There was an 8.6% decrease in time spent viewing in the four weeks after the nation went to level 4. With level 3 now in effect and even more people having potentially gone back to work, it will be interesting to see what the effect on TV viewership patterns will be next month!

Along with the decline in average time spent viewing, audience figures have been dropping off slightly, too. So, let’s have a look at the top 10 shows for May and see what the effects of level 4 had on audiences.

Top 10: Main market

First, the main market…

LSM 4–7



Uzalo SABC 1 11 302 538
Generations: The Legacy SABC 1 9 148 977
Skeem Saam SABC 1 8 914 540
isiZulu News SABC 1 5 824 239
Scandal 5 683 364
isiXhosa News SABC 1 5 398 679
S’gud S’naysi SABC 1 5 141 200
Nyan Nyan SABC 1 5 025 105
Makoti SABC 1 4 844 171
Ngula Yavutivi SABC 2 4 701 754

Unsurprisingly, the top three programmes haven’t changed… and, to be honest, I think it’ll take something much bigger than covid-19 to shift them off the top of the table. But what we’re seeing, and this is true of most of the programmes in the top 10, is a decrease in average audiences vs April. When people were homebound, we saw a big uptick in audience. Now that the lockdown is easing, so, too, are the viewers…

March 2020

Apr 2020

May 2020

% diff May on Apr

Uzalo 9 486 146 11 382 535 11 302 538 -1%
Generations: The Legacy 7 829 601 9 671 777 9 148 977 -5%
Skeem Saam 5 784 067 8 788 444 8 914 540 +1%

We’re seeing this trend in the news as well, which has been increasing in viewership month on month since February. It seems, though, that news fatigue is finally setting in and far fewer people tuned in to watch the news on SABC during May. We also saw isiXhosa News, after a few months of steadily moving up the table, dropping down from no. 5 to no. 6, below’s Scandal.

Feb 2020

Mar 2020

Apr 2020

May 2020

% diff May on Apr

isiZulu news 3 190 491 4 351 305 6 019 790 5 824 239 -3%
isiXhosa news 3 282 960 4 149 079 5 967 203 5 398 679 -10%

Top 10: High-income

But what’s happening with the high-income earners?

Last month, we saw a major change at the top of the table for high-income earners, with the movie Contagion on SABC 3 taking the no. 1 spot. This was short-lived, however, and once again we see Uzalo, Skeem Saam, and Generations back in their familiar positions, reminding us anew that what happens in Sandton isn’t indicative of what happens in the rest of South Africa, and that we can’t let our personal biases and viewership habits dictate our media-buying selections. Anyone who still believes that people in LSM 8–10 only watch Carte Blanche are sorely mistaken.

LSM 8–10



Uzalo SABC 1 1 511 289
Skeem Saam SABC 1 1 359 156
Generations SABC 1 1 087 749
The Queen Mzansi Magic 848 869
Gomora Mzansi Magic 780 004
Scandal 769 425
isiZulu News SABC 1 736 848
Isibaya Mzansi Magic 733 206
The President’s Update on Lockdown SABC 2 713 843
Our Perfect Wedding South Africa Mzansi Magic 651 879

One the one hand, the good news for is that Scandal’s moved back up the table from no. 10 in April to no. 6 in May. This climb in position is also accompanied by an increase in audience of almost 5%! However, still only has one show in the top 10, compared to four programmes back in the beginning of the year.

Mzansi Magic, on the other hand, is entrenching its position as a force in the upper LSMs, matching SABC 1 with four top 10 programmes in May. This is up from three in April, and just two back in January. DStv is clearly getting something right with its storylines!

Out of interest, the best-performing programme on M-Net in May was the action-thriller starring Jean Reno, Cold Blood Legacy, which attracted 251 863 viewers — less than half of Mzansi Magic’s Our Perfect Wedding South Africa, with 651 879 viewers. Carte Blanche, a firm favourite of marketing directors across SA, attracted an average audience of just 190 174 viewers.

Given that last month saw the SABC 3 movie, Contagion, at the top of the list with 1.8m viewers, what was the best-performing programme on SABC 3 in May? It was a nature documentary series called Spy in the Wild and it attracted just 182 275, good enough for a ranking of 105. If there were ever an argument for good, relevant content being able to attract big audiences, this is it!

What will happen in June now that SA has moved to level 3? Only 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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