The History of Cape Town TV
Snakes & Ladders – the Cape Town TV story
In 2004 ICASA passes the first regulations to govern community TV in South Africa. Karen Thorne, then Director of the Arts and Media Access Centre (formerly CAP) approached Worker’s World Media Productions (WWMP), Bush Radio, the Community Video Education Trust (CVET) and the Public Eye arts organization with a proposal to work together to set up a community TV channel in Cape Town.
A Steering Committee is established to drive the process which includes widespread civil society consultations to assess community needs and gain public support for the channel.
The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) is commissioned to undertake research which results in the publication of a book on community television. This research assists in the development of a business plan for the station. (Click on the pic to go to the download site).
In July 2006 some 182 civil society organisations come together at the founding AGM to launch the Cape Town Community TV Collective, trading as CTV. The stated objectives are to “Provide access to channels of communication and information for the Cape Town community through the production and acquisition of relevant programming by and for the community” (Section 2, CTV Constitution).
In 2007 a core group of volunteers sets up a temporary base in the WWMP offices at Community House in Woodstock. A small grant from the SAMMWU union enables the budding organisation to appoint an intern assistant while a team of volunteers worked to secure funding, gather content and apply for a broadcast license.
In mid-2008 CTV secures a grant from the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) and a one-year community TV license from ICASA.
The CTV Board appoint senior staff and a team moves into a small office generously provided free-of-charge by the AFDA film school in Observatory. The room was both an office and the Final Control Centre controlling broadcast operations. A microwave transmitter in a back room sent the broadcast signal to an analogue transmitter on Tygerberg mountain.
CTV commences broadcasting on 1 September 2008 with the transmission of a PowerPoint presentation and programming ripped from DVDs collected over the previous months. A local company, Isenzo, donated a PC-based digital signage system which we used to schedule and play out programmes. Within six months of going on-air CTV was broadcasting 24/7.
AFDA allowed us to use its studio and equipment to record our programmes. Here we produced shows such as Open Studio, Worker’s World and CTV News. Eventually we were able to move our FCC into a back room in the studio building, which enabled us to broadcast shows live-to-air.
The tech team was led by the late Siyabulela Booi (centre) who had the talent of always ‘making a plan’ to get things done on minimal budget and facilities.
Community TV stations were paying commercial rates to Sentech for signal distributions despite the provision in the Electronic Communications Act which obliges Sentech to introduce a preferential tariff for non-profits.
On 28 September 2009 CTV fell into arrears and was taken off air for 10 days until we were able to raise sufficient funding to pay the fees. In November 2009 CTV organized a public march on Parliament to demand that the tariffs be reduced or done away with.
In November 2011 ICASA held a hearing on transmission tariffs and Sentech was instructed to reduce its tariffs from R67,000 per month to R40,000 per month.
In 2008 we launched Open Studio, a public access show that allows members of the community to present their own talk shows. Open Studio later develops into the Production Development Programme (PDP) of today.
In 2009 the station was rebranded with the assistance of the Red and Yellow School of Advertising. The new corporate identity was implemented across the channel and the station hosted a big party at AFDA to celebrate the new brand.
In late 2010 CTV moved into “The White House”, a beautiful Cape Dutch building situated in the heart of Observatory. Over the following two years CTV secured additional space and expanded its operations to include two TV studios in an adjacent building.
In 2011 we launched our flagship youth show, EKSÊ, which is still on air today. It’s an ‘edutainment’ style show produced by and for youth, with each episode focused on a particular theme such as environment, entrepreneurship, health, careers, etc.
The show also allows up-and-coming musicians and performers to showcase their talents and boost their careers. It is produced live-to-air every weekday afternoon.
In July 2011 ICASA turned down our request to renew CTV’s one-year license as a result of “lack of available of frequency” due to the launch of the test phase of Digital Terrestrial Transmission (DTT) broadcasting. CTV kicked up a media storm and ICASA relented and allocated a lower frequency.
In November 2011, ICASA issued seven-year class licenses to all community TV stations.
In March 2012 Sentech moved Cape Town TV from channel 38 to channel 67 of the UHF spectrum (again due to DTT). Unbeknown to us, this high frequency does not travel well over distance and would require CTV’s 1,4 million viewers to invest in wide-band outdoor aerials to pick up our signal. CTV’s viewership drops to 80,000 overnight.
It took six months for the channel’s viewership to climb back up to 500,000. It floundered around this number for two years while we put pressure on ICASA to allocate a lower frequency. Eventually ICASA granted us a frequency being vacated by M-Net and we occupy channel 32 from late 2013.
In October 2013 Cape Town TV launched on DStv which expands the channel’s reach to a national level and ultimately pushes CTV’s viewership up to 2,5 million monthly views.
In September 2014 CTV entered into a partnership with Mediamark, a Johannesburg-based advertising sales house, and advertising sales increased significantly.
In 2015 CTV secured funding from the Open Society Foundation to launch a daily news service, which has been running ever since.
In 2016/7 we embarked on a community-driven process to amend the genre quotas in CTV’s license conditions to be more in line with the content we are able to garner. At the same time we applied for a renewal of our seven-year license, which was approved in September 2017.
In 2016/7 the Final Control Centre (FCC) from which we broadcast relocates from the AFDA campus to the CTV premises in Observatory Industrial Park and we install fibre lines for signal transmission and internet connectivity for the office.
In 2017 Multichoice donates some used equipment to bolster CTV’s studio and control room and installs a playout system. CTV starts broadcasting in a 16/9 PAL widescreen format.
In July 2018, CTV is able to comply with onerous advertising industry standards and is listed on Telmar, a computerised system which provides media planning and data analytic services to advertising and media organisations. CTV takes over regional sales from Mediamark and beefs up the capacity of its internal Sales Department.
In June 2018 CTV launches an NQF Level 4 Learnership in Film and Television Production with funding from the MICT Seta and trains 20 unemployed youth to work as studio crew.
In 2019 and again in 2020, Multichoice undertakes major upgrades of CTV’s studios and FCC which helps with some of the channel’s ongoing technical challenges.
The Production Development Programme (PDP) is launched in 2019 to formalize the station’s commissioning processes through which members of the community are invited to partner with the channel to produce content that meets the needs of the community we serve.
The PDP is aimed at identifying and developing individuals or organisations who wish to harness the powerful platform of television to drive positive social change. For more information see the Programming page.
In 2020 CTV appoints Viacom – now Paramount – to handle advertising agency sales. This increases CTV’s advertising revenue and places the station on a more secure financial footing.
In 2020 CTV secures multi-year funding from the Ford Foundation for the work the channel is doing to advance the struggle against gender-based violence and in particular, to fund production of The Womxn Show. This funding allows the station to invest in marketing and other areas that have been neglected for many years due to underfunding.
In September 2021 CTV launches a video-on-demand platform with six content channels, making the station’s programming available on all devices, anywhere, anytime. This will ultimately grow to nine channels as we expand our content offering. The online platform can be found at https://capetowntv.net.
As we make the transition to digital broadcasting we are determined to retain a bottom-up approach that involves community members in content creation. This initiated the rebranding and repositioning of CTV in 2022 to “Cape Town TV” with the tagline “For You, By You”, and a new brand design and logo.
Watch this time-lapse of the brand transformation on our office building.
In October 2022 Cape Town TV launched on Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) and on Sentech’s FreeVision satellite service which reaches audiences across South Africa with an encoded signal.
In 2022, free-to-air broadcasters were threatened by the suddenly-announced switch-off of analogue television. The announcement in October 2022 would have allowed only five months for viewers to invest in digital reception equipment. This would have affected 5.7 million households and resulted in the potential loss of up to 40% of CTV viewers.
Through a combination of legal action by e-Media, the SOS Campaign and Media Monitoring Adrica, media coverage and a fierce advocacy campaign waged by the SaveFreeTV coalition the ASO was delayed to December 2024.
In January 2023, faced with the increasing threat of load-shedding, Multichoice installed an inverter to power the FCC and production studios. In May 2023 we installed solar panels to secure transmission during power outages.
This doesn’t take us off the grid entirely, but it does buffer the station against load-shedding outages and enables it to stay on air.
2024 will see the end of analogue TV broadcasting in South Africa, as all of the analogue transmitters will be switched off by the end of December. If you want to keep on watching TV after this date, you will need digital equipment – digital TV sets and decoders – before the Analogue Switch-off (ASO).
Cape Town TV will embark on a major public awareness campaign to ensure that all TV viewers are aware of the deadline as well as informing people about how to get digital TV devices.
For more information see our web page on DTT.