The Television Industry Emergency Coalition (TVIEC) issued a strongly worded press release today, 12 August, which sounds the alarm bells regarding the proposal by the SABC to freeze, cancel and delay various local productions in order to cut costs.
As per the SABC’s 2008 Request for Proposals (RFPs) from the independent production sector, the TVIEC has been informed that only 12 out of the 47 productions due to have been incepted in April 2009 will be going ahead this year. The balance will be delayed or cancelled. There will be no 2009 RFPs for production in 2010. Furthermore, numerous existing/renewable contracts have been postponed or deferred, states the TVIEC..
“This appears to be the turn-around plan that has been proposed to the interim board. If implemented, the move will save the SABC an estimated R500-million over the next year. Instead of the SABC creating a viable new business plan, the independent production sector will end up taking the hit for the broadcaster’s internal mismanagement. While the SABC will appear to have a quick turn-around, the impact has deep consequences that the industry, viewers, and next board will have to face:
- Companies will close and many will find themselves in debt and potentially liquidated as they had geared for the anticipated annual work flow. Only a very few big production companies with long running soaps will be able to survive.
- The substantial investment made by SABC in training and developing new entrants in the industry will be lost – people will have to find other employment.
- Key creative talent will migrate and be lost. This is no small issue – producers, writers and directors take years to develop and are pivotal to production success.
- Suppliers and facilities will be forced to sell off equipment – most likely outside of the country – which will leave the local industry with an increasingly smaller pool of suppliers, pushing up prices etcetera.
- The SABC will enter into a schedule of repeats (which has already started) even in prime time slots, thus directly affecting audiences and very likely future revenue. As viewers decrease, so do advertising rates. Surely this must also have serious effect on the SABC meeting its ICASA requirements – but no reliable quota statistics are forthcoming from either the broadcaster or the regulator. Furthermore, the TVIEC is concerned about how and when repeat fees will be paid – given the fact that final payments have still not been made on some of the properties that are now going to be repeated!
- What happens to the SABC staff employed to commission, oversee and work on the many productions that will be cancelled and deferred? Will they be retrenched as part of the cost saving exercise too?”
In addition the TVIEC has been informed that the SABC intends to “bulk commission” local programming to further reduce costs. While we can see that this may provide some savings, we highlight that it will only serve to grow a handful of production companies that have capacity to manage bulk. These are mainly established facility owner/producer companies and will most likely advantage the already advantaged. The TVIEC says that this goes against the very spirit of the SABC’s commitment to diversity and development of the industry – as well as ICASA’s recommendations.
“Bulk commissioning is a dangerous notion of cost savings as it is not applicable to all genres (eg drama or documentary) and will thus start to shape the type of content the SABC puts on air – cheap and studio-based. It is also open to abuse and inappropriate commissioning. We are concerned that there are already discussions on bulk commissioning taking place with large facility/producer companies, and that open and fair tender will by bypassed.
“We believe that an attempt to turn the SABC around by cutting their key product – programming – will cause irreparable damage to the independent production sector and to the SABC’s credibility. In our view this can be likened to an airline making a saving by buying less fuel. Cost savings must be made from areas of fat or that are non-core to the SABC’s business. Programming is at the core of their offering to viewers. We strongly oppose this process.
“We are of the view that the SABC should be looking at a combination of selling off non-core assets, downscaling internal units that have been overstaffed, cutting back on unnecessary spending in non-program areas and applying for funding in the form of a bail-out or a loan whilst implementing long term cost savings within its business models.
“The TVIEC will continue to campaign. We will lobby all stakeholders and mobilize public opinion for a short term policy intervention which will require Treasury to allocate additional budget to the SABC in 2009 so that its anticipated schedule of local content can be produced.”
The TVIEC consists of the IPO (Independent Producers Organization), SASFED (South African Screen Federation), TPA (The Producers Alliance), DFA (Documentary Filmmakers Association), WGSA (Writers Guild of South Africa) and the CWU (Creative Workers Union).