Building a case for court TV


In a ground-breaking move on 25 February 2014, the High Court in Pretoria
granted permission for segments of the high-profile Oscar Pistorius trial to be
broadcast live on television in South Africa. The ruling meant that Multichoice,
the operator for DStv, would be able to add live footage to their first 24-hour
pop-up channel: The Oscar Pistorius Trial: A Carte Blanche Channel,
which features on DStv channel 199.

There is no doubt that a subject creating such international talk-ability would
make for riveting TV but, as is the case with many pilot projects, a number of
unknowns hung in the air as to how receptive audiences would be to the new
offering: what kind of sustainability a pop-up channel could offer; and how social
media platforms could be leveraged to offer audiences a fully integrated and
interactive experience.

Despite the channel accumulating impressive ratings and a high number of
viewers in what is considered to be a tricky timeslot, a lack of participation from
advertisers makes measuring the success of the Oscar Pistorius channel, difficult
to judge on first appearances.

Reasonable doubt

Ilsa Grabe, Business Unit Head and Media Manager for full service media agency
Carat SA, says that advertising on televised trials can be quite a moral
conversation for brands, “Because it’s real-life drama where someone actually
lost a life, you put your brand at risk. A lot of advertisers are still very nervous
about positioning themselves on this platform because the content is sensitive.
Sometimes for an advertiser, it may come across as supporting media
sensationalism, or facilitating the fact that that this kind of content can be on

This sentiment is shared by Aletta Alberts, Head of Content at pay-TV operator
Multichoice, who believes many brands feel that advertising on the channel
might be in bad taste. She adds that DStv’s business model does not run on
advertising alone and that the pop-up channel has brought a huge amount of
value to subscribers.

Besides driving local premium subscriptions and featuring on DStv’s mobile
platform, the channel was streamed online which resulted in hundreds of
thousands of international paid-for subscriptions. It has also garnered a
considerable amount of press and international exposure for Multichoice.

Alberts explains: “If you look at the publicity Multichoice has had in connection
with the Oscar Pistorius trial, it’s something like 5 billion rands worth of
exposure. The amount of coverage has been amazing, we’ve had over 50
international interviews with some articles calling it “ground-breaking’. Based on
this, the UK may start allowing cameras into court… at the time when we
presented the idea there was only a 50/50 chance we would get it.’

Grabe adds that a channel aligned with content as unpredictable as that of a
trial, could add to advertisers’ hesitation. “What we saw was viewership dipping
in and out, for example when Oscar was on the stand it was at an absolute
peak. But advertisers like to use historical data to forecast what’s happening,
and with court TV it’s very unpredictable. It will be interesting to see what
opportunities present themselves when we begin to trade programmatically on
television platforms.’

Ruling in favour of integration

The relationship between social media engagement and ratings is an aspect
which Alberts is keen to explore with the Oscar Pistorius channel, and is
something that will be looked at closely when the trial commences and the
channel “pops down’ permanently.

“I’m fascinated by how social media plays to ratings. We wanted to engage with
viewers across all the available social media platforms, not just on Facebook
(Oscar Trial 199) and Twitter (@OscarTrial199) but on WeChat (OscarTrial199)
and Instagram (@OscarTrial199) as well. The result has been a complete
phenomenon – we were standing at 90 000 tweets in the first week the channel
popped up and we are now at over 250 000 engagements on Twitter alone,’
says Alberts.

According to Alberts, a big part of this interaction revolves around education. A
number of polls feature on the Oscar Pistorius Channel Facebook page and
there is a big initiative to help followers learn and understand the justice system
better. Emma Sadlier, a media law consultant who features on the channel,
often responds to and weighs in on questions tweeted in by viewers.

Cross-examining the future of content

Grabe says that it has become increasingly difficult to provide content that
draws eyeballs in. “Everybody has ADD when it comes to content nowadays, it’s
not like we rush home to watch our favourite soapies or a programme that
starts at a certain time. If I want to watch Big Bang Theory I can record it on my
DStv Explorer or download it online. It’s really up to broadcasters to keep their
fingers on the pulse as to what’s hot or as to how they can keep people
watching because that’s what advertisers need ultimately.

What’s happening now is audience fragmentation. Previously there were a
handful of channels that got all the eyeballs you needed, now especially with
the choice offered to DStv premium subscribers, it’s like Christmas. Audiences
are even more fragmented and advertisers need to be even more

Alberts believes that this is exactly why it is important for a broadcaster like
MultiChoice to explore pop-up channels and content that requires a live
engagement. “Audiences will fragment and in the future, linear TV will
predominantly consist of sport and reality entertainment channels because they
offer a live element that people want to be part of. Because it’s live, they can’t
be part of that conversation unless they are watching.

“Looking forward, these types of events will keep our audiences subscribing
because in ten years content will be available everywhere. Even if people can’t
watch, social media will be able to give people minute-by-minute information and
if they aren’t informed they won’t be able to take part in the conversation.’


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