In the past year South Africa’s major broadcasters have diversified their local content offering and have delivered some progressively engaging narratives and quality productions to audiences. With content choice driven more and more by the viewer and a local content quota review that is currently underway, commissioning strategies are adjusting to what the market demands: stories that are culturally rich; that present in different genres; and that are reflective of South African realities.
Culture is the cornerstone
Free-to-air commercial broadcaster e.tv has made huge gains in its local content offering with newly launched shows like Gold Diggers, Umlilo and Matatiele earning quick audience favour. This, according to group head of channels Monde Twala, is a reaction to the market.
“People are looking for African sentiment. ‘I want content in my language, I want content that reflects who I am and where I come from.’ South Africa is dynamic – we have nine different provinces with different cultures, sub-cultures, languages and traditional backgrounds. It’s a rich source of content and ideas.”
Over 20 new shows for M-Net’s local entertainment channels were commissioned in 2015 and Nkateko Mabaso, channel director of Mzansi channels at M-Net, also believes success is driven by authenticity. “Local audiences react to big ideas told simplistically while the unscripted formats are driven by reflecting local audiences’ current reality, whether it is weddings, dating or solving family and societal issues,” he explains.
The launch of shows such as Uzalo, which premiered on SABC 1 in February 2015 and attracted five million viewers, has contributed to audience growth for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago adds that positioning has played a significant role in achieving positive audience reception: “The implementation of a network scheduling strategy has been key in the three channels offering relevant content to viewers as and when they want to see it.”
Some are of the opinion that there is still a great deal of transformative work to be done in serving local audiences a plurality and diversity of views. Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi, a coordinator at the SOS: Support Public Broadcasting coalition, says that while commercial operators are providing local content which speaks to the realities of the black majority of South Africa, there is far more to be done, especially on the part of the national broadcaster:
“It is the SABC that should be innovating in this way, and defining the direction South African content goes by commissioning more content, across multiple genres (particularly factual content and dramas), experimenting more and pushing the envelope.”
In addition, Phamodi believes the recent MultiChoice deal, which granted the pay TV operator exclusive access to SABC archives, goes against creating a truly competitive content production and distribution sector. “Having taken control of SABC’s archives, MultiChoice Africa has locked out all future broadcasters from accessing the single largest local content catalogue in the country,” he explains. “The net effect of this is that there are only two real centres of power that control the nature of the content produced for the market, who produces it, and at what cost.”
Budget balancing act
Broadcasters have stated that production quality sits high on their priority list – but, with local content budgets remaining consistent, how does this marry to the increasing demand for more shows and more content? For e.tv, which relies solely on advertising revenue, it’s a constant managing of risk and investing in partnerships which has allowed them to produce shows of high production value. “By engaging more with the production sector, we are getting the benefits in terms of value versus cost, and sustainability in terms of quality. We also take a few calculated risks, working with new producers who want to do business with us and who are putting value on the table.”
Karen Meiring, director of M-Net’s Afrikaans-language channel kykNET, says that the channels’ budget has consistently grown with audiences over the past five years, but adds: “We have to always operate on the principle of taking affordability and viability into account, while still giving our viewers the value proposition that they expect from us as a pay TV operator.”
The SABC recently announced a R600 million budget set aside for local content, which is just below the previous years’ R621 million allocation. M-Net’s local content budget has also ‘remained stable’, according to Gideon Khobane, channel director of M-Net-branded channels, who adds: “For M-Net 101, quality takes priority over quantity.” In the past year M-Net 101 commissioned a new season of Idols SA and Carte Blanche, as well as the first season of Power Couple SA and documentary offering My Story.
Up the ante
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is reviewing local content quotas as the country moves towards a multichannel digital environment. Currently the quotas are set at 55% content for the national broadcaster, 35% content for FTA commercial broadcasters and 10% of acquisitions for satellite subscription broadcasters. Concerns have been raised by broadcasters over their financial capacity to meet these requirements in a DTT environment. Should these quotas increase, FTA broadcasters will be placed under additional financial pressure.
“There is no relationship between having more local content and more advertising revenue – those will never go hand in hand,” comments Twala. “I think we need to look at what the impact of that would be so that we create a sustainable industry across the board. The intent is fantastic and probably welcome because that’s what the market demands, but it needs careful financial analysis.”
But Phamodi says that content quotas are crucial in ensuring support and investment in South Africa’s cultural production and in some cases, need to be increased. He remarks: “The use of our airwaves, which are a public utility, need to principally benefit us, and only after that can profit-making be considered. Instead, we’re being flooded with international content from the global north that has little to no resonance or impact on the lives of the South African people.”