The lead up to e.tv’s launch of its satellite platform, and four new free-to-air channels, has been “nerve-wracking but great” says the man tasked with ensuring the new broadcasting service makes a seamless debut on South African television.
Monde Twala, group head of e.tv’s channel division, has confirmed the Openview HD platform goes live on 15 October. “It’s great for the country, an opportunity to address a gap in the market and give South Africans some diversity in terms of what’s on TV,” he says.
Aimed mostly at the middle income LSM 4 to 7 market, e.tv has spent time and money researching what this “not fully serviced” market wants to watch. “They are hungry for more content and more channels,” says Twala. “We’ve gone the ‘themed channel’ route, which our research shows is the way to go.
So what will viewers get to see on e.tv’s new channels?
eKasi+ celebrates and inspires authentic township life. The channel features talk shows, dramas, movies, music, gospel, kids entertainment, lifestyle and reality shows. “It will reflect life, cultures and sub cultures of township life,” says Twala. It will be driven by local content from reality shows to township cuisine. We’re even launching a football game show, something that hasn’t been done before.”
eAfrica+ is dedicated to Pan-African entertainment. It showcases original African stories, created by Africans, for Africans. “The content takes in Nollywood productions, those from East and West Africa,” says Twala. “We already have an African footprint, and this channel will extend that. “
Then there’s eMovies+ that will feature broad range of movie genres to ensure that everybody’s needs are catered for. “This will be a 24-hour channel that will cross genres from children’s films to drama and thrillers and action,” Twala says.
For children, there’s eToonz+ “where exciting tales create endless adventures!” Twala says South Africa has never had a dedicated children’s free-to-air channel. “There will be local and international content, and a strong educational element,” he says.
Of course, there’s the question of fast food advertising on children’s television channels, an issue that has aroused debate around the world. What is eToonz position?
“Of course there’s an internal debate about the issue,” says Twala. “We haven’t taken a position yet. Yes, there is a level of social responsibility at play, but there’s also the question of sustainability. e.tv is a purely commercial broadcaster. All our income is derived from advertising. If we don’t have advertising, we don’t deliver television to people. So we’re going to have to manage this issue carefully.”
With so much local content planned for the new channels, there will be more work for production companies that have been hard-hit by the SABC’s cost-saving that saw production of made in South Africa television take a nosedive.
“We will work closely with the production sector,” says Twala. “And yes, it will help boost the sector. But we’re also looking into a shift in business models in terms of how we commission, who we partner with, sponsorships, that kind of thing. These new channels will provide opportunities but at the same time, we have to sustain and maintain a good and healthy industry.”
e.tv’s Openview HD platform requires that viewers invest in a set top box and satellite dish but after that, all content will be free. The cost of the decoder hasn’t been finalised. While it is a high definition platform, viewers who have older televisions will still be able to watch in standard view format.
“We’re not targeting the pay-TV market,” says Twala. “People want diversity and that’s what we’re going to give them. The winner is the consumer, the people who haven’t been able to access television on a satellite platform.”
So who can we expect to see on the channels, if one of e.tv’s objectives is to “inspire local pride and identity” in terms of programming?
Well, Khanyi Mbau – who is probably more used to being the subject of entertainment tabloids than the host of one – has been signed up to host a show on eKasi. Then there’s Masechaba Lekalake, who will host a daily talk show. Twala says a new series called Saints will have viewers held captive by the storylines.
But what of sport? DStv and SABC have that aspect pretty much tied up, apart from wrestling, which is a stable of e.tv’s programming. “Sport is a challenge,” Twala admits. “Especially from a rights perspective. So we’re looking at school sports, for example. Taking a more grassroots approach. Unearthing new talent, looking at development. We’re also going to adopt boxing as a sports code, as it needs a platform. Also martial arts. We’ll deliver sport to people with an appetite for something different.”
While Openview HD is an e.tv initiative, the platform will be open to other broadcasters. The Media Online reported earlier that e.tv was in negotiation with the SABC to host its channels plus its newly launched 24-hour news channel. One thing viewers won’t be getting is eNCA, the popular news channel on DStv.
“We’re in an exciting space,” says Twala. “Challenging, but we’re focused on delivery. Television is changing. The way people watch TV, where they watch it, how they watch it. We will deliver on-air energy of international standard through our refreshed e-channels.”