While 2016 represented the absolute worst year ever in South Africa’s 40-year old TV history, it is impossible for execs to simply buy a sporty red Ferrari and speed away from the multiple midlife crises in 2016 that engulfed the country’s TV biz.
With 2016 marred by massive TV biz instability in South Africa, here’s the sobering news: Strap in tightly since the shocking upheaval, industry disruption and destructive headwinds are going to get worse in 2017, directly impacting on everyone working in television. Besides the damage caused by wild rand depreciation and fluctuations, SA’s TV biz was pounded by the debilitating and badly informed decisions taken by controversial SABC boss, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who has wreaked havoc at the public broadcaster.
Then there was the inaction and industry damaging decisions from the inept minister of communications, Faith Muthambi, specifically around the SABC and the country’s long-delayed and utterly bungled process of digital migration from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting.
Not until either are removed or leave will the haemorrhaging stop.
While TV in South Africa turned 40 and pay-TV broadcaster M-Net turned 30 in 2016, there was precious little to celebrate as the entire industry was rattled by the number of shocking staff and executive firings and retrenchments, that crossed the board from bloodletting and staff intimidation at the SABC, to also e.tv and ANN7.
Shaken and stirred at the SABC
Shaken to its core and mired in scandal, bad decisions, growing losses and plummeting ratings, a reckoning is due for the SABC, Motsoeneng, and the broadcaster’s recalcitrant and unstable top executives.
Viciously breaking down its programming commissioning structure and lurching from crisis to crisis ranging from misguided editorial news decisions and censorship issues, to purging basically all experienced TV execs, the SABC simply cannot continue in 2017 as it has for the past few years. Nobody can predict what will happen at Fawlty Towers, but it’s likely to get even worse before it gets better.
With SABC TV now almost resembling a pyramid scheme (can a multi-mullion rand black mermaid fantasy drama really lure viewers?) advertisers and ad buyers need to think more carefully than ever on where to place their money – especially with SABC2 and SABC3 ratings spiralling downwards. The misguided and unsustainable decision of 80% local content on SABC3 will very likely come to an end in 2017 – the SABC simply doesn’t have the money.
From bulk to niche audiences
Advertisers and agencies will also have to deal with a paradigm shift – away from bulk audiences to working even harder for every cent they can find, courting increasingly niche audiences as ratings splinter in ongoing channel fragmentation and viewing options keep growing.
Video on demand (VOD) uptake in 2017 will continue to grow but from a very small base will remain very marginal players. Netflix, ShowMax and OnTAPtv won’t up-end the existing pay-TV linear TV watching experience anytime soon while broadband penetration remains low and data costs expensive.
eMedia Investments’ free-to-air OpenView HD from Platco Digital keeps growing. With STB sales that finally pushed through the 500 000 mark, it will be a tough stretch but possible that OVHD could reach 750 000 in 2017 – the level where Nielsen starts to rate its channel’s viewership and advertisers finally get ratings information.
Look out for a lot more, short-run, mostly monthly, thematic pop-up channels on DStv like a James Bond channel and others on which advertisers can splurge with bursts, reaching highly targeted pay-TV audiences.
Wedding reality TV will be 2017’s very big trend and dominating theme with multiple channels from kykNET to SABC1, M-Net and Lifetime SA all doing new wedding shows following Mzansi Magic’s Our Perfect Wedding lead.
Big TV questions: Will e.tv be allowed to dump primetime TV news? Is the government’s Liquor Amendment Bill going to become law wiping hundreds of millions of rands in ad revenue from the SABC, e.tv and pay-TV channel’s revenue sheets?
Will Motsoeneng be removed from the SABC, and what will the Public Protector’s next investigation into the SABC reveal? Will comedian Trevor Noah finally host the MTV Africa Music Awards 2017? What will be the outcome of the broadcasting regulator Icasa investigation into the competitiveness of the pay-TV sector? I can’t wait to find out.