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The dream to broadcast Soweto TV was realised thanks to a case of beers.
align=left”In our first broadcast, we were trying to go on air from the Dobsonville shopping centre but our transmitter was too low,” recalls Deon Botha, who is in charge of marketing and sponsorship for the community television channel.
align=left”We either had to get up on a hill or find scaffolding to raise the transmitter. Murray and Roberts loaned us two metres of scaffolding and all it cost was a case of Windhoek Lager.
align=left”Our next challenge was working without proper communications with the studio crew, so when the producer had difficulties communicating with the cameramen she made a plan and reverted to sending SMS’s to them, with directions such as Ã¢Â€Â˜Camera Two, zoom in’ and so forth. That was the birth of community television.”
align=leftThe first broadcast took place in November 2005, after the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) granted it a 24-day special-events broadcasting licence. The following year, Soweto TV received another licence to broadcast for another month.
align=leftLast year, history was made and Soweto TV, supported by Urban Brew Studios and Sowetan newspaper, became the first community television station in South Africa to receive a one-year broadcasting licence expiring mid-2008.
align=leftIt broadcasts from an old school building in the historic Vilakazi Street, once home to Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, now just up the road from the Mandela Family Museum and around the corner from the Hector Pieterson Memorial.
align=leftAlthough panel and sample sizes do not allow Nielsen Media AIS, South Africa to measure Soweto TV’s viewership, Botha says the Soweto market accounts for retail spend of R10-billion per year and that should be reason enough for advertisers to support the channel.
align=left”This is a maiden-in-waiting and nobody is going to take advantage if you are not helping them to realise the potential of Soweto TV. It’s more than just about the numbers,” says Botha.
align=left”I have made more than 200 presentations to media buyers and media agencies and I say to them: Ã¢Â€Â˜This is not for the faint-hearted, we are the new innovative kids on the block; you need to be excited about this opportunity’.”
align=leftSoweto TV’s advertisers include Jet, Joshua Doore, ABSA, Standard Bank, Mango, Shoprite, Woolworths, Vodacom, MTN, Liberty Life, Dark and Lovely, Revlon and Metropolitan.
align=left”Many advertisers have realised the benefits of being on Soweto TV but there is still a propensity from advertisers comparing us to the traditional channels while you’d think they would be falling over themselves to get onto Soweto TV,” says Botha.
align=left”There is such a big drive for marketing at the point of sale, and we are offering proximity and relevance. For instance, Dark and Lovely is wanting to test a response for a new product in Sowetan boutiques and where else will they be able to reach their market?
align=left”Also, with traditional media you have to book well in advance while we are happy to say to anybody: Ã¢Â€Â˜Tell us what your budget is and what you need and we can negotiate and have you on air in the next week’.”
align=leftResearch company Target Group Index (TGI) has been commissioned to do research on the channel’s popularity.
align=left”However, we do know that we had over 200,000 viewers in our first broadcasting period in 2005,” says Botha.
align=leftNew legislation allowed Soweto TV to apply for its one-year broadcasting licence but Botha said it did not happen without difficulties.
align=leftThe licence application to Icasa can only be made 90 days before the first day of broadcast, which leaves very little time to lure advertisers and create content.
align=leftThe channel is broadcasting on the old Bop TV frequency and broadcasts in and around Soweto. It can also be viewed on DStv channel 360.
align=leftIts current licence runs until the end of June 2008 but the channel has already made another application to Icasa and the “best-case scenario” will be to get another three-year broadcasting licence, in line with community radio stations’ four-year licences, says Botha.
align=leftSoweto TV is a section 21 non-profit company and received financial support of R2-million from local production company Urban Brew last year.
align=leftUrban Brew was involved in selecting 40 interns for training and they are currently working for the community TV channel. Several other Soweto TV employees have already been poached by commercial stations.
align=leftThe community TV channel makes for a great training ground in a growing local TV industry desperate for experienced broadcasters Ã¢Â€Â“ and teaches TV show hosts to be prepared for anything.
align=left”During one of our first broadcasts, we suddenly went off air, only to discover that someone had needed an extension cord and unplugged one of the cords used during the broadcast. He obviously needed it more than we did,” chuckles Botha.
align=leftCurrently, there are five hours of live broadcast on Soweto TV, which is repeated during the day with news updates between each show, broadcast directly from the newsroom of the Sowetan newspaper, another partner of Soweto TV.
align=leftOn Monday, 4 February, Soweto TV aired its first three-minute animation series called “Kiep and Sporro”. It is a social and political satire animation broadcasting every Monday to Friday at 8.55pm.
align=leftKiep Kiep and Sporro are street barbers who pass the time on a street corner in Soweto talking about the topical issue of the day, such as Eskom’s black-outs or Bafana Bafana bowing out of the African Cup of Nations.
align=leftOther programmes include youth shows (covering subjects such as teen sangomas), current affairs, sport, religion, music, the social scene, and a show aimed at career women and entrepreneurs in Soweto.
align=leftThe shows are broadcast in Zulu, English and Sotho. “The community of Soweto is a melting pot of ideas and culture and Soweto TV provides a platform for that voice,” concludes Botha.
Ã¢Â–Â This is an edited version of an article first published in !_LT_EMThe Media!_LT_/EM magazine.