If the SABC doesn’t work, the media advertising industry doesn’t work. This is according to SABC radio sales general manager, Eugene Zwane, who says the public broadcaster remains an essential option for potential advertisers and media agencies.
“When advertisers are looking for scale, they come to us,” says Zwane, adding that the SABC’s wide-ranging mandate as the country’s public broadcaster means that it speaks to most South Africans either via radio or television.
The SABC continues to be a vital source of information for the majority of South Africans. It offers advertisers a platform to access all these people on a scale that commercial media cannot match.
“The SABC is an incredibly important player in the media industry and a lot of marketers are naïve about how the broadcaster’s policy, deadlines, discussions and the value it gives impacts on all other media,” says Gordon Patterson, new business director of Omnicom in South Africa.
According to the 2013 All Media and Products Survey (Amps) figures, SABC1 received the highest market share of 2013’s TV audience, coming in at 79.3%. SABC2 is not far behind with 71.2% of the audience. SABC3 makes up 56.6% and e.tv 66.7%.
This is significantly more than DStv’s 31.4% share and M-Net’s 6.9% of the audience.
The MediaShop’s associate media director, Richard Lord, says advertisers would be foolish to ignore these numbers.
“If you look across a number of target audiences, from LSM one through to 10, by far and away the SABC provides massive numbers of people watching various programmes and listening to various stations,” says Lord.
But the SABC continues to be mired in controversy as it lurches from one scandal to another, the most recent being the resignation of CEO Lulama Mokhobo and public protector Thuli Madonsela’s damning report into maladministration within the organisation.
In early March, the National Treasury said the SABC was expected to report profits of R22.3 million in the financial year ending March 2014, which is a steep fall from the R349 million recorded in the previous year.
The civil society broadcasting NGO SOS Coalition’s Kate Skinner says that the SABC’s reputation has been damaged because it is perceived as a weak brand. As a result, its advertising revenue has been affected.
“It is seen as having political interference and not being credible or balanced, which makes it difficult for the sales and marketing department,” says Skinner.
Lord disagrees, saying that the scandals that have marred the public broadcaster do not change the fact that, as a medium, the SABC remains the powerhouse in South Africa.
“What’s happening at the SABC should have absolutely no bearing on whether or not they are using them as an advertising medium because they provide an audience that is valuable to speak to,” says Lord.
The broadcaster is in an unusual situation in that only 20% of its funding comes from public funding, while advertising comprises the rest. This makes it difficult for the public broadcaster to fulfil its public service mandate if it needs to look after its commercial interests first.
“The SABC can’t air programmes that are not considered attractive to advertisers as it has to please marketers, so a new funding model will ensure that the public broadcaster is not answerable to anyone in particular,” says Skinner.
But media agencies can also play a part in helping the SABC get back on track.
Zwane would like to see the re-establishment of the SABC Media Ad Forum, which saw the SABC sales team meet regularly with media agency leaders like MEC Group CEO Michelle Meyjes and Omnicom’s Patterson, who attended the forum in his previous position as CEO of Starcom MediaVest.
Patterson says that the forum was created because “it was clear that media agencies found that what was going on at the SABC was unacceptable and detrimental”.
The forum served as a platform for constructive engagement between the two parties and gave media agencies a chance to understand the way the SABC works.
“We shared our concerns and offered suggestions to make the SABC more stable, predictable and beneficial,” says Patterson.
The platform, established in 2010, lasted for over a year before it was discontinued when the SABC went through another change of leadership.
The Advertising Media Forum (AMF) still meets with the SABC on a regular basis as a means of keeping up with operations at the public broadcaster.
The AMF informs the SABC about what its clients are looking for so that the broadcaster can gear up internally to deliver the audiences that the AMF promises clients.
“The SABC is one of the biggest media owners in South Africa and the AMF represents organisations that buy 95% of the media space,” says Erica Gunning, MEC Group managing director and AMF chair. “It is important for them to engage with us.”
In fact, it is important for all sides to be engaging to ensure the SABC produces good content, stays afloat and welcomes advertising.
This story was first published in the July 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
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