Since South Africa’s most watched programme came to an abrupt end, the jury has been out on who is in the running for top spot. Nikki Temkin looks at who is watching what.
Ever since SABC1’s prime time crown jewel Generations ended abruptly in August last year amid a firestorm of salary arguments, contractual issues, public recriminations and legal threats, the spot for South Africa’s top soapie has been up for grabs. Mfundi Vundla of MMSV Productions, producer of what was for many years, the country’s most watched television programme (about eight million viewers), refused to give in to the demands of the 16 striking Generations actors and gave them the boot. Two months later Vundla launched Generations: The Legacy, which attracted back some of the main Generations actors. But, audiences seems less than thrilled about the phoenix show with the new storyline, which seemed to be in a ratings tailspin and had at one point this year dropped to 3.9 million viewers.
TV’s most watched show used to enjoy unparalleled power, loyalty and support from its viewership. What does this new scenario mean for the TV industry, public broadcaster and its advertisers?
Independent media consultant Britta Reid sheds some light. “Audience share is strongly tied to broadcast footprint, so despite its temporary disappearance from SABC1, Generations – The Legacy has settled back into market dominance. The adult (15+) average AR over the four weeks from 13 April to 17 May 2015 for the main evening broadcast of Generations was 17.3 ARs against the much more modest 3.9 ARs achieved by [e.tv’s] Ashes to Ashes.”
While this may look like a satisfyingly comfortable lead, before Generations came off air in October last year it was achieving ARs of around 24, so a price has been paid for time off air and the loss of familiar actors.
Some other new soapie shows have also been gaining traction, looking to cash in on the millions of viewers who no longer watch the new Generations. Viewers have taken to the third season of SABC1’s Skeem Saam, and there’s also buzz for SABC1’s new telenovela Uzalo and e.tv’s local telenovela Ashes to Ashes in the same 8pm time-slot as Generations – The Legacy with many of the old Generations actors.
Wanele Mngomezulu, head of General Intelligence at SABC explains. “Our core target market LSM 5-7 and LSM 8-10 watch Generations: The Legacy with a 75.2% and 30.7% share of audience respectively; Skeem Saam has increased the audiences in the 6:30pm slot for LSM 5-7 and LSM 8-10 with 68.6% and 22.8% share of audiences respectively. Ashes to Ashes comes in fourth in LSM 5-7 with a 29.2% share of audience. Isidingo [SABC 3] is far ahead of the new e.tv dramas such as Matatiele and Umililo with 23.2% in LSM 5-7 and 22.7% LSM 8-10 share of audience even performing better the key Mzanzi Magic drama Isibaya.”
From a DStv audiences perspective, Isibaya comes in third after Generations and Skeem Saam in both target markets. Uzalo is far ahead of the e.tv dramas in the DStv audiences. Although the Telemundo channel on DStv delivers low audiences, it pulls in a good revenue stream through packages every month.
Cheryl Dube, account manager at Carat says, “Generations: The Legacy continues to do so well despite the fact that it is an entirely new show. The old Generations was such a power house that the true diehard fans of the show have stuck around. Although it has not achieved its former glory of eight million viewers per episode it still remains a favourite, pulling in major advertisers every episode.”
For loyal audiences, their favourite shows are ‘appointment viewing’, people working their time around their favourite shows to make sure that they don’t miss them. Advertisers will always flock to where the numbers are. “Muvhango and Isibaya which also speak to a broad audience but are based on specific cultures; Muvhango on SABC2 is a primarily Venda show while Isibaya on Mzansi Magic revolves around taxi empires. These shows are so popular because they incorporate so many languages and cultures which mirror South African life today,” Dube adds.
Another factor to consider, besides Generations airing on the station with the largest footprint, is that it also enjoys the most favourable time slot when the greatest number of viewers is available. Skeem Skaam still retains some benefit from its months in the Generations slot and ran at an average of 16.8 adult ARs over the same period, e.tv’s top local soap offering remains Scandal, attracting 9.1 ARs, Isidingo on SABC has 3.4 ARs whilst Rhythm City, also on e.tv, pulls in 6 ARs. Dube says, “The shows capturing the biggest audiences are the standard soapie favourites; you’ll find them on every list as well as on every planner’s TV schedule because they deliver the numbers and they perform well across multiple demographic groups.” Most of the soapies that are coming out now like Ashes to Ashes, about a funeral parlour and Umlilo (also on e.tv) about a polygamous family link directly to topical daily issues.
“Ad spend tends to go with audience numbers, so Generations still enjoys solid, if reduced support. Isidingo remains a firm favourite and despite a few changes in its time-slot it still remains tops in terms of revenue and viewership,” says Reid.
e.tv has adjusted its line up to compete with these shows and it seems to be working for them. Matla Ragoasha, head of Publicity at e.tv says, “We are very humbled to have received positive feedback from our viewers for Ashes to Ashes which has been leading conversations in the industry and on social networks since it launched. The authentic, gripping telenovela, which carries edgy storylines, intriguing dialogue and a dynamic cast has secured a loyal viewership and is steadily growing.”
The traditional model of soapie sponsorship doesn’t really hold today. “The original USA soaps were radio programmes aimed at housewives. These were developed during the depression era when the need for cheap programming overcame regulatory reluctance to accept advertising. Initially the sponsors were introduced and a brief spiel made on their behalf, but in time more classic advertising was introduced,” explains Reid. Once again, the lure of cheap programming is appealing and with the growth of content marketing, there could certainly be a way for the soaps to benefit. “It must be remembered, however that advertising regulation has become quite formalised. However sponsorship, classic advertising and product placement is available, and has been well used by some South African marketers such as Standard Bank,” says Reid.
So what then of the niched DStv bouquet Telemundo channel which runs all day? “It can’t be compared with the juggernaut of Generations,” says Reid. The most popular programme on the channel is the melodramatically titled The Impostor and it garners ARS of 0.2 against all adults. Reid explains, “ One of the classic differences between soaps and telenovelas is that the former can run indefinitely, and the latter are created with a fixed number of episodes and a story arc that is defined from the outset with a resolution. Soaps just meander onwards.” While both genres share a taste for the melodramatic, telenovelas are generally written for a broader demographic, and in Spanish countries are often broadcast in primetime.” The viewership of The Imposter reveals that this broader demographic seems to carry through here in South Africa.
Dube explains, “It’s all about diversity. People are always looking for something that hits home, that they can relate to. Essentially soapies are meant to emulate real life because people see themselves and their everyday lives in some of the characters and stories they watch every day.” Seems that the winners will be those who manage to do this across the widest possible demographic. Also, the advent of social social media gives audiences a chance to interact and engage in real time about their favourite shows. Dude concludes, “That’s the power that soapies have — people feel like they are part of the show so the way to win in the soapie world is to stay current and topical and to make sure that people are always talking about it.”
Some statistical information supplied by Initiative Media.
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