OPINION: I have just spent three weeks in Europe and the United Kingdom and due to the exchange rate of R20 to a single pound sterling, experiencing the beautiful and serene countryside of England is like consensual sex but when the bill comes you feel you’ve been raped, says media junkie Chris Moerdyk who has just returned from abroad with some thoughts about South African TV and newspapers.
All of which has got nothing to do with the subject of media but I am taking every opportunity to get off my chest the manner in which the South African government is stupidly doing all it can to keep the value of the Rand at pathetically low levels, one assumes in the vain hope that it will benefit our exporters.
Being a media junkie, I took every possible opportunity to consume the media of the various countries I visited and was left with the following impressions.
Firstly, in spite of all those complaints about the DStv subscription fees and repeat programmes, we are incredibly lucky in South Africa to have such a wide variety of TV programming, particularly sport. In terms of the price we pay, it’s a bargain.
But, like most countries, South African television suffers from the fact that the global TV production industry is unable to come even close to supplying enough new material to keep TV channels broadcasting new material 24 hours a day every day. It is impossible.
Of course, I say that South Africans are lucky in terms of their TV choices but really this probably only applies to those viewers who are DStv subscribers and who can get e.tv.
Those who rely solely on the SABC, which I believe is about 60% of the TV-watching and radio-listening population of the country, are not so lucky and have to put up with crassly overt propaganda and programming reminiscent of Soviet TV back in the days of the Cold War.
But, when it comes to newspapers, there is no question in my mind that the process of dumbing down content is gathering pace at a frightening rate in South Africa.
Apart from the Mail & Guardian and a few other newspapers, the majority seem to target content at the lowest possible reader IQ.
One assumes that this dumbing down was sparked by the success of the Daily Sun and its quite remarkable sales performance when it launched, providing readers with a low cover price and juicy stories of human depravity and tabloid sensationalism.
One has to ask though, whether this is really what newspaper readers want? Particularly because in the past decade or so newspaper sales have all dropped faster than lead balloons.
Sure, television viewing habits tend to reflect the fact that the primary demand among consumers is fantasy and voyeurism.
The thing is our newspapers can’t seem to make up their minds about whether to go the whole tabloid hog with celebrity scandal, voyeurism and depravity or to concentrate on political shenanigans.
With the result being that there is a curious mixture of politics and voyeurism which blends into a toxic cocktail that really doesn’t look like its working.
There is no doubt in my mind that for newspapers to regain their glory they need to urgently start shifting paradigms.
They need to follow the example of the world of technology and come up with innovative products that consumers will actually consume.
Right now, by comparison, while consumers have moved away from landline phones and typewriters to mobiles and computers, the newspaper industry is still stuck in an era of handwriting and posting letters.
The media consumption habits of consumers in the countries I visited are pretty much the same as they are here in South Africa.
Trouble is our mass media, particularly newspapers and yes, even TV, seem just too terrified to give consumers what they so very clearly want.
There is an old marketing adage about success lying in, “not what I want to say but what my customers want to hear”.
Successful brands have all adopted this approach.
Unfortunately, our mass media still insist on telling consumers what editors and programmers want to say.
Follow Chris Moerdyk @chrismoerdyk.
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