During a presentation at the Radio Days Africa 2018 conference, SABC chief operating officer, Chris Maroleng, gave insight into SABC’s turnaround strategy and plan.
He also reflected on his time so far at the broadcaster, what he has been up to and what his focus areas have been.
Painting a sorry picture
Maroleng painted a picture of where the public broadcaster had come from, and what had been happening there before he arrived. He did not hold back, making some bold statements. “The SABC has been marred by significant challenges that have affected its reputation and standing as a public broadcaster of note… It has been characterised by times of deep abuses by those who lead this crucial institution. The damage has been significant and has affected our ability to serve the public of South Africa as mandated,” he said.
“There was severe damage and abuse to the people who form the SABC and this abuse was manifest in the bad industrial relations that characterised the SABC. The manner in which so called leaders interacted with and treated people in the SABC,” he admitted.
“Bad culture, and a bad operating model, underpinned by bad governance,” he summarised.
Despite this background, Maroleng said he still remained excited about the prospects of the public broadcaster.
Bringing the sparkle back
Emerging from an assessment of the SABC’s operating model were 15 key imperatives. From these, an operation plan was developed, which guides every division of the public broadcaster on how to move forward. The plan is called SPARKLE, a seven letter acronym standing for the following:
S – Seamless customer experience
P – Peak commercial performance
A – Amazing audiences through inspiring content
R – Revive hearts and minds
K – Key focus on digital and data
L – Lead through enabling technology
E – Exciting through efficiency and excellence
“This is going to be a long-term process. What we understand is that it’s urgent and we must be seen to be doing stuff and we must show the people of South Africa that we are determined to restore the value of the SABC,” said Maroleng.
Keeping the ship financially afloat
Maroleng admitted funding is biggest challenge facing the SABC. The public broadcaster has a bailout application, currently with Treasury, but Maroleng said it had not been met with the same enthusiasm as in the past. “That requires us to explore other avenues to secure our long term funding… We are not optimistic about the prospects of getting the full guarantee,” he said. When pushed for an answer, he declined to give any further details about these other avenues.
More than 90% of SABC’s funding comes from its commercial exploitation and ventures, not government. In the past financial year, TV license payments generated R1.2 billion in revenue, from a very limited base, for the public broadcaster. “We are seeing an improvement in commercial prospects from our African Language Stations,” stressed Maroleng.
A new app
In the near future the SABC will be launching an app as part of its key focus on digital. With much of its audience migrating to digital platforms, the SABC has seen the signs calling it to boost its digital presence. “It will allow our various audiences to stream both television and radio, interface with the public broadcaster more effectively, provide additional content through a freemium model,” Maroleng revealed. September/October is the anticipated date of launch.
100 days in office
During his presentation, Maroleng reflected on his first 100 days in office. Entering with his “eyes wide open”, this time was spent focusing on executing the SABC’s mandate by focusing on these four key areas:
- Understanding the SABC’s operating model, including processes, systems, products, services, and customer value chain (advertisers, audiences, and TV license payers);
- Addressing the culture at the SABC (the way business is done, and the way people interact with each other), which a 2017 assessment through a culture survey identified as toxic. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast every single day. A failure to address the issues of toxic culture at the SABC, the abuse of our people, would result in any fantastic turnaround strategy ultimately not succeeding,” Maroleng commented.
- Proper governance. “There was bad governance. Those controls and systems that allowed the effective execution of our mandate were not in place, for at least the past decade,” he elaborated.
- Ensuring financial sustainability (minimising costs and ensuring key revenue drivers are profitable). “As I speak to you right now, the SABC is technically insolvent. We are in a deep financial crisis. We struggle from day to day to ensure the crucial aspects used to continue our day to day operations, from a financial perspective, are effectively funded,” said Maroleng.
Grilled during Q&A time
Maroleng faced a grilling from audience members during the question and answer session, but he held up well to the probing, delivering comprehensive answers.
He was asked whether there was any will left at the SABC to turnaround the organisation, to which he stressed that the newly appointed executives (group CEO and CFO) were just as determined as him to turn around the public broadcaster.
Maroleng powerfully concluded, “It is necessary for us as the people of South African to claim back our public broadcaster. If we don’t have the support of the people of South Africa for our turnaround, we will not succeed. But it starts inside.”
Michael Bratt is a multimedia journalist at Wag the Dog, publishers of The Media Online and The Media. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelBratt8