That the SABC is undergoing major shifts following years of mismanagement is no secret. But SABC TV has a plan to capitalise on its assets, and futureproof the broadcaster.
‘The SABC is in financial crisis’
‘The public broadcaster is not able to meet its obligations’
‘Production companies demand ministerial intervention in ensuring payment’
The reason for the profound concern, which is shared by all at the public broadcaster, about the future is not that the SABC is too big to fail, but if it does fail it will cause immeasurable and irreparable damage to South Africa’s creative and entertainment industries. As such, the SABC has a responsibility to ensure not only the survival of the public broadcaster, but that it flourishes.
In the current environment, where headlines such as the aforementioned have become all too common, it is easy to become overwhelmed and forget that despite all the issues routinely reported on, the SABC remains the most significant player in the South African audio and video entertainment space, no matter which matrix is used to measure it.
In television, for example, the SABC commands an almost 50% share of the all-adult prime time viewership, with SABC 1 exceeding 30%. The SABC still spends more money on the acquisition of original content across all genres than any other South African operator and continues to boast an excellent record of introducing new and exciting content.
But we cannot rest on our laurels. While SABC 2’s audiences have stabilised after experiencing a long, gradual dip, SABC 3 has yet to recover from the strategy change introduced at huge cost in 2016 and then subsequently reversed. [Former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng ordered an 80% local content quota for SABC 3 in May 2016, which had a devastating effect on audiences and advertising. ~ Editor]
Even more important, is that as we go into 2019, the speed of change in the ever-evolving media and entertainment sector will only accelerate, particularly as analogue broadcasting is progressively phased out and digital-based alternatives, whether by satellite delivery or terrestrial networks, become available.
Bandwidth will become cheaper, as a result of regulatory pressure and due to increased availability, following digital migration and analogue switch-off. This means non-linear services will move from being the preserve of the top SEM groups and become increasingly democratised in terms of all levels of the economy gaining access. The SABC will need to play in this space, too.
The need to change
From a SABC TV point of view, in order to remain the nation’s first choice, we will need to change – but this change will be built upon what we do best and that’s to acquire great content, aggregate it, distribute it and build the brands that South Africans love. The quality of our content is defined by a number of criteria, but SABC TV prides itself on telling South African stories and giving South Africans the space to tell their own stories, whether through our award-winning dramas, the nightly news bulletins, the programming targeted at tots and tweens, or unparalleled coverage of events of national importance.
We will need to continue doing this, but we also need to change the way we do business to meet the challenges of the new environment and the challenges that the current financial status of the SABC poses.
We need to prioritise making our content available everywhere, all the time and in multiple formats. Through partnerships, we will ensure that our current footprint in the OTT space is expanded and that our audiences have more opportunities to interact with our content and through it, via a greater emphasis on social media outreach.
The emphasis on partnerships will also impact on the way we acquire content, moving away from 100% commissioning to a variety of pre-sale licencing and other arrangements whereby producers will have more opportunities to monetise their content downstream.
In the television space, our offering will continue to be built around the strength of the current free-to-air channels; the priority remains the consolidation of SABC 1 and the rebuilding of SABC 2 and SABC 3. This base is what we will build our DTT offering around, and we will be expanding on the additional incentive channels, namely the SABC News channel, SABC Parliamentary channel and SABC Sport Pop-up channel that are currently broadcasting.
The jewel in the crown
SABC 1 is the jewel in the crown, with an audience share that is the envy of just about every broadcaster in the world. It is built on the basis of stability that a strong brand, aligned to its audience brings. SABC 1 serves a diverse and progressive youthful audience by introducing new storytelling standards and creative vocabulary. In the year ahead, the channel will be entrenched as the industry trailblazer, meeting audience expectations and enhancing the value proposition.
In the new year, SABC 2 will entrench its unique positioning as South Africa’s family channel with an emphasis on nation building and social cohesion. The South African family – in all its forms – gives birth to a community, society and ultimately the nation. The channel will continue to target its key audiences, delivering against their content and language needs.
Positive values are the cornerstone of SABC 2 and the following pillars guide our editorial line: family, education, health, identity, jobs/careers and the world beyond South Africa’s borders, with a particular focus on the African continent. In this context, the channel will be bringing new music programmes, refreshing some of the key properties and re-imagining content, especially that which targets the little ones.
Investing in high-value content
SABC 3 will invest in high-value content and this will be pitched to maximise the non-linear opportunities that are available. As is critical with all three channels, meeting the identified audience needs will be the primary driver of content decision-making. In this changing environment that we operate in, audiences are restless and we will tap into that.
A public service ethos continues to permeate content, so while non-scripted reality will have an emotional impact on viewers, it will also offer value, and magazine programmes will continue to deliver self-improving and stimulating programming. SABC 3 talk shows will be guided by social integration and forward thinking. Some exciting partnerships are lined up to deliver world-class content for tween audiences. Great dramas are planned that package niched stories for mainstream consumption.
The challenges the SABC faces are severe and the consequences, if we do not meet and overcome these challenges, are severe. In the background there are numerous issues that need to be fixed, particularly around funding models and the nature of a public service mandate in a converged media and entertainment environment.
But if the SABC is to have a fighting chance, the core business of content, specifically public service content that entertains, informs and educates, needs to be put at the centre of our activities. Through the acquisition, aggregation and distribution of content in a manner that meets our audiences’ requirements anytime and anywhere, the SABC will have the basis to meet the challenges of the future.
Without this, dolololo.
Nomsa Philiso is head of SABC TV. She is responsible for the acquisition of content ad channel management for the SABC TV Channels, 1, 2, 3 and Encore.