Once upon a time the TV story was a simple one. Make a TVC, buy space and time, get reach, and sell stuff. But the tale has got way more complicated now, what with OTT and streaming services and social media and consumers firmly in the pound seat.
Television is “the most evolved medium of our time” in terms of hardware and content, believes Fahmeeda Cassim-Surtee, CEO of DStv Media Sales. She adds that “tellyporting” is a reality.
“My view is that the TV landscape will become even more exciting with more choice due to more players in the market,” she says. This will of course increase viewer fragmentation. But Cassim-Surtee believes big TV has to “embrace the change and offer advertisers the opportunity to be a part of content everywhere; our solutions need to be more bespoke for the future”.
Cassim-Surtee wasn’t always on the sales side of the media fence. She wanted to be a medical doctor, but became a sports journalist who took the leap into advertising, taking the skills she’d learnt as a reporter into her new field.
“When you approach a story, you have to do research about the subject, the person or the event that you are covering; these are valuable skills for any business. It teaches you systemic thinking, and I am so grateful for this,” she says. “Being a good journalist means being resourceful and networking with the right people for a story – not dissimilar from getting to key decision makers in the business world.”
The thrill of live events
While she doesn’t miss the life of a journalist, she does miss being 20 years younger! Still, she gets her sports fix from attending matches as well as on the couch. “I love the thrill of live events, the energy felt of being part of the crowd, but I also enjoy sitting back on my couch, and watching the event with all the commentary, technical analysis and everything and more that one can expect from TV coverage,” she says.
She is in awe of sports people, of their discipline and commitment. “My favourites are the ones that still remain humble, even at the highest point of stardom,” she says, counting Novak Djokovic, Mo Salah, Harry Kane, Caster Semenya, Portia Modise and AB de Villiers among them.
Like many South Africans who enjoy good food (particularly braais) ahead of an important game, Cassim-Surtee says she has no traditions, except that it’s easy to eat and there’s lots of it available. It probably included chocolate (no judgement, she laughs!), cranberry juice and cheese, three things she’s never without.
Sport, of course, is DStv’s ace in the hole, with its SuperSport brand one that keeps viewers subscribing to its premium bouquet. Still, it’s tough out there…
“Like most businesses, we are impacted by the tough economic conditions that impact our customers. We are fortunate to have a business that provides great value irrespective of which of our subscription packages you take up. When circumstances change, we offer an opportunity to upgrade for an even greater variety of content,” she explains.
DStv’s level of ad spend
Cassim-Surtee remains “comfortable” with the level of ad spend on DStv, despite the tough market conditions, and “looks forward to stable growth”. Though, monetising OTT services is a challenge. “We are already working closely with the market in offering product placement opportunities within locally-produced content on Showmax – so watch this space,” she says.
It’s been reported MultiChoice will continue to back Showmax, its streaming service, even though it’s not profitable yet. “In terms of the market we love and operate in, there is some infrastructure development underway to make our Showmax and DStv Now offerings even more compelling and I believe both have significant growth potential,” she says.
Cassim-Surtee says DStv is encouraged by the strong track record in an early-stage OTT market. “Almost 10% of the MultiChoice subscriber base is already using our OTT products,” she reveals. “Over the last two years we have seen a 15 times increase in our connected video streams. Showmax offers unmatched award winning local content and a great selection of international content unavailable elsewhere.”
MultiChoice South Africa recently listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. It was a massive success, delivering huge returns – R20 billion in fact – to its 85 000 BEE shareholders via its Phuthuma Nathi vehicle, and debuting with a R44 billion market cap. Cassim-Surtee will only say of the listing: “We are very excited about the opportunities that we have as a listed company and look forward to DStv Media Sales growing from strength to strength.”
The listing was, in anyone’s books, a major achievement. But on the ground, where subscribers live, there have been rumblings about price increases and content repeats, major bugbears for many. Cassim-Surtee says consumers’ opinions are taken into account, but so too do they have to take into account the costs of buying rights and shows, the expense of satellites and distribution equipment, infrastructure development and funding local content production.
Subscriptions and sponsorships
“We understand that times are tough in South Africa, and that our customers are under pressure to make every cent count and that’s why, for example, this year we have managed to keep increases below inflation and in some instances, to no increase at all,” she responds.
Besides traditional ad spend, sponsorships remain an important part of DStv Media Sales’ business, particularly sports sponsorships. “It’s still thriving as brands want to be associated with big events, leagues, and programmes that cover sporting events. It gives brands an association with content that is so well loved.”
And of course, the success of South African versions of international favourites such as MasterChef, Come Dine With Me, and The Bachelor are attractive to brands, she says. “Yes, brands are even more keen for locally-produced format shows, as it allows them an opportunity to have full integration into the content.”
Still, Cassim-Surtee adds, in the current economy, everything is a tough sell. “These sponsorships are priced according to a projection of audiences numbers it will offer, and the value it creates for brands within the show,” she says.
Personally, Cassim-Surtee is a fan of “anything that is edgy and a little crazy or good reality – MasterChef, Ray Donovan, Animal Kingdom, Billions, Luther,” just to name a few.
But TV watching still competes for her attention with reading. “I read anything that will teach me something new – I like business books and autobiographies”. Listening to music is another of her passions. “I have customised playlists – this forms part of my morning routine – everything from Dire Straits to Drake.”
Entertainment is her business, and it’s clear it plays more than a passing role in her personal and business life.
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