Cape Town – The SABC will scale back the already reduced international content on its three entertainment TV channels even further in favour of locally produced programming.
The volume and number of international shows and movies – mostly American – on SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 will be reduced even more as the public broadcaster tries to replace foreign programming with more local programming in different languages.
Since 2009 when a cash-flow crisis brought the struggling South African public broadcaster to the brink of financial collapse, the SABC the last seven years has largely given up on trying to bring its audiences contemporary international fare in the form of buzz-carrying hit shows and newer movies.
Two years ago the bulk of the international content that remained – mostly on SABC2 and SABC3 – were pushed to late prime time and late night timeslots on the SABC channels’ schedules.
On SABC2 viewers for instance have to wait until 22:00 and 23:00 to see old series and seasons of international dramas like The 4400, Smallville, The Vampire Diaires and Person of Interest, while the latest season of shows like The Amazing Race that used to be on SABC3 found a new home on pay-TV channels like The Sony Channel (DStv 127).
South African viewers who want to see a selection of the latest quality foreign fare from Britain and America in terms of documentaries, hit series, films and kids’ shows realised that they had to pay for it by becoming subscribers to available pay-TV services like MultiChoice’s DStv.
Now the SABC will cut back its already reduced international content even further.
“There are those international content, within the organisation, we have taken a decision to remove international content and come with local content,” said the SABC’s controversial chief operating officer (COO), Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
'Content impairment costs'
Annually the past few years, and something that’s still ongoing although decreasing, the SABC lose millions of rands in what is referred to as “content impairment costs”.
Part of this content impairment costs are international programming that the public broadcaster must buy in dollar through its acquisitions division, some of which it then fails to schedule and broadcast in time according to screening rights contracts, and then loses.
Buying less international content means a reduction on content impairment costs on the SABC’s balance sheet in favour of local content commissioned by the public broadcaster that it not only owns but can also repeat multiple times and sometimes license to other broadcaster for residual income.
Acquiring less and cutting down on its already reduced international content offering, the danger however is that the SABC’s existing relationship with various international content distributors could possibly deteriorate further.
The international TV content acquisition game is not just about what broadcaster will pay the highest broadcasting licensing fee or the most for a studio content output deal, but also about business relationships, the strength of ongoing existing relationships as well as personal dealmaking.
Hollywood studios and international content distributors will often sell shows and make output deals because of a better existing relationship with a trusted broadcaster that carries more weight.
In 2012 SABC3 for instance announced that it had the international reality show The Impossible, although in fact a better and more trusted relationship with M-Net saw the pay-TV broadcaster secure and acquire the show.
The SABC says it has established “in-house production capabilities” to produce more of the new local content that the public broadcaster wants to put on SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3, as well as some planned new “language-based” TV channels for digital terrestrial television (DTT).
“We are getting rid of RFP book,” said Hlaudi Motsoeneng, explaining that the SABC is getting rid of its Request for Proposals book – the document it used to issue annually to the South African TV production sector specifying what shows it wanted that production companies could then pitch for.
“SABC we dictate for people what kind of content they should pitch which kills the creativity within those individuals. So we are saying allow people to come with their own creativity and their own ideas so that we can compute with other broadcasters,” said Motsoeneng.
The SABC says in a press statement that it “remains committed to serving the millions of South Africans with informative, educational, entertaining and compelling content”.
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