Wednesday, August 21, 2013

ANN7: Is South Africa's 3rd 24-hour TV news channel also going to be third-rate? TV critics are rolling their eyes at ANN7's lacking publicity.

Is ANN7 (DStv 405), South Africa's third 24-hour TV news channel launching today also going to be third-rate?

That's what South Africa's TV critics and editors are wondering after the shoddy and basically non-existent publicity and marketing response to TV critics, journalists and editors who specifically cover television in this country.

On the day of its launch on MultiChoice's DStv satellite pay-TV platform, ANN7 - which has been nicknamed "Gupta TV" and "Gupta news" after the Gupta family who are investors and have close links with president Jacob Zuma - is yet to actually issue a kind of schedule or send any kind of news block grid of its programming to TV critics in the country.

Overall ANN7 is yet to reach out to a large number of the country's TV critics, many of whom told TV with Thinus they haven't heard a single word from the 24-hour news channel and its new news studio in Midrand.

Local TV critics, writers and editors responsible for print coverage of television in some of the largest commercial newspapers and magazines in South Africa and even trade publications covering television are yet to receive any publicity material, publicity photos, summaries of shows, programming logos - or even just a basic "hello, we are ANN7".

Set-to-launch TV channels usually issue comprehensive publicity material to press as part of the marketing and publicity machine well before or when a channel starts. Not ANN7 which also rebuffed multiple attempts over the past weeks seeking comment for pre-launch stories, and which didn't respond to basic publicity requests.

"Haven't heard a word!" said one editor specialising in TV coverage when asked if her publication received or heard anything from ANN7.

"Bad, bad, bad PR," quipped another longtime TV critic and editor responsible for vast print TV coverage in a myriad of newspapers and magazines in the country.

A lot of TV critics in South Africa are amused by the "glitzy" launch event for ANN7 scheduled to take place at the Sandton Convention Centre on Wednesday evening. All of them - several with decades long experience of covering television in South Africa and whom TV with Thinus asked, had no idea there would even be or is a launch event for ANN7.

"I have not heard anything about this!" a Johannesburg editor covering television told me and joked: "Maybe only the Guptas are invited?"

The joke is indicative of the big reputation problem ANN7 launches with - of possibly being politically slanted and which is something ANN7 can or could have tried to mitigate somewhat by fostering some kind of relationship with the media whose job it is to cover the TV channel, its content and its faces.

It's interesting that ANN7 - which like any new TV channel will get and can expect a rush of publicity and attention when it starts - decided to forego the opportunity to reach out to TV critics and writers ahead of its launch, to know who they are, and what the press covering the channel might need.

ANN7 doesn't appear to have tried to foster some kind of relationship right out of the gate with journalists who are going to be covering this third TV news channel and it will most likely be to ANN7 detriment.

ANN7 had an opportunity - just like Al Jazeera America which launched in the United States yesterday - to do a media tour on its premises ahead of its launch to press or at the very least to make some kind of connection with stakeholder and pivotal media whose eyes and pens will be trained on ANN7 from now on. Yet ANN7 chose not to do that.

It's not a certainty, but as a TV critic who've covered the South African TV industry for 14 years now, my guess would be that ANN7's climb on South African television in terms of positive perceptions - at least as far as public opinion stories and coverage are concerned - will now be even so much harder for Gupta TV.