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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Eskom blackouts and emergency load shedding hit South Africa's TV industry, damages local TV biz and impacts ratings.


Eskom's disastrous blackouts and emergency load shedding is directly damaging South Africa's local television industry.

Eskom's blackouts and rolling nationwide load shedding is not just impacting TV production and broadcasters but also viewership: during blackouts when TV sets go dark, it literally wipes millions of South African TV households off the grid reducing the overall potential TV audience.

That has a debilitating effect on viewership figures and ratings, decreasing the overall available audience.

While South Africa's beleaguered electricity supplier is in crisis mode - although the parastatal is lying and denying a crisis - it's industries like South Africa's TV sector bearing the brunt of the blackout disaster that is being directly, and negatively, impacted by Eskom's chronic electricity shortage.

Eskom's ongoing failure to provide enough electricity - which has seen businesses and ordinary consumer households plunged into darkness - is the result of improper maintenance planning, breakdowns, insufficient maintenance and repair, billions spent and wasted on unfinished power plants years behind schedule, wet coal, a lack of coal, a lack of cash to pay for diesel and waiting too late to order it, as well as a foolish over-reliance on promises and capacity from notoriously unreliable electricity import sources like Cahora Bassa.

Whenever there's blackouts, Eskom is directly responsible for dramatically reducing the size of the available TV audience and that negatively impacts all broadcasters - from community TV stations like SowetoTV to the public broadcaster SABC and e.tv, as well as pay-TV providers like M-Net, MultiChoice's DStv and On Digital Media (ODM) and StarTimes SA's StarSat.

Eskom has now quietly decided to cut the electricity of ordinary consumers - meaning TV households are left without electricity first, instead of large industrial users as before.

Irrespective of where or when Eskom's simultaneous blackouts occur, it's a given that there's tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of TV households where people were watching television and where TV sets were on - eyeballs no longer watching. All of these quickly adds up.

Broadcasters and their sales divisions who upfront sell TV commercials and ad packages against certain guaranteed base viewership figures, end up having to do "make good"  advert timeslots as they're forced to shell out and lose more inventory to make up for the shortfall in promised viewers.

This happens when ad buyers have to get more additional TV commercials and exposure when previously booked and paid ads were seen by less viewers than what was agreed upon due to something like Eskom's load shedding 3B schedule which effectively "deletes" TV households from the rating systems' tallies.

Eskom's power implosion comes at a time during November and December that is premium ad buying season when advertisers and agencies want to use the highly influential medium of television to get their products, services and brands seen - traditionally a lucrative period of the year for broadcasters fattening the cows before the lean months at the beginning of a next year.

Eskom's blackouts prevent DStv subscribers' PVRs from recording Catch Up content - obviously - but also software and system updates. Spare a thought for the hard drives and countless decoders which unexpectedly shut down and must reboot when the power comes back on; the TV sets and sound systems at risk of power surges and DVD players suddenly dead with disks inside.

The two recent Eskom power cuts over weekends cuts into the ratings of SABC1's just restarted Generations which is already facing a ratings challenge and just saw its omnibus return to the schedule - on Saturdays.

Black TV screens will definitely eat into the audience ratings points that the Generations weekend repeat provided to SABC1  -the same for Scandal! on e.tv and Muvhango and 7de Laan on SABC2, and Isidingo and The Bold and the Beautiful on SABC3. They will all rate with lower than usual AR's.

That is just the debilitating impact of Eskom's electricity deficiency on TV viewers and viewership figures.

TV productions and broadcasters, especially those with live show or live audience elements are also impacted.

November and December so far saw the month with the largest number of live TV show finales ever in South African television history as well as the most upfront presentations in one month.

From productions ranging from SA's Got Talent, Idols, The X Factor SA the Channel O Music Video Awards, and Big Brother Africa who all make use of back-up power generation, to broadcasters and TV channels ranging from the SABC, e.tv, Discovery, the BBC and others, worry as audience members struggle to make it to recording venues through traffic gridlock due to dead traffic lights, and as guests arrive late for upfront screenings where advertisers and media are shown 2015 programming which is often the catalyst for ad sales and sponsorships.

Location shoots for shows and commercials - although at its lowest number during December - are impacted, upping production budgets from the smallest to the largest TV producers when blackouts force reshoots and rescheduling.

Several local TV magazine shows already had to adjust shooting schedules and planned inserts where places and backdrops they planned to film at or record interviews, had no electricity since November.

It also negatively impacts turn-around times for delivery. When there's no electricity there's no video editing, no sound editing, and no post production happening until the lights come back on - and a lot of it happens over weekends. Add lost time and overtime pay to production companies' worries.

Movie critics are used to the dark but load shedding has become a problem for film distributors now warning publications and movie critics with an additional note that scheduled film previews won't take place if cinemas in shopping malls suddenly experience blackouts.

Similar to South Africa's recent labirintine and suddenly much more restrictive visa regulations for foreigners - which has already delayed and negatively impacted foreign film productions, TV shows like Homeland and Big Brother Africa and international TV commercials shot here - irregular, unstable and a constantly interrupted electricity supply is giving productions second thoughts on whether they should consider locations other than South Africa.