Sunday, December 14, 2014

How SABC1 'broke' The X Factor South Africa; why the disappointing reality talent show failed to go big and capture the imagination - and viewers.

Several factors are to blame for the sadly uneventful, forgettable, buzzless, deflated, and frankly often embarrassing The X Factor South Africa - most of which is actually SABC1's fault.

The SABC, SABC1, and sponsor Vodacom, failed to properly invest, capitalise and maximise on a new TV show, shamelessly uncaringly diluting something right from the very beginning and all the way through which could have been amazing - instead handicapping it in almost every way possible to limp along to a gone and forgotten first season.

Will The X Factor South Africa be back? Who knows? Who cares? Certainly not viewers.

With a paltry 1.9 million who tuned in to the weekly show, and then around 2.6 million for the results show once that started, The X Factor SA was never - although it could and should have been - a top 10 show for SABC1.

TV channels want and need hits. When a live weekly show like The X Factor South Africa (which is expensive to produce and is supposed to be tentpole event television) neither generates the buzz and critical appeal and gets outdrawn in the ratings by something like Selimathunzi which costs less to produce  (or even the repeat of something like Skwizas on SABC2) it's not impossible that it would be back.

It just makes a second season unlikely and more difficult to justify on something like a public broadcaster like SABC1.

A lot of things went completely wrong with The X Factor South Africa's first (and who knows, only?) season of the international format show on SABC1 or South African television. (Perhaps another non-SABC channel could pick up or take over the show and give it the care, attention and exposure it deserves or could actually get?)

The faults and mistakes for The X Factor South Africa's failure to ignite buzz and South African viewers are numerous; at the end it all boils down to the SABC and SABC1's apparent lack of dedicated hands-on involvement and constant push to look at, support, work on and make the Rapid Blue produced show seem, and be, larger than life.

What must have been a hard-sourced, specially recorded message from Simon Cowell right at the beginning, before The X Factor SA had even started, calling South Africans to enter, held so much promise.

Instead the show never got the start nor the run it deserved.

Instead what could have been the year's biggest reality show in terms of viewer buzz, reams of press coverage, and a must-see show unearthing a South African Susan Boyle or Paul Potts everybody couldn't stop talking about,  was allowed to wilt right from the beginning into an "also-ran"; lost amidst the bigger-buzz and over-supply of other reality and talent-seeking TV competitions.

After the show acquisition was announced - also only happening after word leaked that The X Factor SA would be coming to SABC1 - the burst of excitement faded when the SABC blatantly allowed, and did nothing, to keep the momentum going by taking weeks before announcing the host and judges.

Precious media excitement and interest were simply squandered as the press waited and waited, and then moved on.

By the time the broadcaster finally announced the judges, long after TV critics and viewers have already moved on, the pervasive mood was one of "Who are these people?" (Beyond anyone's control one judge, Zonke, couldn't even make it all the way to the end.)

The beginning episodes and audition episodes of The X Factor South Africa were really bad. (And where was the actually showing of mentoring?)

What should have popped and amazed, literally turned off viewers. The SABC seemingly couldn't care to invest both money and attention in the show.

It instantly became clear that The X Factor SA, set in Durban wasn't nowhere near the look and feel of The X Factor USA and The X Factor from Britain viewers have been used to seeing. It damaged the property and made it feel like a cheap-to-make knock-off.

And why would viewers not think so when they tuned in to be confronted with bad sound, sound problems, uninspiring sets at the beginning of the series' start and a main stage at the Olive Convention Centre later shockingly not even remotely close to the larger-than-life "arena-like" feel of how the overseas versions look?

When the top contestants were announced, again, it felt as if the real, right, best contenders were left off the list. Nobody popped - and the really bad styling didn't help to endear them to viewers.

There were no real contestants that galvanised a viewing nation to root for them and captured the audiences' imagination.

While M-Net flies the final contestants on a nationwide tour for Idols to drum up exposure and publicity just before the final episode, SABC1 and The X Factor SA publicity pale in comparison.

Where was the hoo-haa, raa-raa for The X Factor SA and its final set of contestants at the SABC's recent Summer TV press preview?  Why was The X Factor SA, if its presumably the SABC's biggest live reality TV show finale for the end of the year, not front and centre at the SABC's only TV programming upfront this year?

The SABC also couldn't be bothered, and was apparently too cheap, to get national TV critics - notoriously attention deficit driven creatures compulsively like moths seeking light and wanting to latch on to the next big thing - to consistently even attend the weekly show.

If you set a TV show with a weekly live broadcast and a live studio audience in Durban, what is your plan to actually get the media there to cover it? Was there even a plan? Or some type of a budget?

Instead the bulk of TV writers and critics wrote and tracked and covered Big Brother Africa, Idols, SA's Got Talent, MasterChef SA, Strictly Come Dancing SA, Ultimate Braaimaster and a slew of other shows which happened concurrently and made a bigger effort to break through the noise and clutter.

Largely lost among them in the fight for relevance, sadly, was The X Factor South Africa which could have been great but concluded on SABC1 on Saturday evening - a show in a sense neutered beyond recognition of what viewers expected or deserved.

It's a problem when newspaper lamp post banners countrywide scream things like "Domestic worker in MasterChef SA finale" for a much smaller TV show in audience, but which managed to capture and retain presence, and carve out attention.

The X Factor SA never really broke through in the large national zeitgeist and should have.

The X Factor South Africa didn't live up to the "standards" and expectations of international versions and it will probably make viewers - once burned, twice shy - reluctant to "trust" or tune in if there's ever a second season.

Why did SABC1 not ensure "bigger" and "better" judges who can articulate (and speak English fluently)?

What's the reason for SABC1's mediocre marketing and pushing of the show, the "meh" level of contestants, and the underwhelming "badness" of the first episodes before the hardly better live episodes?

Why was the supposed to be synergistic co-produced show The Xtra Factor dumped on SABC3? If SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 are supposedly different TV channels each catering to different audience demographics (and if they're not, why do they exist?) why wasn't The Xtra Factor slotted on SABC1 to bolster and support the main show?

It shouldn't have been, but The X Factor South Africa has become another example of how TV channels lose, and will lose out, if they take on TV shows that they don't appear to be willing to support with real budgets.

It feels as if The X Factor SA needed more money, more real time and effort, actual real in-time "war room" clever channel executives analysing and fixing things and working hard to get real buy-in from all the different stakeholders to try and make it a true success.

It's bad when something like Idols on M-Net and Mzansi Magic can have a spectacular, proper after-party for the winner and media at Carnival City sponsored by Telkom (Telkom!) as the show's sponsor, but you hear from journalists how they were apparently confronted with a cash bar at SABC1, Vodacom and the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development and Tourism's media launch party for the Top 9 acts at the Zimbali Fairmont Hotel.

The X Factor South Africa was disappointing television because it doesn't appear as if the SABC and SABC1 was willing to support the show with the resources it needed to be the "big" show it could have been.

SABC1's The X Factor South Africa is one of those shows which will only work if it follows the slogan of "Go big or go home". Sadly the SABC didn't go big enough.