Thursday, July 7, 2016

EXPLAINER. Yes there was an A+E Networks UK upfront for South Africa 2016; and no: Why I can't tell you what History, Lifetime and C+I on DStv are showing and doing.

I haven't been able to report much about Roots - or anything about A+E Networks' Africa Upfront for 2016 - and if you want to know why, here's the explainer.

Yet another person working in media, asked me yesterday desperate for information about an A+E Networks UK Upfront for South Africa and Africa for 2016.

As I've personally answered numerous TV critics, journalists and even advertisers who've been asking me on email and face-to-face over several months, I've decided to rather give a public explainer so that people will know and so that I don't have to answer the same thing over and over to people who ask.

Yes, A+E Networks UK did have another A+E Networks Africa 2016 Upfront this year in February; and no, I won't and can't and haven't covered it or what will be on the History (DStv 186), Lifetime (DStv 131) and Crime+Investigation (DStv 170).

The reason is because A+E Networks didn't want to involve longtime TV critics in it, signaled that they don't matter by not telling them about it or inviting them.

The media in turn largely ignored A+E Networks' upfront and moved on (what else can you do?).

Fact: A+E Networks UK and its local South African affiliate and PR people couldn't bother to invite me or other media who usually report about things like a TV upfront, nor could be bothered to even just inform press that such an upfront would be taking place.

(Note: We did know and did attend the A+E Networks Africa Upfront 2015 last year).

I understand that media people and viewers are desperate for information like the figures, dates, shows and information that was presented at the A+E Networks Africa 2016 upfront, but if the smattering of media who did attend decided not to give any, or wide coverage, I who wasn't there, surely can't.

As I've told every journalist, editor and TV critics in person over the past few months who discovered it happened after the fact, and who then asked me if I knew anything - the answer is no, I was also not there, nor told it would be happening and I don't have anything relevant, comprehensive or incisive about it to share. Sorry.

I usually try my utmost to report as best I can and to cover news about the TV industry but A+E Networks and its publicists responsible for public relations did nothing to let me know about it beforehand. No interviews were offered, none were done and literally weeks later I was told "oh there was an upfront".

In the end there's limits to what's possible in terms of reporting when you can't actually hear TV executives, like Heather Jones (A+E Networks UK's senior vice president of content) and other overseas executives who again flew in to Johannesburg to speak and present at the upfront.

If you perhaps saw a Tom Hopper from Black Sails interview for History, its because the on-air talent appeared as part of the A+E Networks Africa upfront - again with a lot of media not even told about it.

Of course beyond mere reporting, there's also a relational aspect to all this. Does excluding press and TV critics from something like an upfront or a media event build and improve media relationships, or does it damage, lessen trust and atrophy weakened relationships?

Answer that one for yourself, I won't repeat what various press told me when their incredulous expressions turned to irritation and borderline anger over the A+E Networks upfront snub.

TV content providers like Discovery Networks International, BBC Worldwide and others providing TV channels to pay-TV operators like MultiChoice's DStv have been doing annual upfronts in South Africa for a lot longer than A+E Networks UK.

A+E Networks - that has a South Africa office with Anthea Petersen as a regional director in a consultancy role and where Yusuf Nabee was recently appointed as general manager for Africa - are now trying but clearly has a long way to go.

Sadly - and that's my personal perception - A+E Networks doesn't come across as having yet figured out quite how to do such an upfront event about its channels' programming properly.

More specifically I wonder how a content and channel provider like A+E Networks sees win-win communication if it can't even tell key media who actually has an interest in what A+E Networks is doing with its channels about its one big annual event where it talks about its programming.

Hopefully A+E Networks will improve.

If you've wanted to know about programming like Roots or UNreal or Black Sails and specifically as it pertains to the South African context and if you're wondering why there hasn't been more, you now know why.

If you wonder exactly how channels like Lifetime, Crime+Investigation and History are doing and have been doing on DStv, I can't tell you (and neither can a lot of the other people and publications covering TV who the past few months ended up asking me).

You're also allowed to blame lame duck media (one assume there were at least some press there) who do and did hear about ratings, channels' performance and upcoming programming, but who can't move beyond personal self-indulgence to actually report it.

With a daily avalanche of news, press releases and announcements from a growing number of available TV channels in South Africa all clamoring for exposure, coupled with big ongoing narratives like the turmoil at the SABC that takes a lot of existing reporting resources and time, the dedicated journalists, TV critics and editors covering television have a very hard job trying to cover everything.

A+E Networks in South Africa didn't make it easier to cover and report on its performance, channels, shows talents and executives so far this year; it ironically (deliberately?) made it harder.

Media that didn't report extensively about the A+E Networks Africa upfront 2016 didn't forget their Roots. They were shut out and moved on because they we had to.