Saturday, October 22, 2016

Why the SABC should temporarily lose access to 7de Laan on SABC2 even if it does manage to sign a new contract for the soap's 18th season.

Even if the SABC manages to put a signature on a new contract – delayed for months already – for its Afrikaans soap 7de Laan before it literally runs out of episodes on Monday, SABC2 should actually rightly lose the ability to air episodes, at least temporarily.

Even if the SABC manages to sign a new contract with Danie Odendaal Productions for new 7de Laan episodes before the 18th season is supposed to start on Monday on SABC2, it's actually wholly unfair of the public broadcaster to expect a new episode and subsequent episodes to immediately, and seamlessly, be available for playout.

Local soap productions – those of the SABC but also of other South African broadcasters like, M-Net and Mzansi Magic – work at breakneck speed, Rumpelstilskin-like, as they churn out episode after episode often under gruelling conditions with long and exhausting production schedules.

In order to provide an adequate "buffer", in-production soaps film episodes roughly around two to two and a half months in advance of what the TV biz refers to as the actual “TX” or broadcasting date.

Rightly, if the SABC signs a new contract over the weekend, the SABC and SABC2 should actually wait two months for new episodes to be produced and delivered since it allowed the entire "buffer"period to collapse.

In the latest 7de Laan case, Danie Odendaal Productions as a production company has actually been too nice with the SABC, and already produced 18th season episodes not yet paid for, out of its own 17th season budget that's already completed and available.

Technically it's actually an unfair expectation for the SABC to get those episodes immediately after signing a long overdue contract and having new episodes appear "magically" to broadcast on SABC2 on Monday.

Imagine ordering a wedding dress, only paying for it on a Friday, and wanting it on a Monday. It's wholly unfair to the tailor.

The Afrikaans weekday soap from Danie Odendaal Productions, along with fellow SABC2 soap Muvhango from Duma Ndlovu's Word of Mouth Pictures, saw their existing contracts with the SABC run out in August already.

In almost three months since then the SABC hasn't gotten as far as putting final signatures on contract extensions for the soaps – yet at the same time the controversial SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng in May exerted massive pressure on Duma Ndlovu to sign three year contracts with his actors on the soap.

The SABC basically wants production companies to take on the bigger responsibility of guarantee work and improved work security to actors, but isn't doing the same to the production companies making its prized local content.

The questions needs to be asked how the SABC and SABC2, where Gerhard Pretorius is the SABC2 channel head, improved and streamlined the system – or not – since Muvhango and 7de Laan signed their previous contracts.

‘Nuclear option’
Recently Muvhango's Duma Ndlovu took out a loan just to pay cast and crew out of his own pocket, while Danie Odendaal Productions also paid cast and crew for the past two months when the guarantee of further income from the SABC ran out.

The latest "hullabaloo" pushed the production company to breaking point with Danie Odendaal Productions that has been forced to tell its staff that it simply can no longer pay them without a new, signed contract from the SABC.

It's been extremely awkward and uncomfortable for Danie Odendaal Productions – as a production company and as a service provider in the business of creating entertainment and escapism to millions of SABC viewers on a daily basis – having to tell the SABC that it will be withholding episodes from Monday.

In doing so, it pulled the trigger on a final "nuclear option", literally now forcing the SABC to sign a contract or go without further content.

It's not preferable, since it damages the existing relation between production company and broadcaster; however the initial business damage – and resulting bad publicity and brand damage – was caused by the SABC for dragging its feet for months.

This is not the first time the SABC delayed in signing new contracts with both Muvhango and 7de Laan, although it is the most extreme and deadline pushing crisis yet.

Neither are these the only two local production companies the SABC has been stringing along for months, desperately waiting for the signed-off greenlight to make local content for the SABC.

TVwithThinus specifically asked the SABC on Thursday if it has any comment or a response as to how the SABC feels about the situation after it publicly said numerous times in 2016 how it supports local productions, local content and local South African artists, yet fails to sign actual contracts timeously.

"The SABC does not discuss or negotiate contractual issues in the public domain or through the media," said SABC spokesperson, Kaizer Kganyago.

'Still waiting for payment from the SABC'
In the process of making television where it's usually presenters and actors hogging the limelight and whose contractual issues as on-air talent grab the headlines, it's the South African TV producer just trying to make a living and delivering good content under difficult circumstances who is very often suffering in silence.

Over the past few months since mid-July when Hlaudi Motsoeneng, then as chief operating officer (COO) suddenly announced a dramatic 90% local TV content increase for the SABC’s TV stations – starting with 80% for SABC3 – TVwithThinus has spoken to several exasperated TV producers in business with the SABC.

These TV makers – including longstanding as well as brand-new producers – speaking off the record since they're scared to damage existing and new business relationships with the SABC, all complained about "the terrible way" in which the SABC commissions local programming and acquires content.

Just like in the case with Muvhango and 7de Laan who want to remain in business with the SABC through lucrative serialised TV contracts, these other South African TV producers are angry and despondent over the haphazard and drawn-out process just to get contracts signed, too little time to meet content deliver deadlines once contracts are finally signed off, and the "debilitating" bureaucratic red tape.

Producers feel they have very little recourse and feel powerless to change the system.

When the SABC hastily "commissioned" a slate of new, mostly talk show and lifestyle magazine shows to fill sudden holes in its SABC3 schedule where international series had to be yanked mid-season from its roster, several TV producers told TVwithThinus that they were expected to produce finished episodes of brand-new shows within as little as three weeks without having proper signed-off contracts.

"Producers are extremely worried if they will be paid by the SABC, and in turn be able to pay their writers, actors and crew," a veteran TV producer said.

"The production house I work for has just sent out a notification that they are still waiting for payment from the SABC, which should hopefully happen at the end of the month," a TV producer told TVwithThinus in late-August.

"Until then, they can't pay us, the workers. Now I know the producers are anal about getting their invoices in to the SABC in good time, so this is really concerning".

Wide-ranging public inquiry needed
In September the SABC quickly found R2.6 million to help fund the hastily arranged and then disastrous #ThankYouSABC Concert, yet the past few years TV producers who have been in business with the SABC were forced to sell cars, houses and even shutter production companies after ongoing payment issues with the public broadcaster.

The Independent Producers' Organisation (IPO), representing over 80% of working TV producers in South Africa, has now called for a wide-ranging inquiry into the ongoing problems at the crisis-riddled SABC.

This "broader, stakeholder inclusive public enquiry into the SABC should include looking at the SABC's persistent crises of governance, management, funding, policy, programming and operations," says the IPO, as well as "key requirements for the public broadcaster to effectively fulfill its mandate".

"The current crisis surrounding the SABC board is not new. It is one that South Africa has experienced before. It points to the problems of the SABC as systemic, needing to be addressed beyond the failings of the present SABC board and senior management".