Viewers are saying they will follow High Rollers, that the SABC wants to dump prematurely before the end of its third season contract, to e.tv or M-Net – a possible move that will further weakening the ratings challenged SABC3 should a rival broadcaster take over the prime time local drama series.
The South African TV production industry, viewers and artists are shocked at the SABC's bizarre decision to can the casino-set local drama series from Rous House Productions months before it's supposed to end.
The SABC's shock cancellation puts the cast and crew of High Rollers out of work just before Christmas.
The South African public broadcaster's shocking move comes despite SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng repeatedly doing lip-service in 2016 that the the SABC values local content, is upping the local content quota for SABC3 to 80%, and that he is spearheading the charge for greater job security as well as better and longer contracts for struggling local actors and artists.
An online petition (found here) started to save High Rollers from SABC cancellation keeps adding signatures and a flurry of comments from angry viewers, upset artists and production workers across South Africa, slamming the SABC for its shortsighted and the as yet unexplained move.
Insiders are now saying that the SABC is allegedly readying a massive pay-out for the remainder of High Rollers’ contract that would have stretched well into 2017.
It means that the SABC will be paying out and wasting a large amount of money, not getting local content in return for it, and paying to not show a local series it signed a contract for and now wants off the SABC3 schedule prematurely.
In May the SABC renewed High Rollers for a third season of 156 episodes and extended it from three to five episodes per week but now wants it gone.
The SABC, asked about its plan to cancel High Rollers cancellation, said "the SABC is not in a position to discuss its contractual obligations with production houses and content providers with third parties including the media".
The Independent Producers Organisation (IPO) that says it represents, protects and promotes the interests and needs of producers, declined to comment when asked and didn't publicly want to voice support for the High Rollers production.
The South African Screen Federation (Sasfed) says the SABC's move wanting to cancel a contract prematurely "establishes a very dangerous precedent".
The South African Guild of Actors (SAGA) says the High Rollers cancellation will have a "profoundly negative impact on the production company and the 103 members of cast and crew" and that SAGA is deeply concerned that the SABC is willing to cancel production contracts before their scheduled prescription.
Part of bigger SABC content devastation
The broad-based public pressure group SOS Coalition, fighting for better public broadcasting in South Africa, told TVwithThinus on Thursday that "it's very unclear, much like most things SABC,under what circumstances the contract is being prematurely terminated".
"However, in light of the radical and continued decline of SABC3's audience share, it appears that the may be linked to the devastation that the entirely unplanned for 90% local content directive issued by Hlaudi Motsoeneng has wreaked on the SABC's TV and radio offerings generally, and SABC3 specifically".
"Ours is not a position against high local content thresholds across the full range of offerings on the SABC," says the SOS Coalition, "but about sound planning, the shaping of a strong business case for all content produced for and by the SABC,to ensure that the organisation remains viable and sustainable in what is becoming an increasingly hostile industry".
"Unfortunately, in light of the arbitrary decision-making at the highest levels, purging of skilled staff, the unlawful writing off of the commissioning protocol and seeming award of commissions to pals, it doesn’t appear as though there is much leadership in the SABC at a point where it is needing it more than ever," says the SOS Coalition.
New lease on TV life elsewhere?
If the SABC goes through with abruptly removing High Rollers within the next month from the SABC3 schedule, the possibility exists that the show could jump to rival broadcasters like e.tv or M-Net in 2017.
Producer brothers Luke and Josh Rous struggled for four and a half years to finally get their well-received show accepted by the SABC but with the public broadcaster that doesn't want it anymore, e.tv or M-Net could possibly take it over.
M-Net has broadcast similar type shows to High Rollers in the past – like the drama series Jacob’s Cross that's been seen on both the SABC and M-Net.
High Rollers would also be a local drama take-over coup for e.tv that's been steadily investing in more glitzy dramas with high-end production values that would make sense for its own schedule.
"High Rollers is a great production," said outraged viewer Sphesihle Khumalo. "Please do not take away South African content that we can actually relate to and enjoy".
"I will actually consider cancelling my SABC TV licence if this show is removed," said Rianette Cluley. "It's one of the few good local offerings. Hope e.tv snatches if up if it is cancelled".
"If the SABC goes through with this, I hope it is picked up by e.tv" said Michael Harris.
"This is the only decent show left on SABC3 after Days of Our Lives was taken off," said Penny Kemertgoglou. "If the show is cancelled, I will never watch SABC3 again. Neither will I pay my TV licence”.