South Africas TV industry is reacting with shock over the SABC's abrupt decision to suddenly cancel local drama series High Rollers before its contract ends with insiders now saying the SABC is readying a pay-off pay-out for the production – ironically wasting millions of rand not to air a local show.
Shock and outrage is growing within South Africa's TV industry over the way the SABC plans to suddenly axe High Rollers on SABC3 within a month.
Ironically the SABC renewed the casino-set local drama in May for a third season and increased the episode order of 156 episodes from three to five episodes per week.
According to production sources not directly connected to the show but dealing with the SABC, the South African public broadcaster is now allegedly planning to pay out Rous House Productions fully for the remainder of their contract, "so four months' salary for cast and crew".
If true, it means that the SABC will essentially be spending a vast amount of money for nothing in return just to not broadcast a local show it commissioned and had renewed twice.
Rouse House Productions didn't respond to a media enquiry asking about the cancellation and the newly surfaced pay-out rumours swirling, and the SABC told TVwithThinus earlier that "the SABC is not in a position to discuss its contractual obligations with production houses and content providers with third parties including the media".
Following viewers' outrage and an online petition against the SABC's shock High Rollers’ cancellation where signatures and support keeps growing, as well as scorn from South African actors hammering the public broadcaster over its decision, representative TV industry bodies are also slamming the SABC over the "bizarre" cancellation decision.
"This unilateral decision made by the broadcaster has to be challenged, there is simply too much at stake not only for the countless crew members and the company in question, but also the wider industry, this establishes a very dangerous precedent," the South African Screen Federation (Sasfed) told TVwithThinus in a statement.
"Any going business concern has to have a degree of predictability to be able to plan and survive, with our major broadcaster not willing to honour legally binding contracts, such contracts become meaningless adversely affecting our emerging industry".
SABC’s bizarre decision criticised
The South African Guild of Actors (SAGA) told TVwithThinus High Rollers’ cancellation "will have a profoundly negative impact on the production company and the 103 members of cast and crew".
"Many actors on the show, including SAGA members, have given up other possible earning opportunities in order to commit their time to High Rollers. Having the rug pulled out from under their feet like this means they will face the prospect of a very bleak Christmas."
"SAGA is deeply concerned that if the SABC is willing to cancel production contracts before their scheduled prescription, then nothing prevents the broadcaster cancelling other existing production contracts at an even greater expense to the taxpayer."
"The impact of this cancellation will therefore be felt throughout the industry and will add to speculation that responsible and competent leadership at the state broadcaster has been compromised at its highest levels."
SAGA says "the decision to cancel High Rollers which has earned a loyal following on SABC3, seems quite bizarre. In announcing their intention to cancel the show, the SABC has demonstrated a reversal of its own much-publicised commitment to developing local content."
'Money thrown out the window'
A longtime producer working on shows for the SABC and other broadcasters, told TVwithThinus that "while in America contracts specifically feature the right to cancellation at specific stages if the ARs (audience ratings) of a show are not adequate, I have never seen such a clause in a SABC contract".
"As such, unless the producers are specifically in breach of elements of their contract, the SABC has no right to terminate the production. And even if there is a ratings clause which permits cancellation, one wonders why the same is not happening to Hlaudi Motsoeneng's crap commissions."
"If High Rollers is cancelled now, the SABC will have to pay for all work done and contracted until the final day of the notice period, which will be more money thrown out of the window as the SABC will never be able to use or air any of that work," said the veteran producer.
While the ratings for High Rollers has fallen since May when Hlaudi Motsoeneng abruptly ordered a quota of 80% local content for the channel – a plan that flopped – the viewership decrease for the show is in line with the entire SABC3 viewership that keeps spiralling down month after month since the introduction of the new crop of local shows that all failed to attract viewers.