Thursday, July 13, 2017

How Africa's best TV curator, MultiChoice's content boss Aletta Alberts, keeps up with the massive amount of TV to watch - as she shares insights into the latest trends influencing shows.

As an extremely dedicated and very well-informed TV executive, she's Africa's most prominent, and possibly most powerful, TV content curator when it comes to television - but how does Aletta Alberts keep up and watch it all when the number of just the new American TV shows made per year have jumped from 210 series in 2009 to over 455 last year?

For over a decade since she joined MultiChoice in July 2006 as general manager of content, Aletta Alberts has held sway as the arbiter of what's ultimately gets to your screen in a local and international blurry, noisy, crowded TV-multiverse that is filled by a constantly, fast-evolving and every-increasing kaleidoscope of channels, shows, new TV genres, distribution methods and yes, more real, desperate housewives.

Having started as a production secretary in the late 80s, becoming an assistant producer, then a producer and working on large live shows, after which she transitioned to become SABC2 programme manager and eventually rose to SABC2 channel head, Aletta Alberts then joined Vodacom after which MultiChoice followed.

From her office in the airy MultiChoice City in Randburg, Johannesburg, Aletta Alberts is not just the content queen seated on the iron throne of TV land's intricate and sprawling television Westeros - she's actually George R.R. Martin.

But like the monk who looms over the sprawling and intricate map in the Game of Thrones opening title sequence - filled with continuously turning cogs and a daunting number of moving parts over a vast area - how on Earth does even she manage to keep up, and up to date, as a content curator in a world where there's more TV made than ever before, in a realm where everything and all the main players are constantly changing?

TVwithThinus asked her a bit earlier this year at the MultiChoice Media Showcase where TV executives converged over a 2-day presentation to speak to the press about upcoming content and channels.

Aletta Alberts not only shared how she keeps up with the avalanche of TV content, but also shared her fascinating insights into the latest TV trends shaping and impacting the television industry and the new shows that DStv subscribers are getting to see.

"Obviously we see the channels all the time, we read the dailies, we go to television markets. And I must say that our channel partners - often we go to events with our channel partners - where there are other platforms. So Sky will be there, and all these big platforms. And we have continuous conversations with them," said Aletta Alberts.

"Then we're also very lucky to work for an organisation that every year we have a conference called 'The Business of Television' and at that conference we really bring the best that's out there to come out and speak to us and keep us up to date".

Courtesy of M-Net, Aletta Alberts said that she for instance would be attending an HBO Masterclass event to understand how that pay-TV outlet commissions drama for instance.

"Our jobs are really a lifestyle. It's not a job, you really eat and sleep with it," she said.

Film stars and showrunners
Aletta Alberts shared some fascinating insights about the big, current TV trends that are impacting what DStv subscribers are seeing on their TV screens, and will be seeing more of in future.

"If you think of the stars you've seen on TV in the last 18 months - it started with Glenn Close doing Damage a few years ago - and it just continued. Now we have Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. I think the Brits actually set the ball rolling if you think about this."

"Now if you're an A-lister or Hollywood star, if you're not in a TV series, you haven't quite made it," said Aletta Alberts who highlighted how showrunners are also becoming the stars.

"Then the next trend is that the creators of these shows are not in the background anymore, they are becoming the celebrities. If you think about the Shonda Rhimes, Terence Winter, Dick Wolf and so on, the list continues. Greg Berlanti for instance is responsible for a huge amount of TV shows."

"Then there's the movie producers and directors. Who would ever have thought you'd see Martin Scorsese doing a television series? And Steve Buscemini, Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay. It just keeps getting better and better."

"Now even the Coen Brothers have entered the fray and they're in development with a series and that looks very, very interesting [the Western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs]."

'Then there's also actors turning down big film series - like 007's Daniel Craig stepping down and committing to a three season series for Showtime [Purity] - so really, really it's just getting exciting".

"Just out of Hollywood, since 2010, the amount of new television, it's just gone out of control. In 2009 Hollywood was making 210 . Last year at the end it was 455 series," said Aletta Alberts.

"Then on top of that, add the British series and the foreign series being made. So it's unbelievable," she said.

Brit-invasion and Indian telenovelas
"So every year when we go to Los Angeles, we see different trends. Last year it was basically movies that became TV series."

"Then we see remakes of previous series, some more successful than others. MacGyver for instance is doing well, globally."

"And then we're also seeing the growth of British series. We see those on specifically channels like BBC First (DStv 119) and ITV Choice (DStv 123) - and these series do incredibly, incredibly well."

"And then something that we don't often speak about, but sometimes I think in the United States they run out of ideas. And because the Brits are so good at what they do, we see a lot of duplication."

"So you might not know but House of Cards was a remake, The Office went to an American series, Broadchurch was remade, Shameless, Elementary - these are just a few examples of all the brilliant British stuff that have been remade."

"And then we see the trend of franchises. So we see the DC franchises. Every year we go to LA there's another two or three. And as they do the movies, the TV series pick up as spin-offs off of that."

"Then the big one on the African continent is the rise of the telenovela," said Aletta Alberts.

"For a while now it was Latin [Telemundo], but we see that now being completely overshadowed by the Indian telenovelas on Zee World (DStv 166)."

"The Indian telenovelas are incredibly popular across the African continent. I think the one thing that the Indian novelas got right was they did a lot of research on the dubbing."

"The dubbed it and the research told them they have to dub it into a South African Indian accent, which is different from other Indian accents. And I promise you that is the success of this."

"So I think if we had dubbed the Latin novelas into a Sofia Vergara type English accent it would probably sit better and would be more accepted."

"Also, not to leave out, is the Turkish novelas. You're staring to see those on FOX. It's a little bit more conservative, but they have incredibly, incredibly high production values and great stories that are taking the world by storm at the moment".

DStv getting more rights to in season stacking
"At MultiChoice we're working very hard to get more and more rights to series, to first of all having it on DStv Catch Up, and secondly to have 'in season' box sets of available episodes because consumers don't want to come in at episode 3 and the previous ones don't exist and then it's like a broken experience for you," said Aletta Alberts.

"We're really working very, very hard on that."

"Because we haven't had broadband [in South Africa], or broadband's been very expensive, 6 or 7 years ago we came up with this thing called the DStv Explora and it has X amount of hours available on its hard drive and we simulated that over-the-top (OTT) experience."

"But the reality of it is, is that it's got limited space and we can only put a limited amount of content on there."

"So we were very excited when the DStv Explora box could then connect to the internet and now we can have hours and hours on there - but more so the fact that we can put lots more hours on DStv Now. And we're working very hard to get, and to put most things on DStv Now," she explained.

On how MultiChoice decides what content goes where, Aletta Alberts explained that "we select the content and we do have data of what people view".

"So each device has got a different strategy. Because TV series is the most watched, the bulk of what sits on the box is series. We've got limited sport and movies - we only put the latest and the greatest movies on the box so as they come off of our premium channels, that's what goes on there. And then very selectively we've got reality, like big reality shows."

As the TV world continues to evolve, Aletta Alberts ended the trends session with a bit of a prediction: "In 5 years or 10 year's time, I don't think there will be decoders. Everything will sit behind an app."

■ The 7th season of Game of Thrones will see its season premiere episode simulcast on Monday morning, 17 July at 03:00 on M-Net (DStv 101) at the same time as in America, and with it then broadcast again on the same day at 21:35 during late primetime.