Tuesday, July 11, 2017

I SPY WITH MY EYE: Some things I noticed at the after-party and press conference after the second season finale of The Voice South Africa.

TVwithThinus had the privilege of attending Sunday evening's live finale of The Voice South Africa's second season at the Mosaiek Theatre in Fairland, Johannesburg, as well as the press conference and then the after-party inside the same complex that followed it.

■ Craig Lucas from Elsies River in Cape Town the winner of the second season of The Voice South Africa on M-Net.
■ One of the biggest production gambles in the live finale of the 2nd season of The Voice SA on M-Net had to do with winner Craig Lucas' mom Jenny - and she knew nothing about it.
■ The Voice SA winner Craig Lucas says the M-Net show forced him out of his comfort zone: "I was scared of getting on stage and feeling completely alone".
■ After The Voice SA is bedeviled by voting interference again, M-Net says it will "see how to make it a lot easier going forward".

I will conclude my coverage with some behind-the-scenes observations that M-Net viewers, TV biz observers and other media types might find interesting and won't realise or know:

M-Net simply has been doing (for years), and continues to do, the best press conferences within South Africa's entire TV industry.
There's order, there's a process and there's house rules.
M-Net's head of publicity Lani Lombard keeps firm control over the rowdy media that sometimes include "kindergarden" types who don't know how to behave or conduct themselves, announces clearly upfront what will be happening, who is on a panel, rotates between media posing questions, and there always structure, a defined pace and purpose.
Compared with the SABC mess that is the public broadcaster's horrid press conferences and elsewhere, M-Net's press conferences are real-world, textbook examples of how to do press conferences professionally and correctly, instead of the tiring, free-for-all chaotic trashiness you often find elsewhere.

What it means: Because M-Net's press conferences are good, it's a great win-win opportunity for M-Net and the media to get more context and actual news, background and quotes out about whatever M-Net programming the pay-TV broadcaster is having the press conference for.

Sidenote: M-Net is the only broadcaster that actually hands out a hard copy press release as media walks into a press conference, and also simultaneously emails the press statement to media during the last moments of a reality competition show, as well as email photos to news desks and journalists.
Publicists are physically on-hand, on location to help and they hover and are instantly available to media asking questions.
Publicists of the SABC, e.tv and other broadcasters should attend one, soak up what they see and experience, and learn.
At the recent afternoon media launch of the DStv Mzansi Viewers' Choice Awards for instance, frustrated media struggled to get even the basic press release for several hours as several publicists at the event were quick to show that they're on social media and posted and posed for snappies as they huddled with celebs and took pics as they sipped champagne.
You'll never see that happen with the M-Net channel.

You probably don't know this but there's often a large gap between what a studio audience's real response is and what producers must get on-camera for a live show.
It's often heavily "stage-managed" by a floor manager or producer or someone warming up the audience.
Not so with The Voice SA. What you see is really very close to how the studio audience responded naturally without interference or guidance.
When people clap its because they want to do applause. When people "ooh" and "aah" it's because they wanted to. Where most shows pre-prep the audience heavily, The Voice SA has been very light compared to other shows.

What it means: It means that the reaction of the live audience - often used as a cue and benchmark by the viewer at home watching The Voice SA on M-Net - is/was very natural and organic.
The studio audience wasn't "manipulated" to behave in some way, or to behave in a more "enhanced" certain way.
How the TV audience came across in The Voice SA is really how they reacted naturally - no clapper, no juicing them up during ad breaks, no water bottle and T-shirt throwing, no production directions of do this or that.

Sidenote: The studio audience were handed glow sticks in an earlier episode - and it wasn't even actually used. People rather used their cellphones to make starlights as was seen again during the finale.
Dads and moms with their kids who are asked to please rather wait for later as they rush to the coaches' table during ad breaks, and certain sections of people asked not to stand up and applaud as they're seating in front of specific cameras are probably as heavy handed as the barely-there audience instructions ever got.

M-Net turned 30 years old last year and has (and my guess is through happenstance) discovered the secret to "the Disney effect" thanks to the second season of The Voice SA.
Note that I didn't say "finally" discovered. It's not as if it's something M-Net specifically aimed for, or had to have.
But it is something M-Net has now and discovered to do, and something that it can and should capitalise on further.
It's a movement of sorts, something that started to germinate during the short first season in 2016 and came to full bloom during the past few months of the second season of The Voice South Africa.
The Voice SA is first and foremost a TV show made for broadcast on television but like a Disneyland visit or Disney on Ice, this season it also became a real-world, go-to event for the whole family.

What it means: I was surprised to see how the attendance of moms and dads with kids to the live shows jumped. When I looked around I saw the faces of enthralled small children, who are completely loving the spectacle and excitement of it.
I've gone to everything and numerous Big Brothers, Idols and what-have-you reality shows across M-Net, Mzansi Magic, kykNET and M-Net productions over two decades and I've never seen so many families attend. It's always been more skewed towards individuals - young groups of friends or fans.
It's quite unique to see family units coming to a reality show and is what you see when you go to the circus or Ratanga Junction or to see Frozen at the movies - not a TV show.
It means that The Voice SA has become something more than "just" a TV show; it has somehow become an event people want to go to as a family for entertainment.

Sidenote: Whoever does the marketing or sponsoring from M-Net and DStv Media Sales should urgently look past just sponsors like just Samsung and dialdirect for The Voice SA. Insurance is fine for the grownups who care, but what about the kids?
There's a massive captive audience of parents and their children who are not courted by any relevant sponsors either through TV or at the actual live shows where a physical presence by actual relevant brands, speaking to these demographics will actually yield dividends.
Go to a live show of The Voice SA and see the crowds, and think who and what brands are speaking (and not speaking) to these people milling about.

For the weekly after-parties M-Net in my opinion invited way too many people into the so-called "VIP section" in a side building, and it was echoed by several other journalists who shared the same sentiment with me - and I didn't even ask them.
Why so many hangers-on and other wannabe-whatevers are allowed into the VIP area where free alcohol and drinks and some food are served, where things laugh, hang on each other and nest it up, I don't know.
If you don't have food and things to drink at your house, a show's media launch event or afterparty isn't the "TV soup kitchen" where you should go to, to feel entitled to get hammered and be fed.
At the finale after-party is was again difficult to find any actual food inside the VIP section, although I don't eat a lot at these things and don't go and attend for the sake of the food (although it is nice when there is food).
Yet at these, and other TV land events, some glamarama zombie trash constantly show up and go all out to sniff out the liquor and food trays.
M-Net was generous and of course things came to (just) drink and feed.

What it means: VIP mean nothing if "everyone" is VIP.
I personally found the "VIP section" at The Voice SA a bit stifling and far, far too crowded.
When you literally struggle to walk or to find an open seat, your VIP area isn't really that place anymore. It's fine, I'm there to work and do my work, but it is lowest on the totem pole of parts I actually enjoy.

Sidenote: I would suggest that M-Net and other TV channels and shows doing events with open bars, give guests and media when they register and get accredited a small perforated booklet with something like 10 or however many ticket stubs or tokens, to be exchanged for 10 drinks of your choice from the available bar selection during the night, and when you're done you're done.
It becomes awkward and ugly for me after a while when you have to try and squeeze through and between half-drunken trashed types who don't have limits, are adults but start to behave like children and clearly attended just because its largely a chance to liquor up at a free booze-fest instead of actually working or socialising normally.
Do people behave like this at their homes? I don't think so. But because it's a TV show party, they somehow think they can.

A lot of respect to Lira, one of the coaches of The Voice South Africa and Carte Blanche's Derek Watts.
I noticed both standing for a very long time as a lot of fans lined up to talk to them and to ask for photos.
Both patiently stood for photo after photo after photo.
You can see when people have reverence for someone like a celebrity and half-gingerly approaches them, scraping their courage together to talk to them, mustering the words to ask for a photo and to pay them a compliment.
I saw it in the eyes of person after person who approached and literally looked up to the tall Derek Watts and Lira.
Often a lot of celebrities who want and use the fame are not willing to really "give back". They will shoo away fans, or do a photo or autograph here and there, or stop after a few minutes.
Neither Derek Watts or Lira stopped. They actually worked and placed their own comfort of sitting down, eating or leaving second to genuinely connect with M-Net viewers. I have huge appreciation for that.

Sidenote: I could see that a M-Net publicist wanted a photo with Lira, and looked longingly as people kept rushing up to the star for brief chats and photos.
I asked the publicist why she doesn't go and ask if she can take a photo with Lira, and I was told "no, you know, we're not actually allowed to do that while we're working". I thought it was great and interesting and a very professional answer.

The after-party and live broadcast of The Voice SA's second season finale had the most on-air celebrities and talent from across the various M-Net packaged TV channels on DStv in years.
Why is it noteworthy? Because even within the broader M-Net collection of TV channels, you don't really see stars from one channel at the media events or shows of another channel.
Besides just people who appear on TV, the second season of The Voice SA also lured the most M-Net group and wider MultiChoice executives to the show during this season's run.

Sidenote: It was interesting to see people - from MultiChoice's CEO to high-level executives ranging from MultiChoice and M-Net to SuperSport - coming out on Sundays and attending with their families - as well as publicist, marketing people, programming execs and staffers from MultiChoice and other M-Net channels.

It was interesting for me to hear that someone called Yolisa Phahle, the M-Net CEO, "Yollie" on stage during the prize-giving hand-over ceremony of The Voice SA.
I immediately asked around and was told that indeed, some people call her "Yollie" and "Yols".

What it means: It means that as a boss, M-Net workers perceive Yolisa Phahle as relatable, approachable and present - and that is a great thing.

Sidenote: Too many bosses everywhere - also in the TV business - are often faceless names in corner offices who you know work in your company but who are rarely, if ever, actually seen. It's great to see that M-Net staffers experience their CEO as being "one of us" as opposed to "someone up there".

Is The Voice SA director Darren Hayward South African television Andrew Lloyd Webber?
I absolutely think so - and not just because the live finale had a grand piano on stage for a few times.
After watching The Voice SA as a studio member three times during the second season (including Sunday's finale) and also sitting in the audience during the first season, I also rewatched the second season on television on DStv Catch Up on my flat screen TV on Monday.
Darren Hayward is a true master of live TV broadcast directing.
I think he's so great because he's able to constantly put himself in the position of the viewer - and he hasn't gotten tired of doing that. He thinks of what makes and will can create moving moments for ordinary viewers who tunes in, give their time, and who expect (and deserve) pay-offs.

What it means: Sunday's finale of The Voice SA shined with several viewer pay-offs, where the person tuning-in got several emotional returns on the investment for the choice of tuning to M-Net and watching the 2-hour show.
The angles, the surprises, the funny bits from Stacey Norman talking to Derek Watts, to Craig Lucas' mom dancing don't happen by magic. It's things that need to be planned and mapped and logistically organised and produced out and then get done as the trickiest of television: live TV.

Sidenote: The attention to detail, clever plans and never-ending, creative on-stage choices make Darren Hayward the phantastic phantom of pop TV opera.

The latest Dstv Explora decoder (DStv Explora 2 if you want to be exact) is now so small and compact and comes in such a small box it literally looks like the box of an oversized tablet.
Several of The Voice SA top contestants won and were given a DStv Explora on Sunday night. They handily and easily walked around the after-party with their boxes under one arm.
Until recently the boxes were big and bulky. You couldn't hold them in one hand.

Sidenote: Now you can. And in the ongoing evolution of the pay-TV set-top box it will be interesting to see how small DStv decoders will still get.

M-Net's publicity division has been very clever for the second season of The Voice South Africa and has yet again adapted and evolved as the media, press and social media keep evolving.
Quite refreshingly and inventively, M-Net's PR people did another South African television first that I personally thought was extremely clever, well-suited, perfectly-timed and wonderfully executed.

What it means: The wayward publicists at the left-behind SABC and elsewhere should ring up Lani Lombard at M-Net, and ask M-Net's head of publicity to share her clever secrets of how to adapt and continually evolve and how to improve on the little things that are actually possible.
More new things are now possible and can be executed to not just generate more buzz and pizzazz, but that help to make a big difference to TV shows like reality competition programming.
It doesn't require more money - it just requires creativity and a focus on fully using what is already available to bigger effect.