Monday, January 14, 2019

Serious threat escalating of the SABC's content cupboard running bare with no guarantee that South Africa's independent TV producers will be getting paid after February.

The looming and serious threat of the SABC's TV content cupboard soon going bare in early-2019 is fast escalating as the public broadcaster approaches its own "Day Zero" when it becomes unable to pay its own staff salaries from the end of February.

Within months SABC viewers could be stuck with an increase of old repeats, blackouts or even reduced broadcasting hours with the SABC unable to fully pay external producers for staple programming - its weekday local soaps - with the SABC that can't provide a guarantee that independent TV producers will be paid after the end of February.

Rapport newspaper on Sunday, quoting unnames SABC management sources, reported that the SABC doesn't have money for its SABC News division to cover the upcoming national elections in 2019, something that previously cost the embattled broadcaster around R35 million.

Meanwhile South African TV producers supplying content to the SABC are now literally crying from stress as the casts and crews across programmes made by production companies are fearful of how they are to provide for their families and pay their bills this year.

In November 2018 the SABC board told parliament that by the end of February the commercially insolvent South African public broadcaster getting closer and closer to a financial cliff, will only be able to pay some of its permanent SABC staff salaries, and by end of March no salaries.

The SABC is prioritising internal staff salaries above anything else, along with things like "water and lights", and with the broadcaster already unable to settle its full electricity bill for its Auckland Park headquarters. 

Local producers 'subsidising' the SABC
The SABC - in desperate need of another bailout in the form of another government-guaranteed bank loan similar to its last financial meltdown in 2011 - owes millions of rands to South Africa's independent production sector who have not been paid and received a few sporadic, late payments for content it's producing and delivered to the SABC for broadcast over the past year, something that's continuing and creating immense stress, industry uncertainty and ongoing job losses.

Individual South African production companies and producers in business with the broadcaster and owed money whilst being asked to continue to provide content and carry the burden of "subsidising" the SABC out of their own pocket with constant promises of payment, are scared to speak publicly or to criticise the SABC openly.

Although not getting paid by the SABC, in a form of Stockholm syndrome, producers don't want to damage relationships with the SABC, or risk losing contracts or potential future production contracts and income, although they're extremely scared.

Producers are unable to make their own long-term plans and don't know what to tell their casts and crews about when they will get paid or when or if any of the people they employ in turn, will have work in 2019.

Besides multiple other shows, several production companies - collectively employing and paying thousands of people - are each producing hundreds of episodes annually of stripped timeslot weekday local soaps for the SABC's three TV channels ranging from Uzalo, Generations and Skeem Saam to 7de Laan, Muvhango and Isidingo.

These producers and others, some of whom already had to suffer through SABC non-payment in 2018 including forced production shutdowns, are now fearing for the future and not being paid for their prime time soaps from February. 

Without money and payment they won't be able to continue to provide episodes of the hugely watched local soap operas to the SABC. 

If producers individually or collectively stop delivering new episodes. the South African public broadcaster has padding of about a month's episodes before the video cupboard is empty.  

This will force SABC schedule managers to switch to repeats, old library content from the SABC archives or to programme something else in its place which the SABC likewise won't be able to pay for.

'No money to shoot'
"No money to shoot," a stressed production crew on one of the SABC's biggest shows told TVwithThinus this week half a month into the new year, saying "we haven't started production since we closed for holidays last year. The production hasn't received money from the SABC".

Asked what is most stressful, the crew member says "our concerns are [paying] bills".

Meanwhile Uzalo - the most watched show on South African television and on SABC1 that abruptly shut down in August 2018 and ceased production when the cast and crew downed tools over the SABC's non-payment - has allegedly been affected yet again by the SABC's non-payment troubles with production on the new 5th season in 2019 that has apparently been delayed again.

Asked for a response about the SABC's alleged latest non-payment, the show on Monday told TVwithThinus that "we can confirm that Uzalo resumed production last week, and shooting has commenced for season 5".

"As I'm sure you can appreciate, details of payment schedules between service provider and client are subjected to the principles of client confidentiality, and as such, we are unable to respond to your query on the specifics of payment," said the production company Stained Glass TV.

"Should there be any shift in the developments that necessitate us alerting the viewing public, we will communicate appropriately".

The SABC in response to a media enquiry about the ongoing non-payment of the country's independent TV producers repeated its earlier holding statement, with Neo Momodu, SABC spokesperson, again saying that "the SABC's financial situation is a matter of public record. Amounts owing to independent producers are being closely managed and monitored between the SABC and its service providers".

"The SABC has worked out a payment plan in consultation with the production companies for outstanding payments."