Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Newzroom Afrika switches to using SuperSport's studio facilities at M-Net in Randburg, doesn't respond to media enquiries whether set change is Covid-19 or set reconstruction related.


by Thinus Ferreira

Newzroom Afrika (DStv 405) this week suddenly switched from its own studio set facilities to making use of SuperSport's studio and existing set at M-Net in Randburg, with the TV news channel that has refused to respond to media enquiries on whether the change is Covid-19 or new set construction related.

On Monday Newzroom Afrika started to originate from the "old" SuperSport set at M-Net's Randburg complex in Johannesburg - that has also been used by Carte Blanche on M-Net (DStv 101) - instead of Newzroom Afrika's usual main studio complex on the corner of 4th Avenue and 7th Street in Linden.

Viewers and the media noticed immediately but Newzroom Afrika has so far refused to respond to media enquiries.

TVwithThinus asked Zamahlasela Gabela, Newzroom Afrika's marketing and publicity boss, and Faith Moliea (who is currently on leave) in multiple media enquiries since Monday about the Newzroom Afrika SuperSport studio change, and on Tuesday also called.

Newzroom Afrika was asked whether the studio change to SuperSport is because of Covid-19 contamination at the Newzroom Afrika building in Johannesburg, or whether it's because the existing set design is being upgraded or redesigned or in the process of being replaced through new construction - the two most likely explanations.

By Wednesday afternoon Newzroom Afrika hasn't bothered to respond to any of the queries.

Earlier this year Newzroom Afrika operations started to be directly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, similar to other TV news outlets, with the TV news channel that saw staffers testing positive for Covid-19 in both Cape Town and Johannesburg and the Linden newsroom cordoning off sections, creating one-way corridors and ending things like desk swapping.


ENTER THE BATCAVE. National Geographic's Virus Hunters special documentary travels the world during Covid-19 to look at bats - and what humanity can and should learn from this global pandemic.


by Thinus Ferreira

"There was a moment in the Turkish batcave where I got slightly flustered and touched my eye with my finger. After there was so much talk of 'don't touch your face', there I was, not in a supermarket - I'm literally in a batcave - and I touched my eye. I was slightly worried about that."

So says the ABC News foreign correspondent James Longman who was part of a Zoom roundtable presentation that National Geographic held for South African media for the Virus Hunters TV documentary special that will be broadcast on National Geographic (DStv 181 / StarSat 220) on Wednesday 25 November at 21:00.

Before the roundtable presentation, National Geographic also provided media with a digital screener of the documentary to watch and preview. 

In the Virus Hunters documentary, James Longman, together with the National Geographic fellow, epidemiologist and ecologist Christopher Golden, travel across the world to talk to "virus hunter" scientists to get their thoughts on virus pandemics and Covid-19.

They look at how scientists across the globe track, test and analyse animals - from bats to pigs - to try and give humanity and the world a fighting chance against diseases like the coronavirus.

Although Virus Hunters on National Geographic is a hard-hitting, often-gritty, investigative hour of documentary television, it is quite beautifully made with several cinematic flourishes right through until the very end when the credits roll.

"The main thing is to do work where you can give people some answers and talk to real specialists. So often in my work, it's a minute, or 2 minutes or 3 minutes on the evening news. Actually now with Virus Hunters it's a full hour of telling people the science and what they can do to empower themselves," says James Longman.


'It isn't just some exotic issue that happens in the far reaches of our world. These are issues that can happen at home.'


"The thing I found most fascinating - all of it was really interesting to me - is that Virus Hunters is a way of giving people a way of better understanding and contextualising why these things happen and explaining to viewers that it isn't just some exotic issue that happens in the far reaches of our world, but these are issues that can happen at home," says James Longman.

"We spend a lot of time I think in the media 'othering' other parts of the world - Africa is obviously the continent that experiences that the most - and to tell the audience that, yes, the next pandemic could come out of a Liberian batcave, but equally it could come out of a farm in the midwest of the United States."

"Hopefully the end result of something like Virus Hunters is that we understand that we all face an equal amount of risk and that it's incumbent on everyone to change their behaviours when it comes to the natural world."

Media could only pose possible questions through typing it in a Zoom chatbox. TVwithThinus asked what some of the challenges were in filming and making Virus Hunters, and travelling internationally during this year's Covid-19 global pandemic.

"A lot of countries are in total lockdown so you have to first get permission to go there in the first place. Luckily when you work with National Geographic, it's such a name that it offers so much access. It's extraordinary the amount of admiration there is for the brand."


'People will be slightly sceptical looking at cameras, and then they hear it's National Geographic and their faces change. They love it.'


"I've never really experienced that. I used to work for the BBC and it had a little bit of that but there's something special about National Geographic. You could be in a Liberian rainforest or on a farm in Iowa and people will be slightly sceptical looking at cameras, and then they hear it's National Geographic and their faces change. They love it. So I suppose that made our lives a little easier."

"The crew - Chris and I and our cameraman and producer, we were in a 'bubble', so we were not worried about each other's infection risk but we were constantly getting tested. We had to get tested when we arrived in Turkey and left Turkey."

"Actually in Liberia, the mandate is that you have to be tested before arriving, and you're tested before you leave - and the threat of possible Liberian quarantine isn't really something that any of us anticipated when we were there."

"We were a little bit worried that we'd end up testing positive and having to live in some kind of military prison. We heard that that's where the Liberians were keeping people. Can you imagine 14 days in some cell with a sponge and a bowl to wash yourself? No thanks. So we were very careful when we saw how strict the Liberian authorities were," says James Longman.


"Why something like National Geographic is so important and why Virus Hunters is so important is because it actually speaks to people who know what they're talking about  - get away from the politics and just talk to the scientists."

"So much of the debate around Covid-19 has become much, much too politicised and that's why a show like Virus Hunters is so important. Just present people with the science and that's what National Geographic does best."

During the Zoom media presentation TVwithThinus typed a number of questions specifically about the making of this TV documentary to find out more about the behind-the-scenes production of Virus Hunters; none of these were asked or answered.


A WORLD GONE VIRAL. National Geographic's really remarkable November 2020 special single-issue Covid-19 edition and how it ties in with the month's Virus Hunters TV documentary.


by Thinus Ferreira

The yellow doorframe brand that's a portal to the world and the rest of the universe has a wonderful tie-in this month between the National Geographic (DStv 181 / StarSat 220) TV channel and its monthly National Geographic magazine.

On National Geographic its Virus Hunters special documentary will be broadcast today, 25 November at 21:00, and then there is the November 2020 single-topic edition, headlined "A World Gone Viral: How the pandemic is changing our lives".

The wonderfully insightful and well-researched, well-travelled (despite Covid-19) Virus Hunters look at the Covid-19 pandemic through the lens of other viruses, how they spread and what it means for mankind and nature within the context of today's world.

Virus Hunters is a bit gross (and enters a real bat cave in Africa) so be aware squeamish viewers. 

This well-researched documentary TV special is however very informative, has some quite cinematic and beautiful scenes and will educate and widen your perspective on viruses, Covid-19 and the global pandemic.

Virus Hunters tracks some of the experts currently searching to identify the chain of events that could cause the next global pandemic.

The National Geographic fellow, epidemiologist and ecologist Christopher Golden is on a mission to connect the dots on culture, disease and the environment to discover the patterns that cause global health crises. 

In Virus Hunters the ABC News foreign correspondent James Longman together with Christopher Golden travel across Africa to Europe and then the United States (during Covid-19!) to meet some of these scientists on a quest to understand and stop the Covid-19 outbreak and to try and prevent the next deadly pandemic.

Virus Hunters beautifully ties in with the National Geographic November 2020 special issue print edition and online at natgeo.com/coronavirus.

The November 2020 issue has over 140 pages packed with carefully collected, beautiful, sometimes harrowing, often moving, essays and reports from across the world that adds to your knowledge of the world, changs your perception about things, and changes you.



Articles within this November 2020 issue range from the coronavirus explained, to how it has changed our lives, to how the first 100 days played out, the devastating year that 2020 has turned out to be, and a look at what the impact of the pandemic could be on planet Earth.

Can we trust the science about the pandemic that emptied streets and filled graveyards? How have the poor been affected, and young people between 18 to 25? From Kenya to Indonesia, and from Belgium to the United States and even Jordan, the November issues covers it all.

I really can just fully recommend this National Geographic November 2020 issue as an incredible read, and thanks a lot to National Geographic for sending me this magazine. 

One day we'll look at this stunning, fateful year in human history, and the test that it presented to humanity. 

This specific National Geographic magazine is one of those treasure chest keepsake media that you'll always be able to go back to for how it captured the science, reflected the mood, and referenced and presented our understanding of the world at the time. 2020.  


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

BREAKING. Bowing under trade union and political pressure the cash-strapped SABC once again suspends its retrenchment plan until 2021, says it will further review its proposed restructuring.


by Thinus Ferreira

After an acrimonious week of in-fighting between top management, the SABC board and trade unions - sprinkled with political parties adding their populist voices to say they're against any job losses as well - the beleaguered South African public broadcaster on Tuesday announced that it had caved before trade union and political pressure and is once again suspending its retrenchment process until 2021.

The SABC stressed that the retrenchment process has however not been terminated - just suspended.

The SABC roughly requires R270 million per month just to pay salaries with the wage bill that is by far the biggest single expense at the crumbling broadcaster. 

After retrenchment letters were issued, angry and upset SABC workers have been protesting about the overstaffed SABC's retrenchment plan in which 400 workers could likely lose their jobs. 

Some political parties like the ANC and EFF have joined trade unions and protesting SABC workers in public protest action.

The SABC board have said in 2019 and again this year that if the ANC-led government doesn't want job cuts it will need to commit to give the SABC an additional R1 billion per year. The SABC that just made a net loss of R511 is on track to make another loss of at least R1.2 billion next year.

Meanwhile, staff say that SABC top management executives took a lazy, uninformed and unworkable cookie-cutter approach in deciding on cuts within the proposed new SABC structure.

On Tuesday the SABC in a statement announced that the "SABC board has extended the suspension of the section 189 process, to the end of December 2020, to enable additional consultations. This decision followed further engagements with organised labour and other stakeholders". 

The SABC said that "During this period, the SABC management and its employees will jointly work with all participating parties, to further review the proposed structures with the intent to ensure that they are optimal and enabling to achieve the public mandate of the SABC."

"The SABC and the participating parties will utilise this time for further mediated sessions with an independent labour expert to explore alternative options to minimising the impact of retrenchments.  The issued redundancy letters will also be extended by the same period."

Here are the 2 buttons that MultiChoice changed on its new DStv Explora Ultra remote control and what these small yet very big changes mean and reveal about the future.

by Thinus Ferreira

There are two small yet very big changes on the new DStv Explora Ultra remote control: Two of the buttons look different and are quite indicative of how DStv is stepping back in order to take a huge leap forward.

MultiChoice is busy releasing its new next-generation DStv Explora Ultra in retail at a recommended retail price of R2 499.

This new DStv Explora Ultra decoder gives DStv subscribers who might want to subscribe to it as well, or already have it and want to access it, a portal to Netflix South Africa. 

MultiChoice will soon very likely also offer similar access to Amazon Prime Video and in future likely also other subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) like the Walt Disney Company's Disney+, WarnerMedia's HBO Max, ViacomCBS's Paramount+, Discovery's to be launched new streamer and others that will all eventually reside on such a set-top box.

This is how the DStv Explora remote control has looked until now:



Here is how the DStv Explora Ultra remote control has changed:


A new blue "home" button

On the new DStv Explora Ultra remote control, MultiChoice has replaced the blue DStv oval button with a home icon.

Pressing this blue button, like before, takes the DStv subscriber directly to the home page of the DStv interface - one where there will now be the option to access and/or subscribe to third-party video streamers. 

MultiChoice hasn't said this, but there are clearly 2 reasons for removing the word "DStv" from this button and replacing it with a more generic "home" icon:

Firstly, MultiChoice literally wants the DStv subscriber to no longer necessarily think of "going to DStv" or accessing DStv, in as much as MultiChoice wants the video consumer to think of it as "going home". 

Pressing the home icon button, instead of pressing a "DStv" button, should give you the feeling and the consumer experience of "I'm home where all my stories are collected for me to access". 

Secondly, because MultiChoice is giving more and different access to more things it is "stepping back" in order to step forward. 

In a seemingly counter-intuitive way, but in a way that works very successfully, DStv now gets to look bigger by looking less interested in being seen in a "small" way on a button. DStv is now much bigger than a button. 

Through removing the word "DStv" from the button (the DStv brand name is still black-embossed at the bottom of the remote control) MultiChoice is sending a signal that it is becoming a video utility. 

MultiChoice is no longer as concerned whether you watch DStv specifically, or DStv Catch Up, or Netflix SA or in future Amazon Prime Video or Disney+. It just wants you as a pay-TV customer to engage with all of the wonderful potential content through its environment. 

MultiChoice sees itself as being bigger than "DStv" and able to offer more than a single this or a single that service - it wants to be the overall substrate on which, and through which, all of the various video moss grow.

Like Daniel Clamp says in Gremlins 2, "You make a place for things ... things come", or like the voice whispered to Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams from the cornfield: "If you build it, they will come". 

MultiChoice wants to be The Field and is building it.


A new white "Apps" button

This is basically also the reason for the change to the second button on the DStv Explora Ultra remote.

Above the "DStv" or now home icon blue button, the black "Showmax" button has been replaced with a white button.

This now-white button no longer carries the word Showmax and the Showmax brand symbol on it but now has a windows/grid-icon with the word "Apps".

Pressing this button no longer takes the DStv subscriber to Showmax, but to the newly designed SVOD carousel interface, the little storefront or store window where MultiChoice will display all of the various video streaming services it has on offer and has partnered with.

While Showmax will always remain MultiChoice's video streamer firstborn and therefore have a special place in its heart, the rival, highly successful "frenemies" are now equally welcome on the same faceplate.

MultiChoice no longer wants to highlight a specific preference for a user and come across as if it's playing favourites between them - whoever wants to come and video play will now be included in the "multi-choice" offered to the DStv subscriber.

TV CRITIC's NOTEBOOK. The Walt Disney Company Africa's FOX Africa TV division continues to send general programming information to some media first - here's why the bad practice makes everyone a loser and ending up last.


by Thinus Ferreira

Sometimes it's not just those that are first who end up being last. Sometimes it's everybody.

Imagine something that's supposed to be received by everybody concurrently at the same time, but being parcelled out in a piecemeal approach over gaps in time.

That's been the case - and continuing - with general TV programming information from The Walt Disney Company Africa's FOX division.

Instead of the media in South Africa all being treated the same and receiving basic programming information about shows at the same time, FOX has decided to send certain media and journalists information first - and hours later to the rest.

To be clear: We're not talking about exclusive information, exclusive breaking news or a story that a journalist had put work and effort to source, or an exclusively arranged interview or story. It's basic, normal run-of-the-mill TV programming information press releases from Disney Africa's FOX Africa division about shows on FOX (DStv 125 / StarSat 131).

Programming information and announcements from Killing Eve to The Walking Dead on FOX are deliberately sent to certain media first and then hours later to others. 

This is wrong.

It's also highly destructive. This PR practice is not just highly corrosive and damaging to FOX's existing media relationships within the South African media but also to the trust relationship with journalists who very well see what's going on, talk among each other about it, but stay quiet.

In Dante's great Inferno, he wrote that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who during a moral problem, maintain their neutrality. So here's TVwithThinus speaking out publicly.

It's bad when journalists and TV critics who are the media and who are in the media, (have to) read or hear about the news and programming of any TV channel, in this case FOX, not from FOX directly, but elsewhere - especially so if it's from any so-called "competition". 

Very little grates journalists and the media as much as having to read, hear or see information relevant to you and your readers and audiences, in or on a rival publication, platform or media outlet and then having to suddenly try and follow it up - wondering why you didn't get the email or basic press release.

It causes uncertainty, anxiety and resentment and makes the media wonder why publicists or people who are part of real-world publicity teams and who say they want to have a relationship with you, have apparently deliberately withheld that information and have not sent it to you.

When you can no longer trust that as a journalist, publication or media outlet that you're going to hear from and get the same fair, basic treatment and information from a company, for instance, TV channel A or B, because of perceived marketing and publicity favouritism, it not just stokes resentment under the press who perceive themselves to be placed as "less important" later in the queue but also actively makes them want to bother less using any of that information.

It's also damaging to FOX that is losing out on possible exposure when journalists, TV critics and media outlets decide to bin press releases, programming information and choice quotes from executives like Evert van der Veer, vice president, media networks, The Walt Disney Company Africa, that they otherwise would have used.

It also hurts the TV viewer who gets less access, negatively impacting the content discovery process.

With less possible stories and articles and with less platforms circulating the press release or parts of it because they are essentially forced to take an editorial decision not to run it to prevent being perceived as "also-ran", there is a dramatically smaller chance for a potential viewer or fan of a show to find, see and to read and engage with the information put out by, for instance, FOX.

The law of rapidly diminishing returns is at play here. 

Take online for instance: There's less and less incentive to use and copy-and-paste or rework what is essentially the basic same press release information without anything else to add hours after it's already been published somewhere on the internet - an eternity in the online news world.

It's ridiculous and non-sensical to have an expectation that a lot of media are suddenly going to put in the effort and time to work on information already "out there" hours ago from an "old" press release, simply because of the diminished return on the "investment" needed to do so.

Besides a lower click rate (information seekers already found it elsewhere), diminished monetisation of the news content, and having to give precious editorial space and time and effort to just "repeat" something, no journalists or media outlet really wants their story to show up on page 15 of a Google search simply because they only got the information hours later and already had to click and read the same information on page 1 of a Google search.

I first asked FOX in May this year what's going on and why it's sending basic TV programming press release information to some media, and hours later to the rest.

The response was that FOX sometimes makes an "agreement" with a particular media publication to announce something exclusively first, "to ensure that a show is announced in a big way, after which all other media receive it at the same time".

The big problem is that we're not talking about any exclusive information but basic programming information.

FOX's tiered media and staggered rollout approach turn everyone into losers - including FOX - when the media that FOX communicates with, perceives unfair treatment and journalists don't understand why it's happening.

In George Orwell's Animal Farm all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. 

It would serve all the animals better if the Fox farm went from "more equal" to just settling for plain old equal.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Independent Producers Organisation on SABC retrenchment plan: 'It's disturbing that the ANC ruling party and unions are up in arms against the SABC board over a few hundred SABC jobs but haven't taken issue with thousands in the production sector who have lost jobs'.


by Thinus Ferreira

South Africa's Independent Producers Organisation (IPO) says that it rejects calls from trade unions for the dissolution of the SABC board and says that it finds it disturbing that the ANC ruling party and trade unions are now up in arms over job-losses at the public broadcaster but did nothing over the thousands of workers who had lost their jobs in the country's struggling TV and film industry already.

Tensions and public protest action have ramped up last week after the financially struggling South African public broadcaster issued retrenchment letters with SABC top management that wants to get rid of 400 workers at the bloated broadcaster.

The SABC board will again meet with the Communication Workers Union (CWU) this week, while the Bemawu trade union is bringing an interdict application at the Labour Court to halt the retrenchment process.

Politicians and political parties like the ANC and EFF have joined the public protest action of SABC workers, with the ANC and EFF also calling for an end to the SABC's retrenchment process.

Meanwhile, South Africa's battered film and TV industry had already shed thousands of jobs within the industry with many production companies that were forced to shutter as a confluence of the SABC drastically decreasing its local content spend, late and non-payment from the SABC for content that have been delivered because of cash-flow problems, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The SABC board have said in 2019 and again this year that if the ANC-led government doesn't want job cuts it will need to commit to give the SABC an additional R1 billion per year. The SABC that just made a net loss of R511 is on track to make another loss of at least R1.2 billion next year.

The SABC roughly requires R270 million per month just to pay salaries with the wage bill that is by far the biggest single expense at the crumbling broadcaster. 

In the 2019/2020 financial year the SABC paid out an average salary of R791 000 per worker - roughly R66 000 per worker per month. This "average" is however skewed because of the multi-million rand remuneration packages of the SABC's top execs, directors and senior management who collective earned over R41 million in the financial year.

"While no-one supports retrenchments, particularly in these punishing economic times, the harsh reality is that without undergoing this process and trimming its bloated wage bill, the SABC will face financial ruin, putting thousands more jobs at risk in the organisation and its suppliers," says Quinton Fredericks, co-chairman of the Independent Producers Organisation, the industry umbrella organisation that represents South Africa's independent producers.

"The SABC board is the first to make any progress in managing the organisation’s cost to income ratio; reducing wasteful and fruitless expenditure, selling off non-essential assets and rooting out corruption," says the IPO.

"Importantly, it is also the first to act on the very direct instruction from Treasury when it received the bailout to reduce its unacceptably large headcount."

"The SABC spends 41 cents of every rand on salaries, whereas its spend on content – which is its core business – is only 22 cents, with local content only receiving 15 cents of that. As the public broadcaster, it is mandated to prioritise local content. By comparison, M-Net spends 15% on staff and 43% on local content. Further, as a percentage of revenue, eMedia  (e.tv) and the BBC spend 11% and 29% respectively on salaries."

"The SABC's wage bill has grown beyond all reason as a result of irregular and unjustified appointments, unwarranted bonuses and consistently above-inflation increases," says Quinton Fredericks.

"Conversely, it has slashed its spend on local content effectively cutting its rates to the production sector and the thousands of freelancers that work in it by an effective and staggering 50% over the last 12 years.

"It is disturbing that South Africa's parliament, the ANC ruling party and unions are up in arms against the SABC board over a few hundred SABC jobs, yet none of them have taken issue at all with the thousands of workers in the production sector who have lost their jobs, and the many small business production companies which have been forced to close down due to the SABC having reduced its spend on local content and, in the not so distant past, simply not paid producers for work that had been delivered to the broadcaster."

"The current SABC board's turnaround strategy is the first glimmer of hope for a sustainable future for the SABC. The measures in that strategy, including the retrenchments, are inevitable if the organisation is to survive, no matter who sits on its board," says Quinton Fredericks.

"Dissolving the SABC board, as the CWU demands, will cost the organisation and the country dearly."

"Replacing this SABC board with amenable disciples will not only lead to its rapid ruin, it also places the editorial independence of the public broadcaster and, in turn, our democracy under severe threat as we saw under the Hlaudi Motsoeneng era".

"An independent, objective broadcaster is a key pillar of a functioning democracy. We cannot allow this to be undermined by unrealistic populist rhetoric ostensibly aimed at saving a few hundred jobs at the cost of thousands of jobs across the production sector, and of a public broadcaster that is able to deliver effectively on the core requirements of its public service mandate," says Quinton Fredericks.

"The Independent Producers Organsiation recognises that the workers who may be retrenched at the SABC have extensive skills sets in the broadcasting, commissioning and production sector."

"These skills should be harnessed in building the capacity of small and medium black-owned production houses through agencies such as the MICTSeta and the National Skills Fund to reposition and build the capacity of the independent production sector in South Africa. This with a specific focus on developing our local indigenous film and television sector."

The cast and crew of e.tv's canned Rhythm City thought they were called together to be congratulated for their hard work and ratings during Covid-19 - then they were told they're fired during a cold speech.


by Thinus Ferreira

Just before the axe came down on e.tv's canned Rhythm City soap, the cast and crew thought that they were being called together to be congratulated for their hard work and ratings during the Covid-19 pandemic - but then they got fired during a "cold and clinical" speech.

On Friday e.tv shocked South Africa's TV industry when it suddenly announced that after 13 years it's over for its Rhythm City weekday prime time soap produced by Quizzical Pictures. 

On Sunday the City Press newspaper reported that the Rhythm City cast and crew were called together for an e.tv meeting, allegedly under the guise of it being a "meet-and-greet" session, only to be "let down" by the terrible cancellation news.

"The speech was cold and clinical. Everyone just had a look on their faces like: What am I going to do?" Rhythm City insiders at Sasani Studios said.

They thought that the e.tv team was coming to congratulate and to praise them for their perseverance and hard work through the Covid-19 pandemic crisis that even saw the production shut down more than once this year.

"It was a surprise as the show has been doing well. You don't can a successful show," a source said.

e.tv declined to say why it decided to cancel Rhythm City other than to say that it's been axed as "part of a business strategy". Marlon Davids, e.tv managing director, in a statement said that "e.tv continues to look forward to fulfilling its mandate of producing exceptional and relevant local content".

After 13 years Rhythm City, executive produced by Harriet Gavshon, will end with its final episode on 16 July 2021 with e.tv that plans to replace it with another daily drama series.

According to e.tv, Rhythm City's "on-air life cycle" is apparently not good enough for the channel anymore, with e.tv that took the decision to can Rhythm City after having reviewed the show's "on-air life cycle".

e.tv doesn't specifically mention any financial reasons for Rhythm City's cancellation in its surprising press statement, yet it stands to reason that Rhythm City's axing is because the soap is likely no longer profitable for e.tv, or is loss-making, or is no longer making enough money for the commercial free-to-air broadcaster.

A combination of ratings and profitability are the main drivers behind the fate of series and programming on commercial TV channels and Rhythm City is clearly no longer making sense as a "keeper" for e.tv within this matrix.

e.tv that doesn't want to give any specific reasons for Rhythm City's cancellation in its press release for something that is a long-running show, will fuel speculation within South Africa's TV industry and under viewers and fans as to what exactly led to its demise.

Rhythm City, created by Rolie Nikiwe and Neil McCarthy, made its broadcast debut on e.tv on 9 July 2007 and was the replacement for the struggling youth-focused Backstage - it was instantly much more popular and gave e.tv a foot in the door in the production of scripted, local South African prime time content that could pull significant ratings.

Rhythm City peaked at almost 5.2 million viewers in 2020 and has consistently ranked amongst the Top 10 most-watched prime time soap operas in South Africa, with its cancellation catching South Africa's TV industry by surprise.

In October Rhythm City pulled 4.04 million viewers at its monthly highwater mark in its 19:00 timeslot, making it the second most-watched show on the e.tv schedule behind Scandal! with 5.1 million viewers. 

In May this year, Rhythm City won the Best TV Soap award at 2020's 14th South African Film and Television Awards (Saftas).
 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Black Friday: SABC News anchors all wear black to protest against broadcaster's retrenchment plan as concerns over a possible on-air blackout grows.


by Thinus Ferreira

As concerns about a possible on-air SABC blackout and "black-on-air" situation grows, SABC News anchors and reporters on Friday surreptitiously joined their colleagues who were protesting outside through quietly wearing black attire on-air.

On Friday SABC News anchors and field reporters appeared dressed in black behind the anchor desk in Auckland Park and out covering the news - only the second time ever that they joined in making a statement on air through what they're wearing.

Angry SABC staff first organised a silent "Black Friday" clothing protest on 22 July 2016 when they wore black in open revolt against the then SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng and in support of their fired so-called "SABC8" news colleagues. 

Yesterday they all donned black clothing on-air again to send a strong and unified silent message.

SABC workers are protesting about the embattled and overstaffed South African public broadcaster's retrenchment plan in which 400 workers will likely lose their jobs. 













Some political parties like the ANC and EFF have joined trade unions and protesting SABC workers on Friday who picketed outside SABC buildings across South Africa.

Politicians and their populist rhetoric have provided no solutions for the SABC's deepening financial quagmire except politicising an already difficult issue and saying they don't want workers to lose their jobs. 

Various factions are now trying to distil the SABC battle over job cuts into a politicised battle between the SABC board - painted as "bad" - and SABC workers who are "good". In reality, the issues and the problems at the SABC are extremely complex and the challenges around the need for retrenchments much more multi-faceted. 

The SABC board have said in 2019 and again this year that if the ANC-led government doesn't want job cuts it will need to commit to give the SABC an additional R1 billion per year. The SABC that just made a net loss of R511 is on track to make another loss of at least R1.2 billion next year.

Meanwhile, staff say that SABC top management executives took a lazy, uninformed and unworkable cookie-cutter approach in deciding on cuts within the proposed new SABC structure.

As part of their controversial restructuring SABC execs have scrapped SABC News TV current affairs shows on SABC2 like Zwa Maramani in Tshivenda and Ngula Ya Vutivi in Xitsonga. For now, Fokus in Afrikaans on SABC2, Cutting Edge in Nguni on SABC1 and Special Assignment in English on SABC3 will remain on-air.

Hannes du Buisson, Bemawu spokesperson, said that "some of the complaints from staff are people saying 'My position on the system is as an administrator. The SABC scrapped my position but I'm the only one at the SABC that must pay certain content licensing fees."

The trade unions said that if the SABC fires permanent staff and then replace them again with freelancers and independent contractors that the personnel cost won't go away but that the cost of paying for labour would just end up somewhere else on the balance sheet.



Black-on-air concerns
Meanwhile concerns are growing around a possible blackout of the SABC's TV channels and radio stations - a situation known as "black-on-air", in particular the SABC News (DStv 404) TV channel.

Interestingly, it is both SABC executives, the SABC board and ordinary SABC staff's interest for SABC News to remain on-air without any blackout.

SABC News as a TV news channel - similar to eNCA, Newzroom Afrika and the now-defunct ANN7 and SABC Encore - was commissioned by MultiChoice and is made exclusively for the pay-TV provider who pays for it. 

The contract, worth millions of rand funnelled to SABC coffers, comes with clauses that include penalties for non-performance and non-delivery - like on-air blackouts.  

If there is to be any blackout of SABC News on DStv because of a strike or possible sabotage, the SABC that is already struggling financially, could lose even more money if MultiChoice enacts any penalty clauses over content disruption and decides to withhold or pay the SABC less.

To prevent a SABC blackout if staff strike or sabotage the channel feed or operations, Ian Plaatjes, SABC chief operating officer, told parliament's portfolio committee on Thursday that "a robust contingency plan" exists especially around SABC News.

He said that it was necessary to relook the plan since people getting retrenched were part of the original plan."Some of the names on there were people who might be affected and we just had to double-check that as well," he said.

Late on Friday the SABC issued a statement saying the broadcaster "is fully aware of a plan to create a 'blackout' on our platforms. We can confirm that there are contingency plans in place that will kick in immediately should this self-induced crisis be precipitated. There will be consequence management against any employee who is involved in the planned blackout".

The SABC said that it "has a statutory duty and public mandate to provide uninterrupted radio and television services for millions of South Africans" and that it "wants to assure the public that we remain committed to delivering our public mandate of informing, educating and entertaining South Africans, irrespective of any planned misconduct or ill-discipline".

Friday, November 20, 2020

e.tv cancels Rhythm City after 13 years, Quizzical Pictures produced daily soap opera to end in July 2021 as part of unexplained 'business strategy' and will be replaced by another daily drama series.


by Thinus Ferreira

e.tv has cancelled its long-running local weekday soap Rhythm City produced by Quizzical Pictures despite it being one of the red letter broadcaster's most-popular and most-watched shows, giving no explanation for it other than to say it has been done as "part of a business strategy".

After 13 years Rhythm City, executive produced by Harriet Gavshon, will end with its final episode on 16 July 2021 with e.tv that plans to replace it with another daily drama series.

According to e.tv, Rhythm City's "on-air life cycle" isn't good enough for the channel anymore, with e.tv that took the decision to can Rhythm City after having reviewed the show's "on-air life cycle".

e.tv doesn't specifically mention any financial reasons for Rhythm City's cancellation in its surprising press statement, yet it stands to reason that Rhythm City's axing is because the soap is likely no longer profitable for e.tv, or is loss-making, or is no longer making enough money for the commercial free-to-air broadcaster.

A combination of ratings and profitability are the main drivers behind the fate of series and programming on commercial TV channels and Rhythm City is clearly no longer making sense as a "keeper" for e.tv within this matrix.

e.tv that doesn't want to give any specific reasons for Rhythm City's cancellation in its press release, for something that is a long-running show, will fuel speculation within the industry and under viewers and fans as to what exactly led to its demise.

Rhythm City, created by Rolie Nikiwe and Neil McCarthy, made its broadcast debut on e.tv on 9 July 2007 and was the replacement for the struggling youth-focused Backstage - it was instantly much more popular and gave e.tv a foot in the door in the production of scripted, local South African prime time content that could pull significant ratings.

Rhythm City peaked at almost 5.2 million viewers in 2020 and has consistently ranked amongst the Top 10 most-watched prime time soap operas in South Africa, with its cancellation catching South Africa's TV industry by surprise.

e.tv's Rhythm City cancellation will push multiple on-screen talent and crew working behind the scenes at Sasani Studios back into the jobless market looking for their next work opportunity in the maelstrom of the gig economy of South Africa's struggling film and TV industry.

Marlon Davids, e.tv managing director, says that "e.tv continues to look forward to fulfilling its mandate of producing exceptional and relevant local content, and the production has successfully achieved its part of the obligation throughout the past 13 years".

"Rhythm City has secured its place in e.tv's history books, and a legacy mark has been made. We want to extend our gratitude to the entire production staff, crew, and cast for their incomparable craft."

e.tv says that the channel "would like to unequivocally thank the show's production team Quizzical Pictures, for their unwavering dedication and passion that has gone into the hard work of producing the multi-award-winning drama".

e.tv says the final few months of Rhythm City will "have a strong focus on finalising prominent plot lines, some of which, like the introduction of Suffocates long lost adoptive son Pule, will take fan favourites back into time, to when it all started".

AXED. As part of its controversial restructuring SABC top execs scrap SABC News TV current affairs shows on SABC2 like Zwa Maramani in Tshivenda and Ngula ya Vutivi in Xitsonga.


by Thinus Ferreira

In their "secretive" restructuring plan of the financially struggling South African public broadcaster the SABC's top executives have decided to do away and axe SABC News current affairs shows like Zwa Maramani in Tshivenda and Ngula ya Vutivi in Xitsonga on SABC2.

The culling of Zwa Maramani and Ngula ya Vutivi forms part of broad swathes of content, programming and staff getting axed and reorganised into a new structure at the embattled SABC that just made another R511 million loss for the 2019/2020 financial year and that is on track to make a massive R1.2 billion loss.

SABC staffers say the new structure of which they haven't properly been informed of, is undoable and unworkable with the number of people left, with SABC executives who want to retrench 400 workers. 

At the SABC radio division, multiple radio stations have seen the majority of staff receive retrenchment letters, for instance leaving only 2 people at the Afrikaans radio station RSG not getting letters including the station manager Magdaleen Kruger and the secretary, 12 out of the 14 getting letters at Umhlobo Wenene FM in the Eastern Cape, and all but 4 people likely getting retrenched at Channel Africa that is the SABC's pan-African radio station.

The SABC is also axing as part of the 400 staffers the broadcaster's corps of TV channel publicists who communicate about its content with the jobs to be centralised under a marketing manager and at most 3 brand managers.

At a media briefing the Communication Workers Union (CWU) who are against the broadcaster's retrenchment plan, said that the SABC plans to completely scrap current affairs shows in indigenous languages like Tshivenda and Xitsonga.   

"This means that the SABC now has officially abandoned its core mandate as a public broadcaster in the heart of their corporate plan," said Aubrey Tshabalala, CWU secretary-general.

"In the TV SABC News division Zwa Maramani, which is Tshivenda, and Ngula ya Vutivi which is Xitsonga have been done away with. The reasons are purely based on commercial reasons."

"This is the serious reversal of all the gains made during a political breakthrough in 1994. This move is not in the interest of building a nation that is living in harmony, united in diversity."

Meanwhile SABC News TV current affairs shows in English, Afrikaans and Nguni will remain.

"The SABC has current affairs show that will remain - Fokus in Afrikaans on SABC2 with the same stuff, Cutting Edge in Nguni on SABC1 with the same stuff and Special Assignment in English on SABC3. They have been kept on-air in the new structure."

"It is important to indicate that this structure was not presented to the commissioner at the CCMA during the SABC's section 189 retrenchment processes."


Thursday, November 19, 2020

SABC COO claims SABC News newsroom has been ‘unlawfully captured’, says use of eNCA during blackout was just a joke while shocked staffers are speaking out about chillingly cold retrenchment letters telling them they're terminated.


by Thinus Ferreira

The SABC's top management is furious over the broadcast on SABC News of senior reporter Chriselda Lewis who took executives to task during a heated staff meeting inside the SABC's Auckland Park newsroom with Ian Plaatjes, SABC COO, who shockingly told parliament on Wednesday night that SABC news staff have "unlawfully captured" the public broadcaster's newsroom.

Meanwhile SABC staff are speaking out about the "chillingly cold" retrenchment letters they've received, telling them they're terminated.

The SABC is once again embroiled in palace intrigue and internal upheaval after the SABC's senior management went ahead with issuing section 189 letters as part of a retrenchment process to get rid of 400 workers at the financially struggling broadcaster.

The SABC board will now convene for an urgent and special meeting on Thursday to discuss the fractured retrenchment at the beleaguered public broadcaster.

On Tuesday SABC staff threatened a blackout of the broadcaster's SABC News (DStv 404) channel within 48 hours, after which Ian Plaatjes in a private meeting told Phathishwa Magopeni as the SABC News boss, that the SABC should consider using the channel feed of the rival commercial TV news channel eNCA (DStv 403).

With tensions and anxiety high over the retrenchment process, Ian Plaatjes told parliament on Wednesday night that he was just making a joke. "It was in jest. And in fact, the meeting that I had with the SABC News boss was to ensure that we do develop a robust plan to prevent a blackout situation".

"The fact that we've been threatened that within 48 hours we would have a blackout - we are talking about SABC News (DStv 404) that the news people have threatened with a blackout - which is why I had the meeting with Phathiswa Magopeni."

"The incident we saw yesterday [Tuesday] is that the SABC News team unlawfully captured the news platform and we certainly need to have mitigating actions to prevent that," Ian Plaatjes told parliament's portfolio committee on communications."

Mary Papayya, SABC board member asked "Who must be held accountable for what the South African public saw - the SABC making the news headlines when it should be the other way round - keeping the people informed with news and current affairs?", referring to the emotional Chrisela Lewis moment where the veteran journalist spoke truth to power that got airplay on not just the SABC but multiple other channels like eNCA and Newzroom Afrika.

Speaking about the dire situation of the SABC, board member Michael Markovitz said "We are the ones who effectively arrived on the scene of a car crash and are being blamed for the car crash. And I think that's unfair. We've all put up our hands to be public servants and to try and solve these problems".

"The SABC made a loss of R500 million. We are projected to make another loss of R1.2 billion. At what point does a director who's carrying personal liability not put up their hand and say 'If we don't take the tough decisions, are we going to be declared delinquent down the line?"


Chilling cold SABC retrenchment letters
Meanwhile bewildered SABC staff are wondering what exactly is going on or what the future holds for them with retrenchment letters that have been handed out and SABC top management that told staff in an internal memo on Wednesday that the section 189 process is continuing.

Besides the TV division, SABC radio staff were told they're out of jobs by the end of the year. 

At Umhlobo Wenene FM serving the Eastern Cape, 12 out of 14 staff received letters. The exact same scenario happened at the SABC's other 11 radio stations like Channel Africa, the SABC's pan-African radio station where everyone except 4 workers received letters.

At the SABC's RSG Afrikaans radio station where two of the 16 positions are vacant, everybody got retrenchment letters except for 2: RSG station manager Magdaleen Kruger and the secretary.

Magdaleen Kruger on radio said that there's been no consultation between the SABC's top management and the broadcaster's radio stations. "Nobody sat and talked and asked 'Are these the positions that could go and are these the new jobs that are needed?' There are jobs that are not required but which are in the new organogram".

"We are trying as SABC radio stations to get a discussion with the SABC's head of radio and the SABC's top management so that we can talk to them about the problems that we have because they're placing us in a difficult position."

"At RSG the 5 permanent presenters - Martelize Brink, Johan Rademan, Fritz Klaaste, Jacqui January and Haidee Muller - all got letters, chilling, cold letters just saying your service is herewith terminated from 1 December," said Magdaleen Kruger.

"As we sit here, if the situation remains, after 1 January 2021 I don't know what we'll do to keep RSG on air." 

She explained that all of the SABC radio stations were called together, "something was thrown on the screen of this is how the new structure would look, no feedback, you can write to us. But that was the last. There was no discussion, no interaction radio station per radio station."

"Every SABC radio station is different. We're 11 radio stations with 11 cultures and 11 languages. It now looks as if they took a one-fits-all that heavily leans on the commercial station mold. So, the radio stations who gave feedback like RSG did twice, have been ignored. It's as if it was just a motion they went through."

"So that's our big problem: It doesn't help that we go into a new SABC structure and the new structure isn't really workable. It needs a bit of tweaking. We're trying to get management to listen to our radio stations so that we can show them the problem points and the challenges - can't we find solutions?" 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

This is the reason why MultiChoice hasn't yet announced that it is adding Amazon Prime Video as a video streamer to its new DStv Explora Ultra decoder.


by Thinus Ferreira

After rolling out access to Netflix South Africa through its new DStv Explora Ultra decoder from this week, MultiChoice will soon announce yet another video streamer addition - very likely Amazon Prime Video - and here's the reason why the pay-TV operator hasn't made this official announcement yet.

In June this year, MultiChoice slipped up when it included and revealed that both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are the first two international subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services that it plans to add to its new carousel of video streaming services.

MultiChoice included Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in its public 2019/2020 financial results presentation, only to quickly redo its presentation a day later to delete the Netflix and Amazon Prime Video references and imaging across its pages and then refusing to say anything about it.

Last week on Thursday MultiChoice finally officially announced its best kept open secret for months and said that DStv subscribers will be able to get access to Netflix SA through the new DStv Explora Ultra decoder that will go on sale from this week at R2 499.

MultiChoice timed the announcement of its partnership with Netflix through its new decoder, for Thursday morning to be on the same day as it released its financial results for the 6 months until the end of September 2020 on Thursday afternoon. In that way MultiChoice could have something new and buzzworthy to talk about with local and international investors on its investors' call on Friday on the day after the release of its latest set of numbers.  

So what happened to Amazon Prime Video on DStv?

Calvo Mawela, MultiChoice CEO, on Friday's investors' call, said that MultiChoice wants to give individual new video streamers and DStv each their own period of time to first publicise and market that individual new over-the-top (OTT) video addition.

In terms of attention management, MultiChoice, that is transitioning to the role of an aggregating video mall with different types of video shops housed inside it, wants to give the time to shine a spotlight on each of the video streaming windows that will start to populate its storefront, in order to maximise both the possible consumer awareness under potential customers, as well as possible media coverage.

"The only thing that we need to make sure of is that we give time for particular products to, a particular player to come in and get integrated and for the market to know that it is available, and get the marketing going. Then the other products will then also follow," Calvo Mawela said.

"But I can assure you that they're imminent. There will be others that are going to follow, we just need to make sure that there is opportunity in the market to make people aware of the product as they come in. So it will happen very, very soon," Calvo Mawela said.

Both ViacomCBS with its new Paramount+ streaming service and WarnerMedia with its HBO Max plan to roll them out internationally from 2021 and are potential shiny new streaming apps to pop up in future on the DStv Explora Ultra's user interface, although neither has said anything yet specifically about a potential launch date for South Africa or the African market as a territory.

Likewise The Walt Disney Company has rolled out its hugely popular Disney+ SVOD in Canada, North America, South America, the UK and Europe already, as well as New Zealand and Australia that are comparable TV markets to South Africa. Disney has so far been silent in response to media enquiries about when, or if, it plans to bring Disney+ to South Africa.

Caught in a vicious vortex, the SABC's TV channels are doing worse and worse – especially SABC3.


by Thinus Ferreira

The struggling South African public broadcaster's TV channels are doing worse and worse - especially SABC3 - caught in a seemingly inescapable vicious vortex where a lack of money to buy quality international content and to make attractive local content leads to repeats, that leads to lower ratings, that leads to lower ad revenue, which means less money to make content.

The SABC's latest financial report for 2019/2020 tabled in parliament on Tuesday noted that the embattled broadcaster once again made a net loss - this time R511 million - and once again makes for gloomy reading, especially as far as its beleaguered TV division is concerned.

While constantly touting various "turnaround plans" the past 4 years, and constantly repeating the phrase of the need to make "compelling content", the SABC fails to actually get around to commissioning and scheduling such TV content.

Instead, the SABC has cancelled a litany of legacy shows - now too expensive to make - that used to bring in viewers, and have been replacing them with low-budget fare that fails to lure audiences who jump to pay-TV and subscribe to available video streaming services like Netflix SA and MultiChoice's Showmax.

During the financial year, the SABC's TV audience share during prime time has shrunk from 47.5% to just 42.4%.

Very little has come of the broadcaster's numerous plans to revitalise SABC1, SABC2 and especially SABC3 and to stem the tide of sagging ratings, its detrimental so-called "transversal" strategy of spreading repeats and rebroadcasts of shows across its channels and to infuse schedules with new, big hit shows that attract broad audiences.

The SABC in its financial report says that its "repeat strategy, particularly on SABC2 and SABC3 further diminished viewer numbers, which in turn had a direct impact on revenue".

The SABC notes that it focused on yet another "complete turnaround of SABC2 and SABC3" but that the "planned development and growth of non-performing and struggling timeslot could not be implemented". Instead, the SABC decided to just try and stop the bleeding as much as possible with "stringent channel budget management and cost-containment activities that were implemented".

SABC3 as the broadcaster's only commercial TV channel remains under huge pressure and severely troubled. With falling ratings, SABC3 was budgeted to make R408 million in advertising revenue. It made only R251 million. That is also less than the R313 million in ad revenue that SABC3 made during the previous financial year.

Besides TV, things are not looking good at the SABC Radio division where revenue is also plummeting according to the SABC's latest financial report.

In another very bad trend, SABC radio advertising revenue from the SABC's 5 commercial radio stations fell R48 million during the 2019/2020 financial year, fell by R46 million at its African language stations combined, and fell a combined R19 million at its so-called "Fortune 4" stations of Radio 2000, LotusFM, SAfm and RSG.