Friday, June 14, 2024

12th kykNET Silwerskermfees to showcase stories from musical comedy to Muslim burial family drama.


by Thinus Ferreira

Ranging from musical comedy and science fiction to and Anglo Boer War horror story and a Muslim burial family drama, from 28 August the 12th kykNET Silwerskermfees will bring the footfall of established and new film professionals to Camps Bay and a festival line-up that features six feature films, six short films, eight short films by emerging filmmakers, along with five documentaries.

Once again taking place in Cape Town's seabreeze-filled Camps Bay suburb, festival-goers will get to talk show inside the Bay Hotel and Theatre on the Bay while attending various masterclasses, themed panel discussions and workshops, while getting the chance to gaze at episodes of new TV pilots.

The festival will conclude on 31 August with the ritzy blue-carpeted Silwerskerm award ceremony at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) which will be broadcast a day later on 1 September on kykNET (DStv 144).

"We believe in the future of Afrikaans film and television, in the importance of a wide variety of voices, and in the power of stories to change people's lives," says Waldimar Pelser, director of M-Net Premium Channels.

"The kykNET Silwerskermfees film festival aims to do everything possible to discover new storytellers, put talent in the spotlight, and to provide the industry with a space where people can talk, show and come together, with Afrikaans as the glue that binds us," he says.

"The film industry changes constantly, and it certainly faces many economic challenges. Therefore, it is important for kykNET to produce, and help produce films and TV that are commercially amenable, and that will reach the biggest possible audiences in order to keep the industry sustainable."

"We will also continue, even if on a smaller scale, to invest in niche projects that are less commercial but valuable in the context of our culture and our country."

After launching and expanding with a "shotgun shorts" project last year for professional short films, kykNET will debut these films at the festival in August. These will be screened besides six feature films, eight short films by emerging filmmakers, as well as five short documentaries.

Also on the programme for a second year since its introduction last year, are the first public screening of pilot episodes of upcoming new TV series.  

Various workshops, masterclasses and panel discussions with experts and film industry leaders are also on the programme, with topics ranging from how the co-production space is growing, to intimacy coordination on set and adapting works from book to screen. Festival organisers are also making it easier for the public to attend individual screenings and sessions with tickets that can be bought from 26 June through Quicket for specific programme events.

Here is the 12th kykNET Silwerskermfees film festival screening line-up:

FEATURE FILMS

Die dekonstruksie van Retta Blom
Based on Zelda Bezuidenhout's debut chick-lit novel adapted by Henriëtta Gryffenberg adapted.
This drama offers a glimpse into the life of Retta (Antoinette Louw), a housewife who had been content for many years with her role as a mother of two boys, and as a wife to Tobias. The film depicts her deconstruction as she starts questioning the so-called certainties of her life.

Gebokste Liefde
Annelize Frost makes her feature film directorial debut with this Showmax Original romcom.
Tarryn Wyngaard stars as divorced single mom, Suma-Lee. When she’s fired from her job as a fashion designer, she joins a boxing gym and finally finds the courage to stand up for herself and fight for what she wants. Also starring Roché Killian and Jandré le Roux.

Die Bloedhonde
This original murder mystery has Stiaan Smith as director and screenwriter.
Elani Dekker stars as Katrien, whose holiday with her family is cut short by an unexplained death in a resort. Katrien suspects the beloved local reverend, played by Tobie Cronjé, as the evildoer.
Also starring Waldemar Schultz and Anrich Herbst.

Som van Twee
A comedy with Simoné Pretorius as director and screenwriter. 
Louw Venter portrays Henk, a psychologist who wants to give up on life after his wife's death. 
He struggles to communicate with his son Renier (Adriaan Havenga). At his wife’s funeral, Henk admits to an old misdemeanour: leaking the matric maths paper to the entire Barberton. His confession results in a dramatic domino effect of comical adventures.
Also starring James Borthwick, Greteli de Swardt, Righard van Jaarsveld and Pierre Breytenbach.

Die Kwiksilwers
Lida Botha portrays Elsabé Marais, a widow in her eighties whose three friends (June van Merch, Susanne Beyers and Theresa Sedras) convince her to join them on a hilarious road trip through the Karoo to experience a meteor shower in Sutherland.

Hier.Na
Starring Quanita Adams who is also the director and screenwriter.
The movie addresses issues that affect communities and their faith, and tells the story of the Burgess clan, an open-minded family from Cape Town’s northern suburbs. 
Quanita portrays Juleigha, who prefers to be called Julie and describes herself as a "non-practising Muslim". When she suddenly succumbs to a heart attack, her secular husband, Eric (David Isaacs), grants their daughter Leila (Shiefaa Hendricks) her wish to arrange a Muslim funeral together with Julie's mother Sumaya (June van Merch). Eric, Leila, Sumaya and Julie's son, Deen (Lyle October), now have to navigate the undercurrents of many years in one single stormy day to secure a funeral before sunset as required by Muslim tradition.

Breathing In
A horror film set during the Anglo Boer War with Jaco Bouwer as director. A gravely wounded Boer general is nursed by a mysterious traditional healer and her out worldly daughter, has to face a far greater danger than the English soldiers.


SHORT FILMS

Die Groot Twis
A Johann Vermaak film characterised by a delightful retro approach and featuring puppets created by Marelize Viljoen. The film provides a satirical view on The Great Trek with an absurd perspective on historical figures and events.

Die Skynwerper
psychological drama by Dewet van Rooyen and Linsen Loots that tells the story of Nelis (Ben Albertyn) who is caught up in his dark past. He lives in isolation with his embittered, paralysed father (Dawid Minnaar). After an incident at his work that leads to his dismissal, he auditions for a part in a reality series, Die skynwerper but something is not quite right.

Liewe Dudu
comedy penned by Lydia Anne Stander about Dudu (Gugu Madlanbane), a sprightly beauty therapist who works at a stereotypical day spa in Pretoria. During the annual inspection, Dudu's day turns into complete chaos. Also starring Millie Dintoe, Zetske van Pletzen and Jaco Muller.

Marie se Laaste Dag
Lourensa Eckard and Mercy Kannemeyer combined their talents to produce this comedy tale set in the period after the first democratic election in 1994.
Marie (Mandri Sunderland), the long-time secretary of the Minister of Mineral Resources, Hendrik van der Merwe (Deon Lotz), is tasked to arrange a meeting with the new Defense Minister, Mayihlome Khumalo (Dumisani Mbebe).

Noise & Neighbours
drama by Fraser du Toit. A story about a bored little girl and a man who has given up all hope. Bolelo (Maliaka Adonis), daughter of a working single mom, spends her days alone. The grumpy Helmut (Tobie Cronjé) lives in a flat downstairs. But when Bolelo gets a piano as a birthday present, everything changes.

O, Griet! Sy's droog
dramatic arts film. The artist Johan van der Merwe (Ugan Daniels) literally captured three women in separate framed paintings. Hanging next to one another on a wall, they can't go return to the real world outside. Their only salvation is a new portrait of a girl wearing pearls, who possesses magic powers.

Ons
dramatic thriller by Izel Bezuidenhout, featuring the married couple, Liezl (Izel Bezuidenhout) and Dirk (Jacques Adriaanse), whose relationship is shaken to the core by a series of revelations and a fatal incident. They are forced to face their deepest fears, insecurities and the consequences of their actions.

Steek vir Steek
comedy by Jacqueline Viljoen and Jaco van Bosch that follows Rita (Susan Coetzer), an elderly woman, and the ladies of her knitting club who become aware that their retirement home is up for sale. They collaborate to confront Gertjie (Andrew Jordaan), the young owner of the place.
With the help of the receptionist Koekie (Jacqueline Viljoen), Rita creates an online dating app to meet older men and raise funds so save the home.


DOCUMENTARIES

By die Soutwater
documentary by Marguerite Venter and the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation that puts the spotlight on the other side of the V&A Waterfront in the heart of Cape Town, where a team of marine specialists, scientists and volunteers try to protect sea animals from tourists and an active commercial harbour.

Jan Bloed
A documentary that focuses on the life of Alister Fortuin, aka Jan Bloed, a former member of the Fast Gun gang in Westbury, Johannesburg. He also is a former general of the notorious 26 gang. We see the place where he has committed his first murder, his "flower dens", and we meet the people from his past. His son Vercaino is also in jail. Will father and son be reunited, or will their paths go in different directions?

Maak stil die geblaf
Marisa van Tonder's love for animals and a visit to De Doorns inspired this film.
It follows a group of eleven-year-olds and their dogs in a farming community. As the children go about their lives in an environment marked by limited opportunities and violence close to home, they teach Tiger, Fluffy, Sussa and Lady to jump hurdles and navigate them through tunnels.

Tussen die draad en die dropper
Photojournalist Willem van der Berg goes on a mission to track down the Karoo’s master fencer. Willem has a long and close friendship with Hans Jors, about whom he wrote an article in 2015. But now Hans is nowhere to be found and the farmer whose Karoo kingdom was fenced in by Hans, refuses to provide information. This is a story about people born on the wrong side of the fence.

Vergeet van my
musical documentary made by Dirkie van der Merwe and the actor Beer Adriaanse. 
When Beer's parents cleaned out their storeroom in 2021, they discovered a forgotten crate containing photos, journals and plastic bags with tapes that were recorded during various music tours. The treasure trove highlights a series of events from an almost forgotten period in the South African music industry. Archive material spanning more than a decade during a revival of alternative Afrikaans music, unveil a story of discovery, coming of age and the dream to be part of something bigger. With music by Zinkplaat, Foto na Dans, eF-eL, Straatligkinders, Tidal Waves and New Holland.


SHOTGUN SHORTS

Baas se honne
Directed by Bennie Fourie. A dark comedy about the life and times of Gys (Albert Pretorius). His existence is a mess, and he finds himself in a dark corner. His boss Roelf (Carel Nel) burdens him with an unwanted dog that Gys must put out.

Deuntjie
musical comedy that features that little voice in everybody's head. In the case of Deuntjie (Anja Taljaard), a shy, obedient girl, her inner voice manifests as Vera (Daneel van der Walt), a larger-than-life diva accompanied by two backing vocalists, Moses and Jacob. They sing and causes havoc in poor Deuntjie’s head. Chaos ensues when Deuntjie can no longer distinguish between reality and the voices.
Also starring Dean Smith and Cindy Swanepoel.

Die boodskapper
fantasy story produced by Rebecca Scher and directed by Paul Crafford. 
A model clay man comes to life when the tears of Jake (Liam Kruger), a young boy caught in a bitter conflict between his parents, falls on him. Jake has made the little fellow from modelling clay himself, but now the model is on a mission: He must find a discarded letter written by Jake’s dad Frank (Emile Hager), and see it delivered to Jake’s mom, Susan (Izaan du Toit).

In die verloop van
Written by Philip Rademeyer and Emma Kotze. An intimate film focusing on everyday life amidst a tragic personal loss. It tells the story of Jana (Emma Kotze) and Chris (Wilhelm van der Walt) who wake up after an eventful night. Both are caught up in their own thoughts, but something between them remains unsaid. As they go through their morning routine, the events of the previous evening are gradually revealed.

Liminale
science fiction drama by Hanneke Schutte. It explores the broken psyche of the depressed Mia (Inge Beckmann), who finds herself in a futuristic institution while being harassed by memories of her husband’s abuse. A psychiatrist, Dr Venter (Michele Burgers), introduces her to the groundbreaking new form of VR therapy.

Selah
With director Brett Michael Innes. A disturbing exploration of postnatal depression and the unvoiced challenges of new parents who struggle to cope. It is about a mother (Erica Wessels) who struggles with her colic baby.

Stilte
Director and cinematographer Jozua Malherbe creates a rich, immersive visual dream full of conflicting emotions around a poem by Hunter Kennedy about fatherhood and how we change over time yet remain the same.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Shaka iLembe leads nominations in 2024's 11th Simon Sabela KZN Film & TV Awards that adds public vote reality category.


by Thinus Ferreira

The nominees have been announced for the 2024 Simon Mabhunu Sabela KwaZulu-Natal Film and Television Awards, with MultiChoice and Mzansi Magic's Shaka iLembe historical drama series grabbing the most nods.

The 11th edition of the awards has added two technical categories this year, as well as a reality TV category that will be decided through a public vote.

Thursday's nominee announcement took place at the Coastlands Skye Hotel in Umhlanga, with the awards ceremony, aimed at bolstering KwaZulu-Natal's TV and film industry, set for
20 July

The awards is run by the KwaZulu-Natal Tourism and Film Authority, a newly-formed body following the merger of the KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission and KZN Tourism. 

The new organisation has the combined aim to promote the KwaZulu-Natal province as a premier film destination for local filmmakers as well as under the international film industry.

This year the awards is adding two technical categories – Best use of Cinematography and Best production design. The public will also be able to vote for a winner in a reality TV category.

The Bomb! Productions series Shaka iLembe currently filming its second season for Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) leads with the most nominations, including nominations for Best Actor - TV, Best Actress - TV, Best Supporting Actress and Best Production Design just to name a few.

Nominated household names include Nomzamo Mbatha, Deli Malinga, Hope Mbele, Thembinkosi Mthembu, Wiseman Mncube and Kwenzo Ngcobo.

Notable films on the film festival circuit like Jacintha De Nobrega's London Recruits, Daudi Anguka's Mvera and Carolyn Carew's Music Is My Life – Joseph Tshabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo are also in contention in the various film categories.

"The introduction of the public voting category acknowledges the popularity of reality TV and allows the audience to actively participate in recognising their favourite shows and personalities," says Jackie Motsepe, executive project lead of the Simon Mabhunu Sabela KwaZulu-Natal Film and Television Awards.

About the nominees, she says "These individuals have displayed remarkable talent, creativity, and dedication to their craft. The 2024 surge in entries exceeded expectations and surpassed previous records, underscoring the immense enthusiasm and dedication of filmmakers and television producers in the province."

Here is the full list of nominees:

1.Best actor - TV
Thembinkosi Mthembu (Shaka iLembe)
Wiseman Mncube (Shaka iLembe)
Wiseman Mncube (Uzalo)

2. Best actress - TV
Deli Malinga (Umkhokha the Curse)
Nirvana Nokwe-Mseluku (Outlaws)
Nomzamo Mbatha (SHaka iLembe)

3. Best supporting actor - TV
Ernest Ndlovu (uZulu no Mhlaba)
Khayelihle Dladla (House of Zwide)
Melusi Yeni (Sibongile and the Dlaminis)

4. Best supporting actress - TV
Dawn Thandeka King (Shaka iLembe)
Hope Mbhele (Shaka iLembe)
Slindile Nodangala (Outlaws)

5. Best actor - film
Kwenzo Ngcobo (Freedom Street)
Masoja Msiza (Dear Future Wife)
Mpho Sebeng (Ingoma)
Siyabonga Shibe (Blind Eye)

6. Best actress - film
Jo-Anne Reyneke (A Queen's Lobola)
Leleti Khumalo (Dear Future Wife)
Phumzile Puting (Why it Came)

7. Best supporting actor - film
Mbongeni Ngema (A Queen's Lobola)
Nkosinathi Keswa (Inkabi)
Muzi Mthabela (Inkabi)

8. Best supporting actress - film
Tumelo Nkwanca (London Recruits)
Nqobile Dhlomo (Amathambo)
Thembi Mtshali-Jones (Blind Eye)

9. Best director
Mengameli Nhlabathi (Blind Eye)
Obett Motaung (Dear Future Wife)
Tumelo Lekena (Father's Day)
Vivek Mehta (A Queen's Lobola)

10. Best pan-African film
Norman Maake (Inkabi)
Jacintha De Nobrega (London Recruits)
Daudi Anguka (Mvera)

11. Best isiZulu film
Joe Spirit (Amathambo)
Caroline Doherty (Dear Future Wife)
Zamani Mthiyane (Ingodusoyami)

12. Best micro-budget film
Zamani Mthiyane (Ingodusoyami)
Sanele Ndlovu (Intandokazi)
Lwazi Duma (Thulebona)

13. Best feature film
Ashish Gangapersad (A Queen's Lobola)
Joe Spirit (Amathambo)
Sans Moonsamy (Who's my Daddy?)

14. Best screenplay
Obett Motaung & Caroline Doherty (Dear Future Wife)
Tumelo Lekena (Father's Day)
Mli Dube (Freedom Street)

15. Best student film
Sithabiso Ndlovu (Cipher)
Sithabiso Ndlovu (hobo)
Lindani Msibi (Isibazi)
Jarnell Kisten (The Captive)

16. Best newcomer - actor
Bonga Mhlongo (Father's Day)
Ntando Zondi (Shaka iLembe)
Ntokozo Mthembu (Uzalo)
Ntokozo Vilakazi (uZulu no Mhlaba)

17. Best newcomer - actress
Nirvana Nokwe-Mseleku (Outlaws)
Zamuntu Khoza (Sibongile and the Dlaminis)
Ziya Zulu (Shaka iLembe)

18. Best use of cinematography
Tiyane Nyembe (A Queen's Lobola)
Jimmy Reynolds (Dear Future Wife)
Jimmy Reynolds (Freedom Street)

19. Best production design
Boitumelo Nhlapo (A Queen's Lobola)
Dylan Lloyd (Shaka iLembe)
Shalen Haluman (Who's my Daddy?)

20. Best use of KZN as filming location
Caroline Doherty (Dear Future Wife)
Gabhisa Khuluse (Ithesho Lami - My Hustle)
Christy Denn (Sibongile and the Dlaminis)

21. Best documentary short film
Sibusisiwe Buthelezi (Checkpoint)
Enver Samuel (Truth Be Told - Ntombi Kubheka - Bones of Memory)
Enver Samuel (Truth Be Told - Phila Portia Ndwandwe - The Breastfeeding Warrior)

22. Best documentary feature film
Jacintha De Nobrega (London Recruits)
Carolyn Carew (Music Is My Life Joseph Shabalala And Ladysmith Black Mambazo)

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Shocking cord-cutting hits Africa's MultiChoice as it loses 9% of subscribers in a year while DStv premium segment plummets further.


by Thinus Ferreira

Africa's MultiChoice pay-TV business saw ongoing cord-cutting take a massive bite out of its subscriber base as it lost 9% of its active subscribers - 5% in South Africa and 13% in the Rest of Africa (RoA) - over the past year with its premium subscriber segment plummeting further.

MultiChoice, currently part of a corporate take-over and buyout process by Vivendi's Canal+, continues to blame Eskom's loadshedding and a "challenging consumer environment" for its shocking DStv subscriber losses it revealed in its financial results for the year until 31 March 2024.

In its RoA business, MultiChoice Africa blamed its operations in Nigeria, Angola and Zambia for "worst performance", citing rampant inflation and volatile currencies.

After the latest customer cord-cutting, MultiChoice has 7.6 million South African DStv subscribers left. 

In its so-called "premium tier" of DStv Premium and DStv Compact Plus subscribers - MultiChoice's most-valuable consumers who contribute most to Average Revenue per User (ARPU) - MultiChoice saw subscriber numbers plummet another 8%.

By the end of March 2024, MultiChoice now has only 1.8 million 90-day active DStv premium segment subscribers left - a loss of another 200 000 top-end DStv subscribers in South Africa in the past year.

In its "midmarket" tier - DStv Compact subscribers - MultiChoice saw cord-cutting of a whopping 9%, while its mass-market subscribers decreased by 2% "due to pressure in the DStv Family base, loadshedding and the reduction of DStv decoder subsidies".

In these segments, MultiChoice shed around another 200 000 DStv subscribers in South Africa, meaning that in total MultiChoice lost around 400 000 DStv subscribers over the past year.


Due to weaker local currencies and consumer pressure, MultiChoice revenue declined by 5% to R56 billion.

According to MultiChoice, its RoA business "faced the toughest macro-economic conditions in its core markets with high, double-digit inflation and extreme depreciation of local currencies - especially in Nigeria, Angola, Kenya and Zambia - which impacted USD revenues by 32%".

In RoA MultiChoice Africa's active subscriber base declined to 8.1 million subscribers.



For its video streaming service Showmax relaunched and now done in partnership with Comcast's NBCUniversal, revenues for the year grew by 22% R1 billion, although trading losses increased to R2.6 billion.

MultiChoice says "The linear video-entertainment business remains the mainstay of the group's operations and provides a valuable base from which to expand its service offerings".

"The new streaming, interactive entertainment, fintech and connectivity services are having a positive impact on the business, and more importantly, on the lives of its customers. Going forward, the group will focus its efforts on scaling Showmax, Moment, SuperSportBet, as well as on driving growth in insurance (NMSIS), DStv Internet and DStv Stream."

TStv boss Bright Echefu and other execs dragged to court over tax evasion, money-laundering and fraud.

by Thinus Ferreira

The CEO of the failed Nigerian pay-TV service TStv and three other executives have appeared in the federal high court of Abuja in Nigeria on 9 charges of tax evasion, money-laundering and fraud.

According to Nigerian media, TStv CEO and managing director Bright Echefu, executive director Felix Igboanuga, and well as TStv and Briechberg Investment Ltd. are accused of money-laundering, tax evasion, as well as unremitted Value Added Tax (VAT) and Paye As You Earn (PAYE) that was deducted from the salaries of 165 TStv staffers.

Bright Echefu is also charged by Nigeria's Economic and Finacial Crimes Commission (EFCC) with fraud and is alleged to have received N150 million from Turaki Kabiru Tanimu, the managing director of Kalsiyam Farm.

In addition, Bright Echefu is charged with fraud and is alleged to have defrauded Turaki Kabiru Tanimu of another N380 million. The money was allegedly paid into the account of Briechberg Investment Ltd. under the false pretence of being a loan to Telcom Satellite for buying technology infrastructure.

Bright Echefu allegedly used the money for personal expenses.

The fake Nigerian pay-TV operation of TStv had a stop-start-stop launch in xxxxx - hoping to compete with MultiChoice Africa's DStv, but quickly became mired in a web of lies and empty broken promises to the Nigerian government, investors, installers and consumers.

The disastrous TStv that made several false promises of launching a new satellite pay-TV service in Nigeria to compete with MultiChoice's DStv and China's StarTimes never got off the ground, pirated TV channel signals from the Middle East and across Africa, made false content claimsstole other contentkept lying about sports content, took millions from investors and installer agents without ever providing anything in return, and failed to pay rent and was eventually locked out of its building.

MultiChoice Zambia shuts shops and service centre outlets as over 100 staffers lose their jobs.


by Thinus Ferreira

MultiChoice Zambia is shutting several shops and service centre outlets across Zambia at the end of the month that will see over 100 people lose their jobs.

MultiChoice in response to a media query confirmed to TVwithThinus that it is shuttering branches across Lusaka and Kitwe at the end of June as part of "a business optimisation process" with others elsewhere in the country to follow.

Over 100 people working in Eastpark Mall in Lusaka, the ECL Mall and others will close down at the end of this month. 

"MultiChoice Zambia will be implementing a business optimisation process and to this effect, we will be restructuring our branches and migrating service to our full-service centre agencies The impacted branches are ECL Kitwe, Ndola Rekays, East Park and Manda Hill," MultiChoice Zambia says in a holding statement.

"The objective is to optimise and integrate customer experience in line with the mission to deliver value to customers by making great entertainment more accessible through cutting-edge technology. The business is optimising its operations to align with an advanced customer service delivery model, whilst increasing agility amidst challenging economic conditions," the company says.

"Operating in an industry driven by advancing technologies, the business must continue to drive efficiencies, whilst being responsive to evolving customer needs to ensure that the business remains relevant, competitive and sustainable in a challenging macro-economic environment," says Leah Kooma, MultiChoice Zambia managing director.

"As a responsible corporate citizen, we have worked hard to minimise the impact of this change on our people and remain committed to supporting all staff that will be affected. The process is guided by the labour laws of Zambia."

'A flight every 3 days': Inside Airlink's invitation-only Black-tier status.


by Thinus Ferreira

Attained by invitation only. These are the words that Airlink uses for Black-tier status - its mysterious and elusive top-tiered level only granted to a select few, literally high-flying individuals, in its Skybucks loyalty programme. 

If you have to ask how to get it, you likely don't qualify - but I went digging for the facts behind this top tier in the local aviation loyalty biz that conjures up dreams of perks and privileges for the well-heeled jet set before and when they take to the skies.

Airlink's new loyalty programme just turned one year old since Skybucks was introduced in South Africa in March 2023 and according to the airline has now reached over 110 000 members.

With Cemair offering SkyRewards, Lift and Flysafair having no loyalty programmes of their own and SAA that fell out of the race with Voyager, Airlink has become the fastest-growing local airline loyalty awards programme, offering fliers its Skybucks programme with Blue, Red and Emerald tiers.

Hidden in the small print, however ... an elusive Black tier - with barely any information, anywhere, about it. Suffice to say, the Airlink website says Black-tiered status - getting it, and keeping it - is "attained by invitation only". 

Of course a Black-tier is instantly reminiscent of the American culture of black credit cards - that ultimate consumer capitalist status symbol - like American Express' Black Amex Card for the ultra-rich like Oprah Winfrey and made from metal, that was first launched two decades ago.

"The Black-tier is an exclusive membership-by-invitation category for loyal members who fly 80 or more sectors in a 12-month period," Rodger Foster, Airlink CEO and managing director, tells me.

What that means in other words: Taking between six to seven flights per week on Airlink. And make no mistake - there definitely are those types of constantly-at-the-airport people.

"The air and non-air benefits and rewards exceed the Emerald-tier and include additional, meaningful non-air rewards such as exclusive one-of-a-kind experiences," Foster explains about its pinnacle membership level.

And how do you get it if you haven't got it? Well, just like the Black Amex Card, if you have to ask, you probably don't qualify. It's a polite case of "you don't have to call us, we'll call you".

About being invited into the rarified air of the Skybucks Black-tier circle, Airlink explains that "eligible members are contacted by a member of the Skybucks engagement team who presents them with their invitation to join the Black-tier". 

So, how many of these secret high-flying Airlink Black-tiered customers exist among us mere grounded mortals? Well, Airlink doesn't really want to say.

"The number of Black-tier members continues to grow as Skybucks' overall membership expands and the number of Emerald-members eligible for invitation to joining the Black-tier increases," Foster says. 

Is it a case of once you've reached the Black-tier that you get to remain part of the champagne-and-caviar brigade indefinitely? Uhm, no.

According to Airlink, membership for the Black-tier only remains valid for a year. To stay there, you've got to fly, baby. 

Airlink says after a year of Black-tiered membership, "members are individually evaluated according to the recency and frequency of their travel, their spend on tickets and membership engagement".

That's the nice way of saying you will drop from your thinner air in the sky back down to where you were lifted from, if you don't keep on flying.

Airlink explains that Black-tiered "members tend to keep themselves well-informed of their own tier status "and communicate frequently with our Skybucks consultants".

Who exactly are these people having Black-tiered status? Springbok rugby players, perhaps? TV soap stars? Insta-influencers? Pan-African bank CEOs?

Foster says Black-tier membership with Airlink isn't determined by fame or public standing. 

"Black-tier membership is for Airlink's most loyal customers," he says. 

"It's not influenced by an individual's fame, title, office, position, professional status or public standing. Although members include some corporate executives and well-known individuals, the majority are customers Airlink is rewarding because, for professional or personal reasons, they fly with Airlink a lot more than others."

As to why Airlink chose the colour black for its top tier, and why it was made "by invitation only", the airline boss explains that "We chose black as it is synonymous with timeless grace, elegance, style, sophistication, top quality, professionalism and exclusivity".

"Also, because the Skybucks programme was designed for simplicity, we wanted to differentiate each tier and give it a relatable name. There is also a mystique to 'black', which we hope will pique the curiosity of Airlink customers".

He says Black-tier members get a high-level priority at all touchpoints throughout their Airlink journey. Those who want it, need to start by enrolling within Airlink's Skybucks frequent travel programme.

"Incredibly, some Black-tier members have already achieved up to 120 sectors in a rolling 12-month period," Foster reveals. "That averages a flight every three days!"

Oprah Winfrey hospitalised with ‘very serious’ stomach issues.


by Thinus Ferreira

Oprah Winfrey has been hospitalised with "very serious" stomach issues, her friend Gayle King revealed.

Oprah Winfrey is now recovering after she was admitted to hospital for what her friend on Tuesday on the American morning show CBS Mornings described as "a very serious thing".

Winfrey (70) who recently appeared in public with a much thinner figure, in December revealed in a People magazine cover story six months ago that she is now taking weight-loss treatments like Ozempic which has since taken Hollywood and the world by storm. 

Her hospitalisation however doesn't have to do with taking the weight-loss treatments but with stomach flu.

"She had some kind of stomach thing - stomach flu - where stuff was coming out of both ends. I won't get too graphic," Gayle King said. "But needless to say, she ended up in the hospital - dehydration; she had an IV. So it was a very serious thing. She will be okay. I hope she's not mad at me for sharing that detail."

After Gayle King's on-air revelation, Oprah Winfrey's Oprahdaily Instagram account posted a statement, noting that "Oprah was scheduled to go on CBS Mornings today to announce her latest Oprah Book Club selection. When she came down with a stomach virus over the weekend, Gayle King - being the best friend she is - offered to make the announcement for her".

"We are happy to share that after receiving an IV due to dehydration at the recommendation of her doctor, Oprah is feeling much better. She is resting and feeling better every day. We wish her a speedy recovery".

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

StarSat denies it will be shutting down in September after South Africa's broadcasting regulator Icasa revokes On Digital Media's pay-TV licence.


by Thinus Ferreira

StarSat says it will not be shutting down – this despite South Africa's broadcasting regulator that has not renewed the Chinese-run pay-TV service's licence.

The 14-year-old pay-TV service headquartered in Midrand, Johannesburg started out as TopTV and is run by On Digital Media. 

On Digital Media is 20%-owned by the Chinese pay-TV service StarTimes – the maximum allowed for a foreign company of a South African media business – following a business rescue process a decade ago, after Top TV came to the verge of collapse following controversy and public outry over its eventually abandoned plans to carry a bouquet of pornographic TV channels.

Run under the StarTimes brand in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and as StarSat in South Africa, the company competes with MultiChoice's DStv in the traditional pay-TV space. 

It however has far fewer subscribers in South Africa than MultiChoice's DStv where it offers a Special, Super and Max package with a lot of Chinese TV channels.

An insider told TVwithThinus that South Africa's broadcasting regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has not renewed On Digital Media's broadcast licence for StarSat, with the pay-TV operator that has apparently been given until 18 September to close down.

"There's been no notice to staff and StarTimes is still selling StarSat decoders to new customers," the person said.

Icasa, in a letter in mid-March about the non-renewal of its individual broadcasting service licence which was sent to On Digital Media's CEO Debbie Wu as well as Ronald Reddy, ODM's general manager for legal, risk and compliance, the regulator states that it "does not have the legislative or regulatory mandate to consider a transfer application and/or renewal application an expired licence".

In the letter that TVwithThinus has seen, the regulator says "Take note that Icasa may publish a notice on its website and/or in the Government Gazette advising affected subscribers, content providers and stakeholders about the winding up of ODM's broadcasting services."

Icasa asked ODM to provide it with a plan on how and when it will tell StarSat subscribers, content providers and stakeholders on the winding up of its broadcasting services.

Three weeks ago TVwithThinus reached out to Icasa about On Digital Media broadcasting licence situation in a media query, asking for clarity from the regulator, whether StarSat indeed has to cease broadcasting on 18 September and several other specific questions around the case.

Two weeks ago, when asked again in a follow-up, Milly Matlou, Icasa spokesperson, said "the response is still being prepared and due to internal processes, there's a delay." 

Following multiple further attempts over multiple days to source comment from Icasa on the case, Matlou on Tuesday last week suddenly said "Thank you for your query, we think ODM is best placed to assist with your query" with no responses to any of the questions posed.

Debbie Wu, ODM CEO, told TVwithThinus last week in response to a media query about the non-renewal of its broadcasting licence that "ODM/StarSat is currently engaging with the regulator and cannot provide any public comments in that regard". 

 "Our engagements are such that we are exploring all the regulatory and legal issues regarding our obligations and licensing."We can assure you and the public that ODM/StarSat will not be closing its operations anytime."

"Should such an event materialise, which we doubt will happen, we will respect our obligation in terms of the law to notify all interested parties."Please note that ODM/StarSat will not be able to provide any further comments until this matter has been finalised."

Ster-Kinekor shutters 2 cineplexes as it seeks tie-ins with streamers on tentpole premieres.


by Thinus Ferreira

Sterk-Kinekor has ended its latest retrenchment process, shuttering two cinema complexes and letting go of 52 workers as it now wants to work with video streamers like Netflix, Showmax and Disney+ to try and do theatrical releases of some of their tentpole film and series premieres.

The South African cinema chain - owned by the British-based Blantyre Capital and Greenpoint Capital after exiting business rescue in November 2022 - initially told staff that it looked at closing up to 9 of its cineplexes and getting rid of up to 236 workers, or a third of its total workforce.

Ster-Kinekor - which competes with Nu Metro and a few independent cinemas dotted across South Africa - blamed plummeting cinema attendance in the country for having to close cineplexes and downsizing on staff.

Ster-Kinekor has 41 remaining active cinema complexes, with the local exhibitor industry facing immense pressure, similar to what is happening in the United States and the United Kingdom, due to the surge in digital video-on-demand streaming services like Netflix, Showmax and Disney+.

While the number of luxury and budget screens in South Africa has remained flat and indie exhibitors manage to remain afloat, there's been small growth in the novelty drive-in circuit the past four years.

In response to a media query, Ster-Kinekor confirmed to me that it completed its Section 189 retrenchment process at the end of May and instead of nine or more cinema complexes shuttered just two: the Boardwalk in Richard's Bay and the Greenstone Mall in the north-east of Johannesburg. 

According to Ster-Kinekor, it reduced the staff headcount at its head office by between 20% and 25%.

The cinema chain declined a request to interview CEO Mark Sardi and in a response said that of the other cinema complexes it identified for possible closure, the company "is currently in discussions with landlords and partners to consider different entertainment and education strategies within the cinema space".

Ster-Kinekor says it has now launched a "Throwback Cinema" campaign in which it is releasing classic titles at R50 per ticket. This will continue this month and during July with another eight titles.


Streaming: If you can't beat them, join them
Ster-Kinekor says it believes "that we can cohabit in the same ecosystem as streamers and work together", noting that "we have access to data that suggests that if a title launches on our platform first, it will stick longer with the streamers".

According to the company, "this principle of partnership applies across the board whether it be streamers, our landlords, or the movie distributors – the world has changed such that we need to work together".

"Coming out of the Section 189 process, as tough as it's been, has shown us the goodwill that exists among our partners, the mall landlords, our distributors and others with whom we engage."

"We are also protected by what we call the theatrical window, where the film is not allowed to be shown on any other format other than our own for a specific period - typically a 40 to 45 days. Again, once we've screened a title in cinema, people can catch it again on a streaming platform."

"We all work within this symbiotic environment where we can coexist alongside one another and benefit from greater collaboration."

Ster-Kinekor says that apart from Eskom's debilitating load shedding, there's also been the Hollywood writers' and actors' strikes that shut down the "movie factory".

"The consequence of the strike meant that 1.2 million admissions would be delayed by 12 to 18 months. And so, the combination of these two unanticipated events – more intense load shedding and the strikes, resulted in the position that we found ourselves in earlier this year, where we needed to restructure the business in the short term to survive in the medium to long term."


SA cinema cheaper than overseas
"During the Section 189 process, we took the opportunity to revisit and rethink our value proposition," Ster-Kinekor explains.

"Consumers say going to watch a film in cinema is expensive, and that is their reality. Going to a movie in South Africa is around half of what it would cost in the US or UK, but that is immaterial to cinemagoers who, when going to a cinema plus the food and beverages, perceive it to be an expensive outing."

"We need to demonstrate to our customers that it is a unique and valuable experience," the company says.

"We are currently working on new ideas and concepts that we will start testing at select sites over the next few months."

"We have to manage this 12 to 18 month period where the content might be a bit thin in some months, while managing pricing and offering real value to the customer."

"Some exciting new thinking and ways of working smarter have come out of the restructuring process from our teams. We are also fortunate that our investors and shareholders are also active in other markets across the world, so we draw on their US and European experiences to bring best practice to our local market."

"We know that when the content is right, people will visit the big screen. So, is cinema dying? An emphatic no. Cinema is globally one of the very few industries that has survived both a significant technological disruption event - streaming - and a pandemic and we remain resolute that there's still very much a place for it."

"What we need to look at now is how to position it as a more affordable experience for the family, friends and couples."