Thursday, December 31, 2020

Here are tonight’s New Year’s Eve TV specials to watch as you ring in 2021 from Black Motion and Oskido to DJs Shimza and Sox, the 2020 Royal Variety Performance and Josh Groban, to Kenyan acrobats and a performance from Frozen The Musical.

by Thinus Ferreira

For the first time in 16 years SABC1 won't broadcast a Come Duze special on New Year's Eve tonight but will be showing a virtual special, while SABC2 has DJ specials lined-up, M-Net and kykNET have The 2020 Royal Variety Performance and André Rieu, and viewers can get an international flavour watching the crystal ball drop in Times Square on CNN with Josh Groban and Kylie Minogue. 

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic SABC1, for the first time in 16 years, is unable to do its usual Come Duze New Year's Eve music special on 31 December to usher in 2021 but is replacing it with a studio-based virtual show, The Last Dance Music Festival.

The Last Dance Music Festival will kick off on SABC1 at 21:00 tonight until 01:00 on 1 January with various hosts like Anele Zondo from One Mic, Samora Mangesi from RGB, President Thato (YoTV and Selby "Selbeyonce" Mkhize from the SABC's Ukhozi FM radio station doing a "virtual television experience". 

SABC1 says that the broadcast will also feature three of KwaZulu-Natal's "finest upcoming DJ's who will assume the role of opening acts to some of the established artists". 

Headline acts on the show will include Focalistic, Big Zulu and Sjava and also include Nomcebo Zikode, Costa Tich, Blaq Diamond, Khuzani, Makhadzi, Zanda Zakuza, Aubrey Qwana, Mnqobi Yazo and others, while DJ Shimza and DJ Sox will be on just before midnight to usher viewers into 2021 as "a perfect countdown experience into 2021".

M-Net (DStv 101) has the 2020 Royal Variety Performance scheduled for tonight at 20:30 with this year's performance that wasn't cancelled but also done in front of a virtual audience, and with Prince Charles that will deliver a special pre-recorded message. 

Hosted by Jason Manford, the 2020 Royal Variety Performance was filmed at the Blackpool Opera House in the Winter Gardens Complex - the first time it's not in London since 2011.

Performances include Michael Ball on-stage singing "You'll Never Be Alone" with the NHS choir, Samantha Barks from Frozen - The Musical, Spice Girl Mel C and Steps, Gary Barlow, magician Stephen Mulhern and the Kenyan acrobats The Black Blues Brothers.

On kykNET (DStv 144) the Afrikaans channel is ushering 2021 in with a beautiful André Rieu music special, André Rieu: Magic of Maastrict, a live performance recording that was done in 2017. 

André Rieu and his Johann Strauss orchestra perform from 21:30 until midnight songs ranging from Handel's Hallelujah chorus from Messiah, to Think of Me from Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, O Sole Mio and many more. has The Morning Show New Years Eve Special scheduled from 22:30 but didn't bother to release any programming information about it to the media.
SABC2 is going with a stack of DJs to usher in 2021 starting with Legends Live featuring DJ Vinny Da Vinci at 21:30, followed by Legends Live featuring DJ Fresh at 22:30. 

From 23:30 there will be live performances on SABC2 with Rendezvous with Black Motion, followed by another Legends Live episode featuring Oskido at 00:30.

For an international flavour viewers can tune in to New Year's Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen on CNN International (DStv 401) from 03:00 to 07:30 on 1 January.

In a statement, CNN says that performances and appearances this year will include John Mayer, Snoop Dogg, Patti Labelle, Jimmy Buffett, Carole Baskin, Josh Groban, Leslie Jordan, Dulce Sloan, Desus & Mero, Kylie Minogue, Aloe Blacc, Goo Goo Dolls and Jon Bon Jovi.

CNN's New Year's Eve Live programme will also include CNN International's Ana Cabrera, Stephanie Elam, Randi Kaye, Richard Quest, Gary Tuchman, and Bill Weir from locations around the world.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Veteran Skeem Saam actor and legendary playwright Mahuma Paul Rapetsoa has died at 70.

by Thinus Ferreira

The Skeem Saam actor Mahuma Paul Rapetsoa seen in the SABC1 drama series in the role of Malome Josias has died. He was 70.

According to his son Matome, the Limpopo-born veteran actor, playwright and retired radio broadcaster passed away in a Polokwane hospital on Tuesday. The cause of death is not yet known.

"It is with great sadness to announce the passing of our father, brother and colleague Mahuma Paul Rapetsoa. Bra Paul passed away today at 18:56. May your wonderful soul rest in peace Mokwena," Matome said in a posting on Facebook.

Mahuma Paul Rapetsoa was well-known for his radio dramas that were broadcast on the SABC's Thobela FM radio station where he once headed up the drama department. 

He also founded the Paul Rapetsoa Institute of Dramatic Arts in Polokwane.

In a social media post, Skeem Saam, where Paul Rapetsoa made his on-screen debut during the third season in 2014, said: "We approach the end of 2020 with heavy hearts! Rest in peace bra Paul, you will forever be remembered and sorely missed. We keep his family in our prayers".

Coronavirus: Former SABC chairperson Prof Bongani Khumalo has died at 68 from Covid-19 related complications.

by Thinus Ferreira

Professor Bongani Khumalo, a former SABC board member, has died on Wednesday morning because of Covid-19. He was 68.

The South African public broadcaster on Wednesday confirmed that Prof Bongani Khumalo has died. He passed away due to Covid-19 related complications.

Professor Bongani Khumalo who was the chairperson of the second national lottery operator, Gidani, for South Africa's National Lottery Commission (NLC), was a SABC board member between 2013 to 2015.

Prof BonganiKhumalo resigned as SABC board member in 2015 following the resignation of the SABC's controversial board chairperson fraudster Ellen Tshabalala who had lied about tertiary qualifications she didn't have.

According to his son Mzi, Professor Bongani Khumalo was showing signs of recovery but then died in the Morningside hospital in Johannesburg on Wednesday morning.

Besides having been a SABC board member previously, Professor Bongani Khumalo previously also worked with the South African Red Cross Society, the School of Business Leadership at the Universit of South Africa (Unisa), was a former Anglo Platinum board member and also worked at Eskom.

Coronavirus: South Africa's adjusted new Lockdown Level 3: Cinemas and theatres still open but drive-in experiences shuttered due to earlier curfew time.

by Thinus Ferreira

South Africa's cinemas and theatres are remaining open during the Adjusted Level 3 lockdown regulations although drive-ins and outdoor film viewing events during the evening have been cancelled and postponed because of the now earlier curfew time.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa's minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) on Tuesday during a media briefing clarified the Adjusted Level 3 lockdown regulations around Covid-19, saying that consumers are still allowed to visit establishments like cinemas and theatres.

The adjusted restrictions to try and curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus in South Africa will be in effect until at least 15 January 2021 with a new curfew time that now starts at 21:00 nightly until 06:00 in the morning.

"People can still go to restaurants, casinos, libraries, archives, and galleries. They have to be 50 maximum inside and 1.5 meters apart. Outdoors, it can be 100 people if a restaurant has outdoor seating. Cinemas are the same, you can still go to the cinema or theatre but keeping to those protocols," Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said.

"Just to clarify, the curfew now starts at 21:00 to 6:00. This means that during that time, all of us must be at home except those who are working or if you have an emergency – security or medical. But otherwise, we should be home."

Theatres and cinemas took a massive financial knock this year after they've been forced to shut down for several months.

Theatres and cinemas only recently reopened but have been struggling to lure patrons. South African theatres are mostly shut now during the end-of-year period and are only reopening from mid-January 2021 and later.

This year theatres have had their planned schedules completely disrupted and live performances cancelled. 

Cinemas - while now open again since late-August - are struggling with a lack of adequate new big-draw releases to pull in potential movie-goers. Studios and distributors don't want to release and burn off new films or blockbusters in cinemas since they can't recoup the investment.

Subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) has also been taking a bite out of cinema-window revenue in South Africa.

Rene van Rooyen's Toorbos - this year’s official South African submission for the 93rd Oscars in the Best International Feature Film Award category at America's annual Academy Awards - has just become the first new South Africa film ever to be released in cinemas and on television at the same time through MultiChoice's DStv BoxOffice, as a premium video-on-demand (PVoD) title.

This direct-to-streaming release strategy - similar to what NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia and others have been doing in the United States with film titles - will likely further cut into South African cinema attendance figures as some people who would have gone to the cinema opt to rather watch a new movie at home and pay a premium for it.

Drive-in shuttered
Lynne Wylie, head of marketing at Ster-Kinekor, told TVwithThinus on Wednesday that Ster-Kinekor cinemas "will continue to operate at a 50 people cap with shows ending at 20:00 so that our guest are able to get home before the curfew".

Ster-Kinekor's new drive-in theatre at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town that opened on 27 November has however shut down because of the earlier curfew that came into effect on Tuesday. "The drive-in will not be running over the next 14 days," says Lynne Wylie.

The various pop-up drive-in experiences held countrywide and funded and supported by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) have also been cancelled and postponed. 

"Our NFVF supported drive-in cinema experiences scheduled will confirm new dates," the NFVF says.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

TV NEWS ROUND-UP. Today's interesting TV stories to read - 29 December 2020.

Here's the news about TV that I read and that you should read too:     

"He plans to wreck Fox," says insiders, revealing that the reality TV star wants to start a digital media channel that would stream online since starting a traditional pay-TV channel would be expensive and time-consuming.

How America's government reinforced media restrictions at hospitals to curb the media's ability to show disturbing images from inside hospitals and from preventing journalists from getting access.

Coronavirus: Tired eNCA anchor Jane Dutton reveals she's Covid-19 positive: 'I've been waiting for it. You feel that it's inevitable'.

by Thinus Ferreira

The tired eNCA anchor Jane Dutton is off air and home after she tested positive for Covid-19, saying she is in the second phase of the disease, adding that she's in a sense been "been waiting for it. You feel that it's inevitable".

Her 83-year old mom now also has Covid-19.

Jane Dutton's Covid-19 positive diagnosis follows that of fellow eNCA (DStv 403) anchor Shahan Ramkissoon who tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-June and isolated at home.

Shortly after him the eNCA reporter Heidi Giokos, the younger sister of TV reporter Eleni Giokos working for CNN International (DStv 401) from CNN's Johannesburg bureau, in July revealed that she had Covid-19 and was recuperated at home.

Later in July the longtime eNCA graphic designer Michael Wilson passed away from Covid-19, two months after the eNCA cameraman Lungile Tom died in mid-May from Covid-19.

Besides eNCA, South African TV news anchors and reporters at all local TV news channels have all been impacted by Covid-19 cases. Staffers at the SABC's SABC News (DStv 404) division in bureaus across the country, eMedia Investments' eNCA and its News and eNuus divisions in Cape Town and at its Hyde Park headquarters in Johannesburg, as well as Newzroom Africa (DStv 405) in Johannesburg and Cape Town have all been affected and have been grappling with Covid-19 cases.

In March, the eNCA morning anchor Jane Dutton said that she had placed herself in self-quarantine at home after she returned from aholiday in the United States. At that stage South Africa had "only" 61 positive Covid-19 cases.

Last week before Christmas eNCA viewers started to notice Jane Dutton's on-air absence but due to shift rotations and special work schedules kicking in for the holiday period within newsrooms across South Africa, viewers assumed that she was off as part of the Christmas period.

"Last Thursday I lost my voice, my throat was quite sore. I thought it was a sinus issue - laryngitis which many of my friends have had. And then on Saturday that quite surreal feeling of losing taste and smell," said a tired Jane Dutton on Tuesday morning when she did a video interview from home on eNCA.

"I've been waiting for it. You feel that it's inevitable," said Jane Dutton who mentioned that "You feel quite tired".

"I gather there are 4 stages, I'm in the second one, then the next stage is the tipping point: Am I going to improve or get worse?"

"There are so many surfaces, and when you are positive you realise how much you touch and can be contaminating," she said. 

"I'm pernickety about this. I don't go to shopping centres firstly - I don't believe in the commercialisation of Christmas. I don't particularly like it, I've been avoiding them. I've been doing sort of minimal short-term shops. I don't know."

"My brother came out from Ireland, he obviously tested negative before getting on the plane. But what happens on planes? Surfaces. You're surrounded by so many people. Did I pick it up at work? I have absolutely no idea."

"My mom - she's 83 - she's also got it, which is obviously a bit of a concern."

"So, we possibly got it together. Where? I really have no idea. But it doesn't mean that you should let your guard down. If anything, be more aware because it really is everywhere and it's a more dire strain," said Jane Dutton.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Survivor SA: Immunity Island: From fish eagles soaring overhead to river challenges – here’s how the Wild Coast will reshape the 8th season of the reality competition show on M-Net.

by Thinus Ferreira

The 8th season of Survivor South Africa on M-Net that switched filming from an exotic foreign locale to the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape promises a "truly unique look and feel" but will still have a tropical atmosphere with tribes living on desolate beaches although water challenges got moved from the sea to rivers while castaways compete as fish eagles circle overhead.

On Sunday night M-Net revealed that the new 8th season of Survivor South Africa, still entitled Survivor SA: Immunity Island but no longer set on a real island, will take place at the lush Wild Coast of South Africa's Eastern Cape after filming wrapped last week on the new localised season of the 39-day reality competition format licensed from Banijay Rights.

DStv subscribers will be able to watch Survivor SA: Immunity Island on M-Net (DStv 101) from Thursday 3 June 2021 after the production company Afrokaans and M-Net restrategised to switch filming of the new season with 20 castaways to a South African location following the immense restrictions, logistical impossibilities and travel challenges wrought by the global Covid-19 pandemic internationally and within the country.

Asked how difficult it was to find an alternative location during and because of Covid-19, Handrie Basson, Survivor SA executive producer at Afrokaans, told TVwithThinus that "While Survivor SA was always typically positioned in a far-flung tropical location, it has always been an incredibly agile format".

"With this, the show has continued to strive in the face of Covid, with production becoming more localised without quality being hindered."

"On M-Net's initiative, the production team started scouting for suitable locations within South Africa's borders only days before Level 5 lockdown at the end of March."

"With international travel compromised and the true impact of the global pandemic still widely uncertain, it was deemed best to look locally for a place where we could film Survivor South Africa: Immunity Island, without the risk of international travel bans being imposed," says Handrie Basson.

"In order to consider a location, there are a few factors to take into account: the weather conditions during the desired filming period; adequate isolation from modern development, but close enough to decent infrastructures such as accommodation for crew, and reliable supply lines for materials and equipment."

"Then the location should also provide beaches suitable for tribe camps, enough space for challenges to be built, and a Tribal Council spot that would stray true to the production values and standards of Survivor," he says.

Fish eagles soaring above challenge locations
"Once the Wild Coast was deemed the most suitable location, Afrokaans worked closely with local stakeholders and service providers, such as Sun International's Wild Coast Sun hotel management, local authorities, community leaders, - and with the support of the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) - all the local permissions and filming protocols could be secured," says Handrie Basson.

"The Wild Coast is truly wild," he says. "South Africa's abundant wildlife will feature prominently in the season."

"We are talking fish eagles soaring above challenge locations, snakes - the reptilian sort! - slithering through tribe camps, vervet monkeys foraging for food ... Then there are the unpredictable weather phenomena where a sunny day can quickly change into a fierce thunderstorm in the afternoon or a deluge of rain will come out of nowhere to drench the earth."

"All of these elements contribute to a very real, very exposed environment where our castaways had to survive for 39 days," says Handrie.

Filming completed without any Covid-cases
And how were the medical team bigger or different this season to outwit and outlast Covid-19? "M-Net and Afrokaans collaborated on a strict Standards of Procedure protocol to create the safest working environment possible for crew and cast," he explains.

"We had a bigger medical team on-site at all times, with specialised Covid control officers dedicated to monitoring crew and cast, doing daily screenings, providing sanitising solutions and educating the crew on effective prevention measures such as social distancing, crew moving and operating in different zones to ensure social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing."

"All crew and cast had undergone the PCR testing for Covid-19 and spent the required time in isolation, prior to the commencement of this season's filming."

"These strict protocols added an additional layer of vigilance to our daily lives, but it was 100% worth it, as we started and completed filming without a single Covid-case.

Water challenges switching from the sea to rivers
So, will Survivor SA still look like Survivor - with  tropical or ever-summer feel? Handrie Basson assures that the show's DNA in its look and feel won't look different just because it's now set on Wild Coast beaches of South Africa.

"This season will have the tropical, lush jungle background the viewers have come to associate with Survivor," he says.

"The weather was unpredictable with swelteringly hot and humid days, torrential downpours and cold nights keeping the castaways and the crew on their toes at all times."

"The tribe camps are situated on beautiful, desolate stretches of coastline and definitely provides the backdrop of a deserted island location. The ocean waters of the Wild Coast are treacherous yet spectacular, adding atmospheric drama."

"Most of the water challenges of this season played out in rivers and estuaries, rather than in the ocean itself. All of these elements contribute to give Survivor SA: Immunity Island a truly unique look and feel, whilst still delivering on isolation, deprivation and extreme nature - important staples of the format."

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

After over a decade on-air in South Africa Discovery Inc. abruptly dumps Fine Living on StarTimes and StarSat without warning or explanation.

by Thinus Ferreira

Discovery Inc. has abruptly removed its Fine Living TV TV channel this week after more than 10 and a half years on-air in South Africa, with pay-TV subscribers and loyal viewers who got no warning that the lifestyle channel is being terminated or any explanation why.

Fine Living, also known as Fine Living Network or FLN, first came to South Africa since May 2010 when On Digital Media (ODM) launched its TopTV pay-TV service as a competitor for MultiChoice DStv.

China's StarTimes operating in sub-Saharan Africa outside of South Africa, eventually took over ownership of TopTV in South Africa that was rebranded as StarSat, although Fine Living continued as one of Discovery's channels on the StarSat platform and was added to StarTimes as well.

For a while, Fine Living was also carried on Cell C's now-shuttered Cell C black video streaming service as a linear TV channel until that loss-making subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service went bust. 

While Fine Living (StarSat 281) had small distribution within South Africa, the beloved lifestyle channel had a hugely passionate fan base. These viewers are truly shocked and upset by Fine Living's abrupt axing.

The small but persevering Fine Living channel weathered multiple international corporate and distribution changes at Discovery Inc. as well as bouquet realignment changes inside StarTimes, and continued broadcasting for over a decade in South Africa while many other TV channels would come and go with much shorter on-air lifespans.

The unexpected and unexplained end of Fine Living on StarTimes and StarSat is very reminiscent of when Discovery Inc. and MultiChoice abruptly axed Animal Planet from the DStv channel line-up in December 2017 without warning or explanation.

The removal of Animal Planet, and Discovery Inc. and MultiChoice's lack of communication at the time, caused brand damage and riled DStv subscribers for months afterwards who were extremely unhappy not just that it happened but the apparently careless way in which nobody could tell paying subscribers that it would be happening and why.

The public relations agency Razor PR now repping Discovery Inc. told TVwithThinus in response to a media enquiry about the abrupt disappearance of Fine Living that "Fine Living is currently unavailable, and we apologise for any inconvenience. For more information, please contact StarTimes customer service by phoning 0719077077, via email at or by visiting".

Razor PR provided no reason as to why Fine Living is "unavailable".

On Wednesday afternoon the company said that "fans will continue to be able to enjoy a range of home renovation and property content on HGTV, as part of a strategic decision to focus on Discovery’s flagship brands".

To watch HGTV, StarSat subscribers will have to switch to DStv since HGTV is not available on StarTimes or StarSat and only on MultiChoice's DStv satellite pay-TV service.

Meanwhile, StarSat told upset subscribers in a message seen by TVwithThinus that "due to the strategic adjustment of Discovery, the lifestyle channel Fine Living will be offline, but we are looking into a channel with similar content".

StarSat told TVwithThinus in response to a media enquiry that Discovery Inc. abruptly ceased broadcasting Fine Living this week without warning but was actually only supposed to take Fine Living away from paying subscribers at the end of December 2020.

"Please note that Fine Living was off-lined because the channel provider ceased the production of the channel. Communication is yet to be sent to customers as this was supposed to be at the end of December".

Upset StarSat subscribers like Celeste Ahmed asked: "Fine Living on channel 281is off. What's going on?" 

Tony Concalves said: "My favourite programme is King Pool. Now where can I watch this programme? You have removed Line Living. Why could you not take away StarTimes Africa on channel 180 - nothing showing, just the logo on?"

Leheezy Likhead said: "When are you replacing all those channels you took off? I can't image the stress of us paying while you play taking channels off without replacing them immediately".

Deon Smith said: "The question is when are you guys going to replace Fine Living? If you remove something you must replace it immediately because your customer is paying for it".

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Viewers say SABC3 has gone from classy content to a porn hub following Sunday night's broadcast of sexually graphic film.

by Thinus Ferreira

On Monday viewers started lamenting about how the South African public broadcaster's once classy SABC3 has apparently gone trashy and became a "porn hub" following Sunday night's broadcast of a sexually graphic film.

For its last Sunday before Christmas, SABC3 broadcast the R-rated film, The Devil Knows You're Dead.

The SABC3 broadcast on Sunday instantly drew parallels under viewers with when the rival free-to-air commercial broadcaster used to broadcast the softcore porn film series Emmanuelle during weekends in late-night timeslots. eventually ended the scheduling practice after market research indicated that the impact of tawdry content on its brand diminished its ability to lure advertisers during other timeslots.

Unlike Emmanuelle that was slotted close to or after midnight, SABC3 broadcast The Devil Knows You're Dead at 22:30 on Sunday.

The Devil Knows You're Dead, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, contains strong graphic sexuality, nudity, violence, drug use and language, including blasphemy with South Africa's Film and Publication Board (FPB) that gave it a 16VSL age-restriction.

The FPB certificate for the 2007-film notes the "very strong, very frequent, including blasphemy" language, "fairly frequent, strong" nudity and "fairly frequent" sex scenes, as well as "fairly frequent" violence.

The Broadcasting Complains Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) told TVwithThinus that by the end of Monday it had received no written complaints from viewers, although people did complain on social media, while others joked that they will now start watching SABC3 because of the perceived broadcast of pornography.

SABC3, where Pat van Heerden is currently the channel head, in response to a media enquiry, on Tuesday told TVwithThinus that "The Devil Knows You’re Dead is a high art movie with a stellar cast of some of the finest American actors with famous director Lumet which was part of the SABC 3 December schedule for broadcast Sunday, 20 December at 22:30".

"The movie was promoted with a full house warning and placed outside of primetime as per the programme viewer restrictions. Viewers can continue to enjoy our festive viewing and catch this Sunday night’s Death and the Maiden at 21:30," SABC3 said.

The channel didn't respond to a question asking why the SABC decided to buy and schedule the film and how the film fits into SABC3's brand identity.

SABC3 as the South African public broadcaster's only commercial TV channel continues to fight an uphill battle with viewers, ratings, advertisers and brand identity after all started to slip the past decade.

SABC3 cancelled a litany of longrunning signature series and soaps over the past 3 years without getting replaced while the long-overdue switch from analogue to digital broadcasting has seen the viewership of the SABC's smallest TV channel ebb further to just over a million viewers during a good month.

In November SABC3's highest-rated broadcast was an Afcon 2021 qualifier match on 13 November that lured 1.24 million viewers (3.21 AR, 15.4 share).  

"SABC3 no longer has viewers so they made it a tlof tlof channel," said a viewer on Twitter where SABC3 trended for a period of time on Monday.

"Who needs Pornhub when you have SABC3?" asked another. "SABC3 is now a porn channel?" asked Tshegofatso Mphehelo.

"Looks like SABC3 is coming alright," said Nkosinathi Phaka, while Lebogang Shovhote remarked: "It's a pity. Out of all 3 SABC channels, SABC3 always had classy content".

Lwazi Msomi lamented: "Isidingo. Ripley's Believe it or Not. Charmed. National Geographic. Top Billing. When SABC3 was still SABC3."

Monday, December 21, 2020

KEVLAR. South Africa's cash-strapped SABC splurged R1.1 million on 100 bulletproof vests from medium to extra extra large; paid R54 million to independent contractors between April and October this year.

by Thinus Ferreira

South Africa's cash-strapped SABC has splurged R1.1 million for 100 bulletproof vests ranging from medium to extra extra large for staff in the embattled public broadcaster's SABC News division, and paid R54 million between April and October to independent contractors. 

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, South Africa's minister of communications and digital technologies, revealed that the financially struggling public broadcaster bought 100 bulletproof vests for SABC News staff, in response to a question from the IFP member of parliament Liezl van der Merwe.

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams writes that "The signed business case was received by supply chain management on 9 March 2018. This is a date in which vests were deemed necessary equipment for staff in the SABC News division".

The SABC bought bulletproof vests ranging from R9 305 for medium (M) to R10 978 for extra extra large (XXL) and bought 25 medium bulletproof vests, 25 large bulletproof vests, 25 extra large bulletproof vests, as well as 25 extra extra large bulletproof vests for a total of R1,153 million. 

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that the bulletproof vests "are to be distributed equitably to all SABC News offices and not assigned to individual reporters".

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams also revealed that the SABC that wants to retrench hundreds of workers, spent R58.4 million on independent contractors during April to October this year.

"During the hard lockdown period, journalists were complemented by the independent contractors, and this is the period that more Covid-19 cases were reported in the SABC News division, and freelancers were utilised."

"The nature of the SABC News operation is such that services of independent contractors are indispensable."

Financially struggling SABC blows R2.3 million on public relations agency PR Worx in a new contract to try and repair the broadcaster's image as it duplicates SABC communications boss Gugu Ntuli's existing internal team that doesn't have all the skills and resources.

by Thinus Ferreira

South Africa's struggling public broadcaster that wants to retrench workers because of its absolute dire financial situation has splurged a shocking R2.3 million to pay the public relations agency PR Worx to clean up the SABC's dented image and damaged reputation, although the broadcaster internally has a fully-functioning corporate communications division and team.

According to South Africa's government, the SABC appointed PR Worx because the broadcaster's internal corporate communications team doesn't have all of the needed skills and resources.

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, South Africa's minister of communications and digital technologies, revealed that the cash-strapped SABC signed a new contract in July for R2.3 million with PR Worx for a year for so-called reputation management.

The IFP member of parliament Liezl van der Merwe why the SABC why it deemed it necessary to hire a PR company to do work for the SABC considering that the SABC does have an internal PR component and personnel.

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams in a written reply answered that the SABC appointed PR Worx to "further add to the SABC's turnaround strategy, addressing and better managing its reputation and corporate image [that] is a priority for the broadcaster".

"The SABC therefore sought a suitably qualified and competent firm as the reputation management, corporate image building, and market research services that the SABC required were not available from an internal skill set and resource perspective," Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

"All due diligence was performed and only when the SABC was satisfied that it had found a suitable service provider that understood the scope of work, and possessed the necessary experience to effectively execute the stipulated reputation mandate, was the contract awarded on 29 June 2020."

"The SABC then entered into an agreement with PR Worx as the agency of choice on 2 July 2020 for a 12-month period."

The SABC has a corporate communications division headed up by Gugu Ntuli, who got paid R767 000 according to the SABC's latest 2019/2020 financial report since her appointment from December 2019 as the SABC's group executive for corporate affairs and marketing.

Meanwhile, the SABC plans to retrench and wants to get rid of the entire group of programming publicists at its SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 TV channels responsible for issuing schedules, publicity photography and programming updates to the country's press and to communicate with media.

It's not clear how the SABC plans to liaise with media about its TV shows without any publicists who all received retrenchment letters last month.

Last week, TVwithThinus asked the SABC why it wants to completely axe all publicists at all of its TV channels and why the SABC no longer sees this crucial job as important.

Gugu Ntuli said that "The current processes underway are exploring all options and I'm very certain that whatever has been tabled will be duly considered and the right structures will come into effect".

According to SABC insiders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Merlin Naicker, the SABC's latest head of SABC Television, apparently wants "publicity" and marketing for all of the SABC's individual TV channels to shift to reside inside the corporate communications team headed up by Gugu Ntuli.

The understanding is that there would only be 2 media relations positions and a general, so-called "communications manager" or a job description to that effect.

It means that the SABC's corporate communications team would be made responsible for corporate communications, as well as SABC TV channels publicity and programming communication, that would all be done by just 3 or maximum 4 people.

South Africa's government that wants to force people to pay a SABC TV Licence fee for smartphones and tablets itself owes the public broadcaster R57.1 million in outstanding SABC TV Licence fees and advert payments.

by Thinus Ferreira

The South African government that wants to widen laws in a controversial proposal to force people to pay SABC TV Licences for tablets and smartphones and for video streamers like Netflix SA and pay-TV operators like DStv and StarSat to collect SABC licence fees from their subscribers, itself owes the struggling public broadcaster over R57.1 million in outstanding SABC TV Licence fees and adverts.

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, South Africa's minister of communications and digital technologies, in a written response from MP Phumzile van Damme of the Democratic Alliance (DA), revealed that the South African government owes the struggling and financially cash-strapped SABC over R57.1 million in outstanding SABC TV Licence fees payments and for advertising.

"A total of 20 national departments have outstanding SABC TV Licence fees balances," said Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. According to Stella-Ndabeni-Abrahams, 126 provincial departments have outstanding licence fees.

Furthermore, a whopping "249 municipality accounts owe SABC TV Licence fees. A total of 57 SOEs have outstanding SABC TV Licence fees on their accounts," Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

In addition, South Africa's government owes the SABC R29.2 million in advertising: 3 national departments owe R13.1 million, 24 provincial departments owe R9.2 million, 6 municipalities owe R2.3 million and 8 SOEs owe the SABC R4.5 million in payment for on-air advertising.

The Government Communications and Information Services (GCIS) owes the SABC almost a third of the debt in debt in advertising sales, with the Compensation Fund that owes the SABC R3.7 million in advertising payments and the eThekwini Metro that must still pay the SABC R1.1 million for advertising.

Previously only a third, but now less than a quarter of South African TV households still bother to pay their annual SABC TV licence with the percentage that keeps decreasing. 

In the SABC's latest 2019/2020 financial report for the struggling public broadcaster's revenue from SABC TV Licence fees declined 18% year-on-year to R791 million.

"This resulted in only 24% of the total licence fees bulled being realised as revenue, compared to 31% for the year ended 31 March 2019.

South Africa's High Court sets aside R7 million lifts contract with Mott MacDonald at South Africa's public broadcaster's Auckland Park headquarters that is ruled invalid and unlawful.

by Thinus Ferreira

South Africa's High Court has ruled that a R7 million contract between South Africa's struggling and financially cash-strapped public broadcaster and Mott MacDonald Africa (Pty) Ltd for the replacement and repair of lifts and escalators at its Auckland Park headquarters invalid and unlawful.

The Gauteng local division of the High Court, in a case brought by South Africa's Special Investigating Unit (SIU), declared that the consulting contract that the SABC gave to Mott MacDonald Africa was unlawful and invalid.

The lifts and escalator replacement and repair contract was awarded during the era of the famously matricless Hlaudi Motsoeneng as SABC chief operating officer (COO) that had been described as a "reign of terror".

The court ruling by Judge Raylene Keightley declared the decision of the SABC to award the contract on 6 July 2015 unlawful and invalid, and accordingly reviewed and set aside. 

The court also ordered Mott Macdonald Africa to pay back the profits it made in the contract to the SABC.

Mott Macdonald Africa was also ordered to provide a detailed breakdown of its reasonable expenses, verified by a duly qualified expert, within 30 days. The SABC was ordered to appoint an expert to verify the reasonableness of such expenses within 30 days thereafter.

"The systemic undermining of the procurement processes at the SABC was but one part of a much broader pattern of governance failings by the SABC under the executive leadership of, among others, Hlaudi Motsoeneng and SABC CEO James Aguma," Judge Raylene Keightley said.

In a statement on Sunday by SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago who used to the SABC's spokesperson, the SIU said that together with the SABC, the SIU took the case to the High Court for review on the basis that the SABC awarded the R7 033 464 contract to Mott Macdonald Africa without following its own prescribed procurement policy processes.

"The matter was centred around the fact that the SABC did not award the contract on an open-bidding basis but instead it treated Mott MacDonald Africa as a sole provider of services contrary to the regulatory rules of the procurement scheme," the SIU says.

Andy Mothibi, SIU head advocate, says "This is a continuation of the implementation of the SIU investigations outcomes and consequence management to recover monies lost by the SABC. There are other cases enrolled in the High Court and the Special Tribunal awaiting adjudication and will result in further recoveries for the SABC".  

Sunday, December 20, 2020

M-Net’s Survivor SA: Immunity Island switches to South Africa's Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape with 20 castaways, set for broadcast from 3 June 2021.

by Thinus Ferreira

Next year Survivor South Africa: Immunity Island with 20 castaways will play out on beaches along South Africa's Wild Coast in the country's second-largest province with M-Net (DStv 101) that revealed that producers switched the location of the 8th season to the Eastern Cape province.

On Sunday TVwithThinus reliable learnt that filming of Survivor SA: Immunity Island started on 6 November 2020 with the show that will be broadcast from Thursday 3 June 2021 on M-Net.

M-Net this past week confirmed that secret filming of the season had wrapped on Tuesday after just over a month spent in the Eastern Cape'sWild Coast - a region of untamed wilderness that stretches from East London in the south to the border of KwaZulu-Natal in the north.

In March, due to the global Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic that impacted both international flights, tourism and accommodation - as well as all TV and film production within South Africa that had to shut down - M-Net and the production company Afrokaans were forced to first indefinitely postpone the 8th local season of the show earlier this year.

Castaways who were selected from online entries and made the shortlist to be part of Survivor SA: Immunity Island were originally told that they needed to be away for up to 50 days for the 8th season, with the in-play show that had been mapped to run for 39 days again.

The 8th season of the show was supposed to be broadcast on M-Net from September this year.

Once the national hard lockdown period in South Africa ended a few months ago, Afrokaans and M-Net restrategised to try and make a go of still filming Survivor SA: Immunity Island in 2020 but now for broadcast from Thursday 3 June 2021 on the premium pay-TV channel.

The decision was made to switch filming of the usually island-based reality competition show, with the localised Survivor SA format that is licensed from Banijay Rights, to a South African location. 

That meant that passports for the castaways and crew, international travel and the use of foreign film support services and overseas location-based crew won't be required. 

All of the shortlisted castaways had to be asked whether they are still available - this time during November and December - and if they still wanted to take part.

Production on Survivor SA: Immunity Island - once again with host Nico Panagio counting votes at tribal council - wrapped this past week in the Eastern Cape, done in conjunction with the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC).

The season was done within a protected and isolated Covid-19-free safety bubble. The castaways were rigorously Covid-tested and completely cut off from the outside world before filming started. 

The on-location Afrokaans crew, themselves undergoing Covid-19 screening, also entered an isolated production bubble whilst keeping contact with a support team on the "outside" that dealt with suppliers for the duration of the season's filming. 

So strict were Covid-19 safety protocols and the production bubble that not even M-Net's Randburg-based executives - who usually visit local shows during production - went on location, with the M-Net reality commissioning editor Terja Beney who didn't do a set visit.

Neither did any media visit Survivor SA: Immunity Island, with M-Net that in seasons past usually invited a few select press members to observe some of the castaway play and tribal council shenanigans during pivotal days like the merging of tribes.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

'Wholesale burndown': Concerns growing over the South African public broadcaster's 'quite short-sighted' and 'arrogantly clueless' plan to get rid of all SABC TV channels' publicists in its retrenchment plan.

by Thinus Ferreira

Concerns are growing inside the SABC, as well as with media outside, about the South African public broadcaster's apparently "quite short-sighted", "wholly misguided" and uninformed plan - labelled a "wholesale burndown" - to get rid of all publicists across all of the SABC's TV channels as part of its latest retrenchment plan. 

Multiple of the institution's divisions and enterprises across the entire SABC have been affected by the section 189 process to downsize the over-staffed SABC's personnel costs, with some like SABC News that quickly itself became the news last month when redundancy notices were handed out.

While the South African public and media last month saw SABC News anchor and reporter Chriselda Lewis chastise apparently clueless and uninformed SABC top execs like COO Ian Plaatjes in videos that quickly went viral, many more SABC staffers in many other divisions are extremely unhappy as well.

While they are dealing with the same issues, they haven't spoken out about their plight, trying to keep up a dignified front despite tears, anxiety and fear about their futures behind-the-scenes.

According to sources, these staffers - from SABC Radio to commercial enterprises and many other divisions - are bearing the brunt of over-zealous bosses who are "cutting down to make numbers".

At the SABC's Northern Cape-based radio station, XKFM, all 11 staffers for instance got retrenchment letters, with staff openly wondering how the broadcaster will possibly be able to continue to broadcast in the !Xu and !Khwe San languages if they're all gone.

On top of so-described "cold retrenchment letters", rank-and-file SABC staffers are now dealing with their own fears, resentment and anger, as well as what they claim is top executives and their line managers' alleged uninformed cookie-cutter approach to "cutting down numbers on spreadsheets" in various divisions simply to "reach the desired headcount".

Staffers say that instead of knowing what workers are really doing, finding out what their real job descriptions entail and listening as to why certain jobs are actually essential to the SABC, "we're willy-nilly put in the expendable category so they [managers] can keep their jobs safe".

One such "division" facing complete annihilation within the SABC's broad-based retrenchment plan is the SABC's coterie of publicists - the PR people at SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3.

These SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 publicists are the ones who deal with media enquiries about programming, issue schedules and programming highlights and updates, write and send out the press releases about programmes, and who liaise with media about interviews with talent.

They handle stills and photo request ("high res please") and is the first port of call and often the stopgap frontline receivers of the unending barrage of media requests that neither programming managers at the SABC's TV channels nor anybody else wants to directly deal with.

Inexplicably, the SABC has given all of these publicists their marching orders.

The move has caused the media at newspapers, magazines and online media who depend on publicists as the go-between, to openly wonder who is actually going to do the work and take over the thankless task of dealing with the myriad of important, and less important, media enquiries that constantly stream in and that would quickly overwhelm the SABC's corporate affairs communications team.

Instead of axing all of its programming publicists at the SABC, the broadcaster in fact needs to have and do much, much more in this field.

Over just the past 5 years the SABC, ensconced in a seeming isolated bubble of its own, has been vastly outstripped and outpaced when it comes to the issuing of programming highlights, the availability of basic publicity material for shows, press events, season-related photography and proper media engagement and liaison.

The SABC doesn't even have a press portal where media can log in to download imagery, episode synopsis, schedules, logos or related press materials that have all become a basic de facto must for international and other TV channels, as well as streaming services like Netflix.

Long-forgotten at the SABC are set visits, while competing TV channels fill journalists' diaries with real-world, on-set junkets, and during 2020, with a never-ending stream of local and international virtual media engagement and set visits.

While local and global TV channels as well as streamers soak up the available attention and time and inundate journalists' inboxes with links to digital screeners of new and upcoming programming and series in order for them to watch and review shows before broadcast, the SABC does nothing.

As video streaming services like Netflix SA, Showmax, Amazon Prime Video and others started to flourish in South Africa - alongside pay-TV channels from BBC Studios to NBCUniversal, HBO and many others that are repping directly into South Africa with their overseas PR teams or have appointed dedicated locally-based PR companies - the SABC keeps fallen further and further behind when it comes to putting actual resources behind programming publicity for SABC1, SABC2, SABC3 and SABC News.

The public broadcaster has failed and not kept pace with bolstering, building out and smart-tuning its various TV channel publicity teams or strategies with its severely eroded group of publicists - in number the smallest they have ever been in 2 decades since the glory days of Suzette Pretorius - currently overseen by Zandile Nkonyeni as head of PR for SABC TV channels.

Quarterly press previews for SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 that used to be de rigueur for years have all but disappeared half a decade ago with SABC3 that used to be the lone holdout of a once proud and effective media engagement tradition until that channel also folded the informative practice.

Meanwhile, SABC3 is down to just one publicist for an entire channel, SABC1 struggles with juniorisation of staff where publicity materials are often late, irrelevant or mistake-filled and where just 2 publicists try to answer media requests of the SABC's biggest TV channel; while SABC2 publicists would be told external PR companies are handling certain properties who would then fail to deliver or to actually properly liaise with media.

According to SABC insiders - people with knowledge of some of the plans and sentiments expressed inside the SABC but who are not directly involved and who are speaking on condition of anonymity - Merlin Naicker, the SABC's latest head of SABC Television, apparently wants "publicity" and marketing for all of the SABC's individual TV channels to shift to reside inside the corporate communications team headed up by Gugu Ntuli, the SABC's head of corporate affairs and marketing.

Here, other insiders who also spoke on condition of anonymity, told TVwithThinus that there is "in a bizarre way no place" for any of the existing publicists at SABC1, SABC2 or SABC3 within the envisioned structure.

While none of these publicists have been approached or asked about this for this report, the understanding is that there would only be 2 media relations positions and a general, so-called "communications manager" or a job description to that effect, in Gugu Ntuli's proposed restructured division.

This makes it extremely unlikely that any of the SABC1, SABC2 or SABC3 publicists currently on "death-row" have any realistic chance of being kept on post the SABC's retrenchment process. 

It also makes it extremely unlikely that the SABC in-house will be able to do any kind of half-decent programming publicity effort for these channels' content - something that the SABC is already struggling to do properly because of a lack of staff and resources.

Outsourcing it to one or more external PR companies would mean hat publicists with no history or knowledge of brands or shows would be in charge, and likely also cost more to drum up earned media exposure for SABC shows - again defeating the purpose of a retrenchment exercise.

Ironically while the SABC needs to do much more publicity for its TV channels and their content line-ups, it is deliberately choosing to downsize a crucial job within the broadcaster to less.

"It's quite short-sighted" and "wholly misguided" said one source, with another longtime executive who described it as "a wholesale burndown of the last of what is left of publicity for TV if you can still call it that, here".

The SABC this week on Tuesday held a virtual media engagement through Microsoft Teams to unveil a new "SABC Tours" video.

Afterwards, during the Q&A session, TVwithThinus posed a question and asked why the SABC is apparently fine to completely do away with publicists at all of its TV channels, why the SABC no longer considers the crucial job of TV channel publicist as important, and how the SABC thinks that it would be able to keep the press properly and effectively informed about what it is showing on television without actual programming publicists.

"The current processes underway are exploring all options and I'm very certain that whatever has been tabled will be duly considered and the right structures will come into effect," said Gugu Ntuli in response to the question.