Wednesday, April 7, 2021

TV CRITIC's NOTEBOOK. The not-so-pretty side of Ugly Betty and how bad and non-existent PR is once again damaging local productions - this time 'uBethina Wethu' on SABC1 and VIU.

by Thinus Ferreira

After all of the effort, casting during Covid, money spent, and making a local adaptation of the Colombian telenovela Betty La Fea, known as Ugly Betty, for South Africa as a co-production between SABC1 and VIU, yet another new local show got damaged and destroyed right at the 99%-mark in the race by badly done and non-existent PR.

I've honestly lost count of how many South African TV shows - that all cost money to make - end up having their feet cut off before they're even out of the racing blocks.

This is often done by production companies and TV channels who either don't know better, don't know how to publicise a show properly, don't have adequate PR and PR plans in place, or just simply don't care.

Why go to all of the effort and expense of spending millions of rand to make a series, and when it's time to show it, you drop the ball in properly getting it under the media's attention?

Why do so many South African TV shows fail so spectacularly when it comes to giving the journalists and TV critics covering a series or a new series, all of the necessary information, publicity photos, press packs and pro-actively offering interviews with the cast and crew?

There is a reason why publications and journalists covering television in South Africa often rather cover overseas TV: Ironically the information, photos and press material are much more readily available on the internet or through international publicists who are responsive, pro-active and who, well, exist.

After Known Associates Entertainment spent a lot of money making a South African version of Ugly Betty in a co-production deal between the SABC and VIU, both SABC1 and VIU apparently can't care less about even trying to make uBettina Wethu a success as far as media coverage is concerned.

SABC1 is so atrociously bad that it still lists uBettina Wethu as "uBethina Wethu" on its schedule.

As of the publication of this opinion article, SABC1 couldn't even bother to get the show's title right days after it had started.

It makes you think that SABC1 channel boss Phumzile Zonke and SABC1 programme manager Sane Zondi must perhaps not be watching their own channel. Neither they not anyone else working at SABC1 or the SABC have picked up on it, or care, or are apparently able to fix it.

Hilariously badly as well, is that this SABC1 schedule is what was sent to other platforms, so naturally, since that is what is being ingested, MultiChoice's DStv in its electronic programme guide (EPG) and StarTimes's StarSat are listing "uBethina" on their DStv and StarSat channel grid as well. 

At least "uBethina Wethu" is better than Telkom's Telkom ONE video streaming service that simply went with a non-descript "N/A" in the timeslot on the grid, meaning that the title at 19:30 on SABC1 is "not available" (because SABC1 failed to supply it in time). 

This is because SABC1 likely couldn't bother to actually send Telkom ONE as its streaming partner any latest updated schedule, causing Telkom ONE to just ran with what it had - a blank.

While uBettina Wethu is scheduled to run from Mondays to Wednesdays, on Wednesday the SABC1 schedule shows Yilungelo Lakho scheduled at 19:30. 

Even viewers who set a PVR schedule record won't get the Wednesday episode because DStv decoders won't "see" it to capture it, and those viewers who scan through schedules and look for the uBettina episodes, won't find or see the Wednesday - unless they specifically know that Yilungelo Lakho on Wednesdays is and will actually be uBettina Wethu.

While VIU at least carries the correct uBettina Wethu name to correspond with what is shown on-screen, VIU is also not without shame and blame.

This is how many episodes SABC1 and VIU sent to TV critics and the media before "uBethina" started its broadcast, in order for the media to preview the series, for possible review purposes: Zero.

Several episodes clearly were available and ready since they are available on-demand on VIU, while SABC1 broadcast one per day.

This is how many media VIU invited beforehand to watch uBettina Wethu on its streaming platform: Zero.

And while Known Associates Entertainment literally paid for a stills photographer according to the end credits of the show - a stills photographer is someone who takes on-set photos per episode specifically for publicity purposes - this is how many of those photos have been used and have actually been sent to the media by publicists: Zero.

And take yet another guess: This is what VIU did in terms of basic PR, like emails, press releases and media outreach to promote uBettina Wethu for its streaming platform and to bring it under the media's attention before the show started: Nothing.

In fact, VIU doesn't even have a publicist or a PR company at the moment. That raises the question: How is the media supposed to know that uBettina Wethu is on VIU? It's anyone's guess.

How ironic that Nubia in-series is a brand management and brand awareness company, and that with the over 10 scriptwriters and 5 storyliners on the production team, at least the real-world people working on accurately scripting the world of the fictional company in uBettina Wethu, know more about how much proper brand promotion matters.

All of this means that all of the money spent on making a show like uBettina Wethu, hiring a stills photographer - and all of the rest - is completely wasted when the return on the possible investment (ROI) is devalued, eroded and squandered by not actually doing anything to get, hold of and to squeeze out the bit of available media attention while it's possible.

While SABC1 held a small physical media launch event in mid-March in Johannesburg, neither SABC1 nor VIU were bothered to make any plan to virtually show it to the national media in South Africa.

Neither SABC nor VIU afterwards bothered to supply any quotes of what was said or happened at the event, or bothered to reach out to ask which media might want to do what interviews or stories.

Yet another so-called "launch event" - with a yellow carpet - happened for uBettina Wethu at some or other place in South Africa. 

Where in Hammanskraal were the media for this spectacle? 

Why couldn't anyone beforehand tell the media covering television or invite them, or bother afterwards with issuing the photos taken there, or with the sending of a press release, or an email to say "dear media, do you want to know about this or do something about this?"

If you're wondering why you don't see episodic photos in the media, struggle to find uBettina Wethu episode synopses, and why you don't see both short and long-form articles about the show and its stars in various publications but continue to read about Kim Kardashian, you have your answer.

South African television keeps making local shows that it often doesn't bother to properly do public relations for, with productions and TV channels that often don't see the need, reason or actual value in having dedicated PR people for it.

Best of luck, SABC1 and VIU, with your "uBethina". And best of luck trying to get it to break through in a very crowded media TV space when nobody even seems to at least be trying.