Monday, November 22, 2021

TV CRITIC's NOTEBOOK. Why lazy Mzansi Magic's lackadaisical decision to drop the Idols winner media briefing damages DStv, Idols and South Africa's entertainment press.

by Thinus Ferreira

Another one bites the dust: Rome didn't fall in one day and it wasn't so much the barbarians that got better, than Rome that became complacent, lazy and incompetent.

On Sunday night South Africa's entertainment media sphere atrophied just another bit more when a lazy communications team from the M-Net group running the Mzansi Magic channel failed to do a basic media briefing for the first time in 19 years for Idols season 17.

The M-Net communications team specifically responsible for the Mzansi Magic channel on DStv couldn't even bother to alert the media that there wouldn't be a media briefing on Sunday night after the conclusion of the show.

There was just, well, nothing.

For whatever reasons, the M-Net comms team at Mzansi Magic under Philly Khubheka couldn't even bother to come up with a bare-basic Zoom virtual media briefing on Sunday night for the group of media who used to attend in the past, following the conclusion of the 17th season of Idols on Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) like last year and all the years prior to that. 

The result was absolutely no collective media exposure in front of the press for the winner Berry Trytsman, runner-up Karabo Mathe, the producers and executives, or the sponsors for the first time in the show's history.

The no-show post-show media briefing shows a lack of understanding at Mzansi Magic, a lack of insight into why something like an Idols media briefing matters, a lack of grasping the how-to of what came before, and why something like a basic media briefing for Idols still has relevance today.

What an utter embarrassment for MultiChoice, the M-Net people running Mzansi Magic, Idols, executive producer Gavin Wratten and Randburg executives like Gideon Khobane and Nomsa Philiso with Idols that once again scaled back some more on what it used to be.

MultiChoice and M-Net's Mzansi Magic used to be much - much! - better than this. Idols used to be better than this.

Instead, lazy, arrogant and complacement people working in "communications" but apparently not versed in the basic fundamentals of actual media communication (or simply not willing to put in the work), seem to find any excuse on the book to do less, be less - and eventually do nothing. 

"Idols has been making dreams come true since inception and as Mzansi Magic. We are proud to have given the contestants a platform to showcase to showcase their talent" is what Mzansi Magic sent out in a press release on Sunday night to South Africa's media, with the statement attributed to Nomsa Philiso, M-Net director for local entertainment channels.

Nobody at MultiChoice or M-Net's Mzansi Magic division apparently bothered to read or to even do a basic read-through or proofreading of their own press release before this shoddily done trash-release got sent to media by Mzansi Magic's comms team for them to read. 

The really low-note and lack of communication around the Idols finale to media, caps off the overall nadir of the 17th season of the show that saw the least effort and media communications to press in the history of Idols since it started in 2002.

And I know: I've covered the reality singing show from its very beginning and saw and have followed everything about Idols as a reporter through almost two decades. 

The M-Net group and MultiChoice keep losing ground to global rivals and newcomers like Netflix - not because Netflix is "so good" but because the traditional pay-TV service is not able to simply maintain basic things like even just an Idols media briefing for Mzansi Magic that it used to do like proper media communication.

Idols used to demand media attention. Why? Because Idols, MultiChoice, and M-Net's Mzansi Magic channel used to signal - through strong and persistent media interaction - that Idols is a show that matters. 

It owned SA pop culture space and proudly showed off that it fully stood in its space.

When last did Idols, MultiChoice and Mzansi Magic do (even virtually) any media-meet up of the Top 16, or Top 10, or the top contestants showing how and where they lived, or a weekly group media exit media briefing with the person who left, or tried to involve media in regional auditions?

Yes it's Covid but let's keep Covid out of the picture for the moment. Multiple people who worked in media and who are still at it, will remember when press were given access to weekly Idols Sunday spectaculars and attended.

Media were invited on and attended the so-called "Hell Week" theatre week media junkets, went and attended the Idols finale, and were present to ask questions at the post-show media briefing and to file reports thereafter. 

For all of these things an innovative Mzansi Magic communications team, PR people and real, dynamic leadership would have found ways in Covid to bring versions of media access to all these "portions" of Idols to the press. Instead ... nothing.

Like a river canyon cutting away sediment unnoticeably over time, Idols and the Mzansi Magic channel little by little eroded literally everything the erstwhile proper media approach for the show that Mzansi Magic took over from the M-Net channel, leaving nothing more than a few banal, stock-written press release email-blasts as its only remaining communication approach.

If a show or a TV channel don't claim its space or attention, the media (mostly) don't care. 

Rival shows, channels and their publicist will and do move in and the media moves on - their available attention taken up with whoever and whatever actually bothers to reach out to them.

MultiChoice, and the M-Net group's Mzansi Magic channel on DStv can be no more blatant about how little Idols - and how little media coverage for the show - apparently still matters.

By scrapping even the post-show media briefing, Mzansi Magic isn't just showing how lazy and uninterested it is in any press coverage for Idols, it is showing (wrongly) that nobody's job actually matters: Not that of marketers, not publicists and not journalists. 

Having a collective media briefing with the winner, Mzansi Magic as a DStv channel, producers, executives and with the sponsors present, apparently doesn't yield enough media coverage to make such a press conference worth it. 

To Mzansi Magic it's a wasted exercise - a rationale for yet again doing less, and being fine with there then being less: Less interest, less media coverage - less everything.

Spare a thought for sponsors like Vodacom, Old Mutual, Truworths, Darling and Yamaha who probably thought they were going to get some media coverage through being involved with Idols but getting even less media traction in 2021 with season 17 than ever before due to the lack of proper or any coherent media engagement.

On a weekly basis South African reporters covering television are courted, invited, included and involved in doing multiple Zoom virtual media briefings for large and even small international TV shows across various TV channels.

Yet even just doing a basic virtual media briefing (as has been traditional and institutional) for Idols to wrap up the end of a season, is now proving too much, too difficult, too cumbersome, and too much work for MultiChoice and the M-Net comms team at Mzansi Magic. It's tragic.

Gone are the days when Lani Lombard at the M-Net channel (DStv 101) would hold spot-on, perfectly executed media briefings for Idols to cap off seasons. 

Gone are the collective of media, all sitting together, junior media learning from more senior members - with reporters from community radio and national newspapers alike - getting to pose their questions with roving mics and getting answers and soundbytes.

Not bothering and being incapable of doing a post-season Idols media briefing further diminishes the sheen that Idols once had and its attention cache. 

Very sadly, Mzansi Magic is sending the message that Idols no longer matters.

It's one less local media briefing within the broader local TV industry that local media get/got to attend, got to experience and cover, or had to "benchmark" against the rest of the world, as to say: We're (also) doing this in South Africa like you in the rest of the world. We have this too. 

When a local reality show like Idols that mattered had a winner, the media got invited and attended, as if the court of public opinion convened in an open forum to welcome a newly crowned king or queen. But it no longer matters to Mzansi Magic, and it's apparently no longer important.

Perhaps the last person leaving Mzansi Magic's PR division that has apparently become redundant in its "less-is-more" media communications approach, can maybe remember to just activate the "we're all gone because nothing mattered" out-of-office reply.