Monday, August 22, 2022

TV CRITIC's NOTEBOOK. Here won't be dragons: How HBO and M-Net fire and iced out South Africa's media with no advanced digital screeners for House of the Dragon reviews and very belated watch-parties.

by Thinus Ferreira

South Africa, and the country's media (trying to) cover television, once again and embarrassingly so, stood dead-last in the queue - either clued in that they're the joke and that the joke is on them, or being blissfully unaware of how they're being discriminated against - in the global media PR launch of Warner Bros. Discovery's new Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon from HBO.

While media and TV critics in the rest of the world got five, and then a 6th episode of HBO's House of the Dragon as digital screeners in advance to do reviews of the new series landing on Monday on M-Net (DStv 101), South Africa's media - also trying to cover the show - didn't. 

Ditto for interviews, and with interview requests done through M-Net to HBO and requests for screeners also falling on deaf ears.

Hilariously, while M-Net still made media sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) on Friday night for two watch parties - one in Johannesburg and one in Cape Town - where it did physical screenings of the first episode of House of the Dragon, HBO's review embargo had already lapsed on Friday morning, with multiple reviews which were published in the United States, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and elsewhere on Friday morning. Just not South Africa.

HBO and M-Net (presumably) want good press and "positive" exposure for/from House of the Dragon from South Africa's media. But how exactly, if there's nothing, and no assistance to do interviews, no access to the actual content and screeners, and no help?

Why are media in other multiple countries "good enough" to do interviews with HBO's House of the Dragon cast and crew but not South Africa's media? 

Why are there media events held weeks ago, well ahead of time, for House of the Dragon in the United States, in London in the United Kingdom, in Amsterdam for Europe's media and on Tuesday last week in Australia, but South Africa gets two watered-down, come-watch-and-eat physical screening events on a Friday night in Johannesburg and the Lichtenstein Castle in Hout Bay in Cape Town after the rest of the world had already published their stories and reviews?

South Africa doesn't need to be first - but wow - at least South Africa's media should be TV dragonriders at the same time as HBO is enabling screeners for review purposes and working through localised pay-TV operators and channels like M-Net to organise interviews with selected media, as well as with media events.

Why is South Africa once again last (Friday night is a joke!) and being left out, especially if M-Net and MultiChoice's Showmax have been longtime HBO content partners for years?

Does HBO think South Africa's media don't have access to the internet, or does HBO think South African journalists are either unable to read, not following the news internationally, not interested, or that they are fine just being ignored or thrown the leftover scraps last in line?

It's interesting how HBO chose to rather damage media relations, instead of working with M-Net and South Africa's media to grow and improve public relations around House of the Dragon. What could have been a much bigger and broader win-win-win for HBO, M-Net and South Africa's local media covering TV, has in essence been turned into a "lose-lose-lose" net loss opportunity.

Want reviews? Read them on non-South African overseas sites and publications since Friday. 

Want to see and know what happened at M-Net's physical screenings in Johannesburg and in Cape Town of HBO's House of the Dragon? Well, hopefully you're following an influencer - or a journalist who will still bother on a Monday to do something about the previous Friday.

Why is HBO so hopelessly bad at working with media who actually want to engage with its content?

The media need content. But how - very realistically speaking - are South Africa's media covering and reporting on television supposed to do their jobs properly if they're being excluded and have to see what's being done in Australia, or the United Kingdom, or the United States with a watered-down approach for South Africa?

The first time this journalist took the initiative to reach out to M-Net first and out of my own about possible opportunities, or to work together to do media coverage around HBO's House of the Dragon was in mid-April. That was 4 months ago.

It is mind-boggling and [insert your own word here] that there would be no virtual media roundtables with cast or crew facilitated by HBO for South Africa's press, no digital screeners for review purposes beforehand (despite being requested), and that M-Net would end up doing two physical screener events on the Friday night after the review embargo not only already lifted but reviews had already been published by multiple other publications in various other countries.

HBO seems to have the mentality that there won't be any pushback from South Africa's media about lesser treatment. What and who's Africa and Africa's media after all? It's been going on for years and needs to stop. 

HBO needs to rethink and prioritise media relations with South African press in the way it prioritises media in other territories. 

With the debut of HBO's House of the Dragon on Monday in South Africa there are no dragon-sized coverage in South Africa. That's a shame when you consider and think for a moment about what might have been.