Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Why the SABC replaced 7de Laan with old Vetkoekpaleis reruns.

by Thinus Ferreira

Instead of promised brand-new content, the SABC has replaced the long-running but cancelled 7de Laan on SABC2 with yet another rerun of the 27-year-old Vetkoekpaleis in the important 18:00-timeslot. 

But why, and why stale repeats in the important 18:00-timeslot where viewers are lured to new shows and advertisers only spend in first-run content? 

The short answer is that the SABC is out of money. 

The South African public broadcaster has been unable to get new but cheaper - or any new content for that matter - produced and ready for airing in 7de Laan's timeslot from last week after the final episode was shown on 26 December. 

A new show, costing cheaper to produce than 7de Laan from Danie Odendaal Productions, was supposed to fill the 7de Laan timeslot at 18:00 on SABC2 immediately but the cash-strapped SABC didn't have the money this year to immediately appoint a new production company for a new show. 

And making a new show and getting it cast, doing pre-production and then getting it up and running takes time. SABC delays - due to a lack of money - meant that the new show couldn't seamlessly start after 7de Laan's demise. 

When I broke the news in July that the SABC had decided to cancel 7de Laan, the decision sent shockwaves through South Africa's TV industry - not just because of the way it was done and how the cast and crew learnt the news but that the public broadcaster with the move signalled that it was no longer able to keep large, multi-episode, ensemble-type shows on the air. 

Talk immediately turned to how long similarly dated and long-running SABC staple shows, far off from their TV ratings heydeys might survive and how long it's going to be before the broadcaster ends Generations - The Legacy and Muvhango.

7de Laan's end follows after shows like Isidingo, Top Billing and The Estate have all been cancelled due to a combination of ratings and having become too expensive for the SABC to afford.

In 7de Laan's place the SABC promised new content but failed to deliver. 

In May this year the SABC called for submissions for a new long-running drama series specifically for SABC that "embodies the power of hope". This show was supposed to replace 7de Laan but has not yet started on SABC2.

Instead, SABC2 filled the timeslot with the 27-year-old Vetkoekpaleis

Vetkoekpaleis episodes are available on YouTube and the show has also aired as recently as last month on eMedia's free-to-air Openview platform on the eExtra TV channel. 

Vetkoekpaleis has also been on SABC+ as a catch-up title where it's always available anyway, and has been on things like channels like SABC Encore where something like Vetkoekpaleis really belongs in what the industry calls a "library title" - something from the archives used to pad a non-prime time schedule or licence to third parties for a bit of resale income.

Television - especially broadcast television heavily dependent on advertising revenue - programmes original, first-run content during what is called early prime-time and prime-time.

The reason is that new content lures viewers and keeps them watching, in the same way that viewers are turned off by and literally tune away or switch off old content or reruns they've seen before. 

Reruns, repeats and omnibus airings are for viewers who have missed the original airing and are scheduled over weekends or during the first, second and third rebroadcast airings - usually late at night and during the mornings over subsequent days.

When viewers stay away because of old content, advertisers do as well. Advertisers want the maximum eyeballs, and they know they're not going to get it from old seen-already shows.

The other problem is that old or bad content causes a lead-in problem for subsequent shows. 

Primetime on broadcast television is a stacked game and trick, like Jenga. One show throws forward to the next like a wave, bringing viewers from one show, into the other, into the next.

Vetkoekpaleis - since it's old and stale - will be less compelling - resulting in fewer viewers in not just the 18:00 timeslot on SABC2, but sending a lot fewer viewers to 18:30 and into SABC2's primetime.

When those lost viewers discover new shows on other TV channels like e.tv and MultiChoice's DStv, they become "forever losts" to the SABC and SABC2 after viewers form new habits and attachments to something else they're now watching at 18:00 and that leads them into 18:30 elsewhere.

That's how the SABC2 Jenga build tumbles and it's very difficult to get those lost viewers and ratings back.  

I asked the SABC why Vetkoekpaleis replaced 7de Laan, instead of anything new.

SABC2 management in a reply admitted that the SABC's financial troubles are to blame - and keep in mind that the SABC did once again make a R1.1 billion financial loss for its latest reported period.

"Due to contracting delays partly caused by the current financial challenge, SABC2 will celebrate the amazing creative talent and programmes that has made the SABC one of the most trusted public institutions in South Africa by rebroadcasting the best of local comedy produced over the past 47 years."

SABC2 management says that the first of our new titles start in early March 2024, followed by more exciting entertainment at the beginning of April."