Sunday, March 31, 2024

SABC signs partnership with BBC Studios for 2-hour primetime content block on SABC3 from May.

by Thinus Ferreira

In a groundbreaking deal, South Africa's public broadcaster has acquired a raft of premium BBC content from BBC Studios that will play out as a 2-hour primetime block on weeknights on SABC3 from May in the SABC's attempt to try and revive the ratings and fortunes of the ailing TV channel.

From May the South African public broadcaster is joining with Britain's public broadcaster in unlocking an archive avalanche of high-quality content that until now was only accessible to MultiChoice's DStv subscribers who had access to the collection of traditional pay-TV channels run globally by BBC Studios.

The curated BBC Studios content as part of a multi-million rand licensing and partnership deal with the SABC will run on weeknights between 21:00 and 23:00 on SABC3 and will also be made available on the SABC+ video streaming service.

Dubbed "BBC Primetime" it will include award-winning British drama series, documentaries, lifestyle programming and factual entertainment ranging from Top Gear (seasons 14 to 17) and Luther to Death in Paradise.

Initial titles in the 2-hour block will include Cheaters, We Hunt Together, Top Gear, Billion Dollar Downfall, Sex Actually with Alice Levine, Louis Theroux Forbidden America, Undercover, Secrets of Sugar Baby Dating, Death in Paradise, Our Girl, Luther, MotherFatherSon, Critical, Louis Theroux Dark States, Trafficking Sex, Press, as well as Nigeria's Female Suicide Bombers.

The SABC hopes to lift viewership and lure advertisers to SABC3 as the public broadcaster's only commercial TV channel but also its most troubled and the most ratings-challenged of its three legacy TV channels.

"I am so excited to launch our first BBC branded block in Africa with SABC," says Pierre Cloete, BBC Studios Africa commercial director.

"BBC Primetime will be hand-picked for S3 audiences, packed with a selection of incredible programming from our award-winning catalogue. From intense thrillers, crime dramas and inspiring documentaries, this marks our first block for free-to-air audiences in South Africa, giving 13 million homes access to BBC Studios shows. I can't wait for the 2024 launch."

Asked how the deal came about, Cloete said "the DNA between the BBC and the SABC is almost the same - the BBC's got the same mandate as the SABC. That connection is very important".

"We understand public broadcasting, we understand audiences. When we spoke with the SABC it was a no-brainer to work together and to bring something special and unique to audiences."

Binge-watch BBC dramas
Pierre Cloete said "drama we know is super important - but not in the old, traditional way of scheduling drama one episode, once a week.

"BBC dramas will be scheduled Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays as a strip on SABC3, so you can basically binge-watch these, plus get it on SABC+ as a 14-day catch-up so you can watch a whole series in one go, which I think is amazing".

"We're also pushing documentaries - I think there's a huge demand for that on SABC3. Thirdly, we're also putting entertainment into the mix. We're taking proven content, we're taking premium strategies and implementing it into this block."

David Makubyane, the SABC's head of TV channels, says "One of the important things that we had to look at is the commercial sustainability of the SABC".

"You can go with the old way of doing business. That's why we started looking at different models. There are a variety of models that we look at. This one in particular looks at a BBC block of content on SABC3 from 21:00 until 23:00. This will now be a BBC-branded block. This is a new model for the SABC. We're not talking about library content. We're talking crème de la crème BBC."

"It's the latest BBC crème de la crème content that's going to sit there, with us partnering and making sure that the brand of SABC3 brings in audiences. At the same time the partnership ensures that we remain commercially viable."

"The content works because we are both public broadcasters. We know this is content that will resonate with the South African audience."

Asked about whether there could be any original BBC-SABC co-production for SABC3, Makubyane said "this is only the beginning".

"At the moment, it's obviously finished product but the relationship with the BBC is one where we are seeing how do we collaborate - how do we do co-productions? So yes, hopefully in the future we will start seeing that the SABC and the BBC co-produce content together."

Sane Zondi, SABC programming manager, says "This partnership with BBC Studios is born out of the need for us to fulfil our commitment in delivering high-quality international content to our viewers".

"We are excited to have access to a vast catalogue from the BBC and the unlimited world-class entertainment our viewers will be able to enjoy through BBC Primetime on SABC3. The deal allows us to bring back some of the iconic BBC titles to our viewers which formed weekly habitual viewing, with Top Gear being the most notable one."

"We look forward to seeing some of the sentiments and reactions across our social media platforms on this great new era on our channel."