The Television Industry Emergency Coalition (TVIEC) is raising a red flag in alarm at the proposal by the SABC to freeze, cancel and delay various local productions in order to cut costs.
As per the SABC’s 2008 Request for Proposals (RFPs) from the independent production sector, we have been informed that only 12 out of the 47 productions due to have been incepted in April 2009 will be going ahead this year. The balance will be delayed or cancelled. There will be no 2009 RFPs for production in 2010. Furthermore, numerous existing/renewable contracts have been postponed or deferred.
This appears to be the turn-around plan that has been proposed to the interim board. If implemented, the move will save the SABC an estimated R500-million over the next year. Instead of the SABC creating a viable new business plan, the independent production sector will end up taking the hit for the broadcaster’s internal mismanagement. While the SABC will appear to have a quick turn-around, the impact has deep consequences that the industry, viewers, and next board will have to face:
Companies will close and many will find themselves in debt and potentially liquidated as they had geared for the anticipated annual work flow. Only a very few big production companies with long running soaps will be able to survive.
The substantial investment made by SABC in training and developing new entrants in the industry will be lost – people will have to find other employment.
Key creative talent will migrate and be lost. This is no small issue – producers, writers and directors take years to develop and are pivotal to production success.
Suppliers and facilities will be forced to sell off equipment – most likely outside of the country – which will leave the local industry with an increasingly smaller pool of suppliers, pushing up prices etcetera.
The SABC will enter into a schedule of repeats (which has already started) even in prime time slots, thus directly affecting audiences and very likely future revenue. As viewers decrease, so do advertising rates. Surely this must also have serious effect on the SABC meeting its ICASA requirements – but no reliable quota statistics are forthcoming from either the broadcaster or the regulator. Furthermore, the TVIEC is concerned about how and when repeat fees will be paid – given the fact that final payments have still not been made on some of the properties that are now going to be repeated!
What happens to the SABC staff employed to commission, oversee and work on the many productions that will be cancelled and deferred? Will they be retrenched as part of the cost saving exercise too?
In addition we are being informed that the SABC intends to “bulk commission” local programming to further reduce costs. While we can see that this may provide some savings, we highlight that it will only serve to grow a handful of production companies that have capacity to manage bulk. These are mainly established facility owner/producer companies and will most likely advantage the already advantaged. We believe this goes against the very spirit of the SABC’s commitment to diversity and developing the industry – as well as ICASA’s recommendations. Bulk commissioning is a dangerous notion of cost savings as it is not applicable to all genres (eg drama or documentary) and will thus start to shape the type of content the SABC puts on air – cheap and studio-based. It is also open to abuse and inappropriate commissioning. We are concerned that there are already discussions on bulk commissioning taking place with large facility/producer companies, and that open and fair tender will by bypassed.
We believe that an attempt to turn the SABC around by cutting their key product – programming – will cause irreparable damage to the independent production sector and to the SABC’s credibility. In our view this can be likened to an airline making a saving by buying less fuel. Cost savings must be made from areas of fat or that are non-core to the SABC’s business. Programming is at the core of their offering to viewers. We strongly oppose this process.
We are of the view that the SABC should be looking at a combination of selling off non-core assets, downscaling internal units that have been overstaffed, cutting back on unnecessary spending in non-program areas and applying for funding in the form of a bail-out or a loan whilst implementing long term cost savings within its business models.
The TVIEC will continue to campaign. We will lobby all stakeholders and mobilize public opinion for a short term policy intervention which will require Treasury to allocate additional budget to the SABC in 2009 so that its anticipated schedule of local content can be produced.
OUR CONTACT: firstname.lastname@example.org
This letter is written on behalf of the TVIEC (Television Industry Emergency Coalition) which consists of: IPO (Independent Producers Organization), SASFED (South African Screen Federation), TPA (The Producers Alliance), DFA (Documentary Filmmakers Association), WGSA (Writers Guild of South Africa) as well as the CWU (Creative Workers Union).
At the August 4 mass meeting of the TVIEC, the steering committee reported back on our meetings and dealings with the minister, SABC operations and the SABC interim board. The protest march and subsequent lobbies have given us a powerful voice – but the struggle for a new SABC has only just begun.
As was reported at that meeting, the SABC seems intent on slashing local production over the next year as a means of saving money. See the press release at the end of this document for our position on these proposed measures.
Our industry is facing yet another very serious crisis and we have decided that we have no option but to continue with our protest action strategy.
Next Protest Action
Within the next few weeks the TVIEC will be staging a guerrilla theatre protest action at SABC. This will be a mediation and picket, not a mass protest action. The plan is to stage industrial theatre that depicts the death of local stories and local content. Media will be invited to document the action and to interview picketers. We need to keep the pressure on.
The plan is to stage similar protests regularly after this. We are urgently calling on TVIEC members to join us. Bring us ideas for protest pieces and help the protest committee stage these. We need volunteers to join us on 20 August for a meeting to plan the protest action.
Writers and actors, express your outrage at the SABC’s killing off of local content. We need passionate individuals to join the pickets and speak to the media about their concerns. Contact Charl on 082-6813680 if you can help.
As the protests continue, the thrust will increasingly be on job losses. Actors, writers, service providers and crew need to come forward and tell their stories. The focus will also be on viewers. Soon SABC will be serving us a diet of repeats. Do you have any ideas on how to engage with the issue of viewers? Let us know.
Reporting Back: A New System
It is proving difficult to effectively report back to TVIEC members and affiliates on the myriad meetings and lobbies that we are engaged in – such as nominations for the new SABC board and issues of payment and operations at SABC.
We are proposing that each member body of the TVIEC nominates two to four people that can meet with us for report backs. They will then report back to their members. Please can you nominate members and let us know by mailing us on email@example.com