THE YEAR OF

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Pick al­most any­thing about South African TV in 2015 and, chances are, it was even worse this year than last. Un­der a thin ve­neer of “okay TV” are mul­ti­ple per­ilous in­di­ca­tors of how we have slid back­wards.

South Africa’s strug­gling pub­lic broad­caster, the SABC, has never had it so bad. Public sen­ti­ment and re­sent­ment are at an all-time high. The SABC in 2015 was tar­nished by a R403 mil­lion loss, sham­bolic man­age­ment, ever-in­creas­ing po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence, a purge of board mem­bers, never-end­ing court cases, the on­go­ing loss of top ex­ec­u­tives, a shock­ing col­lapse of even a sem­blance of good pro­gram­ming and a stream of jaw­drop­ping ut­ter­ances by Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng, the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer.

The SABC launched a “new” old chan­nel – SABC En­core – filled with du­bi­ous re­runs. Yet it was des­tined for Mul­tiChoice’s DStv – the lat­est in the per­va­sive cor­po­rate creep that’s rot­ting our pub­lic broad­caster.

Sev­eral lo­cal re­al­ity shows were ex­posed as fake or scan­dalous this year. The Diski Di­vas had a nasty spat on ra­dio. Real-life rape drama swirled around Big Brother Mzansi. Our Per­fect Wed­ding’s statu­tory rape scan­dal made head­lines.

It shows how steadily we’re start­ing to slip down that tun­nel of Amer­i­can trash tele­vi­sion.

And then there is our tran­si­tion from ana­logue to dig­i­tal ter­res­trial tele­vi­sion (DTT). We missed the in­ter­na­tional dead­line to switch over and the process is mired in court cases, al­leged cor­rup­tion and fights about en­cryp­tion. Sadly, we have a de­railed process bogged down by a lack of lead­er­ship.

It also turns out that even the “poor­est of the poor” won’t nec­es­sar­ily get DTT in South Africa. Although they will be of­fered free set-top boxes, they can’t get them with­out valid SABC TV li­cences.

But if you think you have pay TV and don’t have to set­tle for in­fe­rior TV like the rest of the peo­ple, think again. StarSat, still mired in busi­ness res­cue, kept shed­ding chan­nels as its gut­ted of­fer­ing went from bad to worse. On DStv, you maybe didn’t re­alise how chan­nels like Dis­cov­ery’s TLC En­ter­tain­ment and E! En­ter­tain­ment were cen­sored for your con­ve­nience. And in­stead of re­ally new chan­nels, chan­nel “re­brands” were all the rage in 2015 – new looks and lo­gos for chan­nels jammed full of stale, old con­tent. (Here’s look­ing at you BBC, M-Net Fam­ily and TCM.)

While great lo­cal shows like Late Nite News with Loy­iso Gola got canned, at least lo­cal dra­mas are still breath­ing. From SABC1’s Uzalo to e.tv’s Ashes to Ashes, Matatiele and Z’bondiwe, Mzansi Magic’s The Road and kykNET’s Bloed­broers, lo­cal drama in 2015 edged to a new high-wa­ter mark of qual­ity TV that res­onated with view­ers.

This was the year that true video-on­de­mand ar­rived – and al­ready there are prob­lems. Al­tron’s Al­tech Node went ka­put, Times Me­dia’s strug­gling Vidi seems to be at death’s door, while Naspers’ ShowMax, MTN’s VU and PCCW Global’s ONTAPtv.com are all fight­ing it out and low­er­ing prices ahead of Net­flix’s launch some time next year.

Will our TV plot im­prove in 2016? I’m not hold­ing my breath.

HLAUDI MOT­SOE­NENG

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