THE YEAR OF
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.