It’s easy to see why 90% didn’t work

Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng should have ac­quainted him­self bet­ter with the world of mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing be­fore im­ple­ment­ing his lo­cal con­tent pol­icy, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

In an ar­ti­cle published in a daily tabloid in Fe­bru­ary 2016, piano mae­stro Don Laka for once let his mouth in­stead of his fin­gers do the talk­ing. Boldly, he ac­cused lo­cal ra­dio DJs of hav­ing been “colonised by Amer­ica”. This was be­cause our DJs were per­sis­tently play­ing mu­sic from the US more than they did lo­cal mu­sic. In his own words he de­scribed Metro FM ra­dio – SABC’s prime com­mer­cial ra­dio sta­tion whose playlist had a higher quo­tient of R&B mu­sic – as “the sin­gle de­stroyer of the South African mu­sic in­dus­try and cul­ture”.

Ac­cord­ing to The Don, lo­cal DJs were part­ners in crime and en­cour­aged this sad state of af­fairs. The re­sult was that mil­lions in mu­sic roy­al­ties left our shores for the US, leav­ing lo­cal South African mu­si­cians im­pov­er­ished. This was de­spite the In­de­pen­dent Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Au­thor­ity of SA’s (Icasa’s) pol­icy com­pelling SABC ra­dio sta­tions to play 60% lo­cal mu­sic. Lack of im­ple­men­ta­tion and mon­i­tor­ing could be blamed for that quota not be­ing ob­served but The Don also hinted at some ne­far­i­ous aims an­chored in self-pro­mo­tion by the same DJs who com­peted with ca­reer mu­si­cians in the in­dus­try. They churned out with mo­not­o­nous reg­u­lar­ity their own mu­si­cal pro­duc­tions tagged “house mu­sic”. This, ac­cord­ing to The Don, had con­flict writ­ten all over it, but who cared?

On the ropes, to bor­row from box­ing par­lance, the DJs would hear none of this. They came out with vu­vuze­las blar­ing. Laka was sim­ply dis­missed as an em­bit­tered and frus­trated muso, a mod­ern-day di­nosaur stuck in a jazz time warp.

Well, sup­port for Laka did come, al­though from quite an un­ex­pected source. A cer­tain Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng, perched high up in the of­fices of the ivory tower that is the SABC and iron­i­cally cur­rently fight­ing for his own ca­reer, raised his hand to sig­nify that he cared. I also con­curred at the time, though for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. For Hlaudi it was sim­ply “the right thing to do”, quot­ing from the fa­mous SABC TV li­cence ad­ver­tis­ing line. He went about it in a dif­fer­ent man­ner though, con­ve­niently for­get­ting that South Africa is one of the most demo­cratic coun­tries on the African con­ti­nent. As chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at the time, he called the shots, es­pe­cially in the ab­sence of a CEO at the broad­caster and a pre­sid­ing lame-duck board long cowed into sub­mis­sion by a min­is­ter who wor­shiped the very ground Hlaudi walked on.

Hlaudi, how­ever, for­got that to­day’s ra­dio and TV au­di­ence is more priv­i­leged and en­joys the lux­ury of choos­ing what to lis­ten to or watch from a broad va­ri­ety of en­ter­tain­ment con­tent sup­pli­ers. Al­though it sounded ide­o­log­i­cally well founded for him to in­struct SABC Ra­dio and TV to play 90% lo­cal mu­sic and con­tent on their plat­forms, it sim­ply re­duced the sta­tions’ of­fer­ing to sim­i­lar mu­sic with lit­tle dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion. The pol­icy is no dif­fer­ent to what hap­pened dur­ing apartheid when Ra­dio Bantu was created with the stip­u­la­tion that it play only “Bantu mu­sic”.

Hlaudi’s 90% con­tent pol­icy soon gen­er­ated un­in­tended con­se­quences which im­me­di­ately led to the haem­or­rhag­ing of both lis­ten­ers and view­ers from the SABC sta­ble. Com­peti­tors such as Ra­dio 702 and East Coast Ra­dio and Mul­ti­Choice’s DStv could not have dreamt of a bet­ter strat­egy for gain­ing lis­ten­ers and view­ers. Soon ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue fol­lowed the lis­ten­ers where they had mi­grated to, leav­ing the SABC sta­ble dry. The lo­cal artists Hlaudi aimed to help now find them­selves in a far worse po­si­tion than they were as rev­enue has dried up and they can­not be paid. They had ap­plauded his 90% lo­cal con­tent pol­icy and car­ried him on their shoul­ders like a mod­ern Mosotho Robin Hood.

The rea­sons the 90% pol­icy flopped are easy to de­ci­pher. There are cer­tain terms and fac­tors in the world of mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing Hlaudi is prob­a­bly not fa­mil­iar with. Con­cepts such as ad­ver­tis­ing im­per­a­tives and fac­tors which in­flu­ence what is re­ferred to as con­sumer be­hav­iour. One of the most prom­i­nent of those is the right of the con­sumer to choose. This choice can­not be dic­tated by ide­ol­ogy un­less we live un­der a dic­ta­tor­ship. Push­ing 90% lo­cal mu­sic and TV con­tent down the throats of South Africans was tak­ing the dic­ta­to­rial route and it soon bore neg­a­tive con­se­quences.

Don’t get me wrong. I per­son­ally sup­port the play­ing of lo­cal South African mu­sic on ra­dio. It re­mains pop­u­lar if one sim­ply looks at oc­ca­sions such as the SA Mu­sic Awards and Metro Awards and how live lo­cal mu­sic is pa­tro­n­ised at pop­u­lar venues. In fact, I be­lieve that the 60% lo­cal con­tent rule as reg­u­lated by Icasa is enough if it can be cor­rectly im­ple­mented and mon­i­tored.

But above all I be­lieve that South Africans de­serve a ra­dio sta­tion ded­i­cated ex­clu­sively to air­ing lo­cal South African mu­sic and mu­sic from the rest of Africa and the di­as­pora to give both cit­i­zens and tourists who might like to lis­ten to lo­cal mu­sic di­rect and ex­clu­sive ac­cess. For a coun­try on the African con­ti­nent not to have a ra­dio sta­tion ex­clu­sively ded­i­cated to play­ing African mu­sic is sim­ply a trav­esty. This I hope to soon cor­rect as part of a legacy project in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture. Maisela is a man­age­ment con­sul­tant and published au­thor

PHOTO: GALLO IM­AGES / SOWE­TAN / MDUDUZI NDZINGI

FIGHT­ING FOR SUR­VIVAL Artists who sup­ported Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng and his 90% lo­cal con­tent pol­icy now find them­selves worse off

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