SABC plan has e.tv in its sights

Company makes bid to retain viewers

The South African Broadcasting Corp. (SABC) Tuesday announced plans to counter the launch on Thursday of e.tv, South Africa’s first free-to-air commercial television channel.

SABC TV chief executive Molefe Mokgatle told a press conference in Johannesburg the corporation’s three channels would increase their strong local content in a bid to retain viewers.

SABC1, he said, would be an entertainment channel focusing on the country’s youth, SABC2 would concentrate on educational and social issues, while SABC3 would remain the flagship channel, offering a mix of news, current affairs and entertainment aimed at cosmopolitan viewers.

Mokgatle announced that each channel would have interactive pages on the Internet as an added attraction for viewers.

He promised a tough new approach to programming, with constant polls being undertaken to gauge public appreciation. Programs scoring low would be dropped.

He promised more news shows throughout the day, with regional broadcasts catering to minority language groups.

E.tv, a black empowerment station in which Time Warner has a 20% stake initially will offer programming from 5 p.m. to midnight before operating 24 hours a day from Feb. 1. It begins news broadcasts Dec. 1.

Pay-station M-Net, meanwhile, has launched an aggressive advertising campaign in a bid to counter the influence of the new kid on the relatively small block.

Media analyst Melissa Meyer believes M-Net will initially lose viewers to e.tv, but that audiences will return because of the pay station’s emphasis on movies.

E.tv managing director Jonathan Procter believes viewers will progressively turn to his channel because of its entertainment value, which will come free for all.

The channel, thanks to its links with Warner, has snatched some of the country’s favorites shows — such as “Oprah Winfrey,” “Baywatch” and “Friends” — from the pubcaster and the pay station.

The new station was also offering lower ad rates than were SABC and M-Net, which could see smaller companies opting for the newcomer.

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