Local content battle rages on in So. Africa

Series of public hearings to resolve issue

JOHANNESBURG — South African broadcasters head for Cannes in the midst of a heated debate between broadcasting execs and industry chiefs over exactly what constitutes local content.

With production of homegrown shows some 20 times more costly than ready-made fare on offer at international markets, the outcome of the debate is key to the future spending habits of acquisition chiefs.

South Africa’s three main broadcasters — pubcaster SABC, pay channel M-Net and free-to-air commercial station e.tv — are required to carry between 20% and 40% local product, depending on audience reach and time of day.

Industry regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has decided to resolve the local content issue once and for all, and in late April will launch a series of public hearings on the issue.

To be decided by ICASA is the exact percentage of independent productions (as opposed to inhouse) the channels are required to carry; whether repeats should be included in local-content quotas; what exactly constitutes a local production and whether African programs should be counted as local content.

The SABC has been singled out for what some in the industry say is an attempt to sidestep its responsibility to support local production by re-screening locally made dramas and comedies.

The pubcaster defends its position by saying it spends 260 million rand ($35 million) a year on local production and that it only repeats programs capable of drawing good ratings the second time round.

“The corporation believes that there should not be a restriction on the amount of repeats allowed to be shown, as it would like to maximize on its local content, while at the same time being able to repeat certain programs by popular demand,” says SABC media spokesperson Alet Bensch.

Some 52 docus; 30 magazine programs; 22 TV dramas, minis and telefilms; four soaps; five sitcoms; and a scattering of children’s, game-, chat-, and medical shows are in development or production in South Africa, much of it commissioned by the SABC and the other two broadcasters.

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