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Networks fall under expansion trance

Territory report: South Africa

JOHANNESBURG — South African broadcasters will be attending Mipcom this year against the backdrop of a changing and increasingly competitive television landscape that will force them to up the stakes in providing compelling entertainment.

The pubcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), is set to become a commercially driven public company by year-end and will be launching two regional television stations as part of its new structure.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa is also finalizing preparations for the expansion of the pay-TV market, at present restricted to M-Net’s terrestrial and DSTV satellite services.

Independent, free-to-air network e.tv, despite persistent financial and management problems, has succeeded in steadily increasing aud share at the expense of M-Net and the SABC, and is now the second most-watched channel (22%) behind unassailable market leader SABC 1 (50%).

The SABC, mindful of the increased competition ahead and its changing role, has been rebranding and repositioning its channels.

“We accept that we are no longer in a monopolistic position and will have to focus on buying entertaining content that will consolidate our market share,” says chief executive Peter Matlare.

All three channels are sending their own buyers, who will be looking for commercially viable programming in line with their new identities: SABC1 is targeting the twentysomething youth market, SABC 2 is the family skewed channel and SABC3 is aimed at cosmopolitan upmarket viewers who want quality entertainment.

“Law and Order” was its top drama during its recent run. Continental paycaster M-Net, buoyed by the success of its multinational “Big Brother Africa” show, is keen to keep pushing for growth of its DSTV satellite service subscriber base and is looking to Mipcom for programming to this end.

Program executives Pauline Cunningham and Tracey Nissenbaum say they had a shopping list aimed at buying programming across all genres for the DSTV satellite bouquet, particularly the American programs popular with M-Net auds.

E.tv, despite its aud success, reported a $12 million loss for the year to March 2003, and the cash-strapped channel will not have a big budget for Mipcom.

However, its program mix is cheap, action, B-grade programming aimed at the masses, which should not break the bank. For example, its top five programs during the first week of July were the Lotto broadcast, the film “Godzilla” and three wrestling matches.

Network execs are tightlipped about their budgets for Mipcom, but the stronger value of the rand against the dollar — up by 25% over the past year — will give buyers more spending power.

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