Upper income market getting programmers' attention

Johannesburg- As the South African Broadcasting Corp. grapples with the problem of fulfilling its public broadcasting language mandate in a country with 11 official languages, a tyro Afrikaans-lingo digital channel is showing that local + indigenous = profitable.

KykNet, launched four years ago as part of Multichoice’s DStv satellite bouquet, has surprised observers with its quick uptake, and has become DStv’s third-most-watched channel after M-Net and BBC Prime.

Afrikaans, spoken only in South Africa and Namibia, was recognized as an official language equal to English during the apartheid years. After 1994, it lost its privileged status and became one of the country’s 11 official languages along with other indigenous tongues like Zulu and Xhosa.

As the SABC cut Afrikaans programming in favor of other indigenous languages, KykNet stepped in to target the 804,000 Afrikaans speakers who subscribe to DStv, all of whom are in the upper income range. Not huge numbers maybe, but advertisers love the upmarket niche aud with its strong channel loyalty.

Channel head Theo Erasmus, a former channel head at the SABC, says that initially KykNet attracted disaffected Afrikaans viewers who wanted programming in their mother tongue. He says the viewership profile has since expanded to include a crossover aud of non-first-language Afrikaans speakers.

KykNet no longer sees itself purely as an Afrikaans channel, he reckons, but as a “lifestyle channel offering quality entertainment.”

The channel generates local content, with only 2% of its programming consisting of dubbed or re-versioned shows, like “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” Dramas and lifestyle shows about gardening, cooking and travel are the biggest aud-pullers.

This means KykNet has made a significant contribution to the local production industry, with 80% of its programming outsourced to independents, and the balance coming from M-Net’s production arm, Magicworks.

KykNet recently announced it would spend $6 million over the next two years on four local drama series, a new soap and a telenovela.

About half of the cost of producing the content comes from its share of DStv subscriptions and the balance from advertising and sponsorships.

Erasmus said that at start-up KykNet was helped by a good deal by having access to SABC’s substantial Afrikaans archive. But he said the deal had since expired and “the channel is now functioning fully independently and profitably.”

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