SABC Programmers Share Wish Lists, Pitching Requirements & More


JOHANNESBURG: A session this afternoon at DISCOP Johannesburg shed light on the various models that the national public broadcaster, SABC, is using to commission and acquire content, as well as what types of programming are currently in demand for the channels.

SABC’s bouquet includes 19 radio stations and five networks, which are the free-to-air channels SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 and the digital nets SABC News and SABC Encore. Blessed Katiyo, the head of commissioning at SABC, explained that the commissioning office is the entry point for all forms of content for SABC, which uses several methods to select programming it airs. One of which is 100 percent commissioning, via the RFP (request for proposal) or the Unsolicited process. “We had a brief book that we put out on the market in November 2014,” Katiyo said. “We had a huge response—we received close to 1,500 individual submissions…. We are done with the evaluations and the pitching sessions and are in the process of communicating now with the producers.” He said that going forward, the plans are to put the briefs on the commissioning website, rather than in a large brief book that takes a long time to compile and complete.

Along with commissioning, SABC is also open to co-productions and joint ventures. “If you have R$5 million and you want another R$5 million, we are open to engaging with each other to make it happen.”

The third method is presales, for projects that are in development. For finished productions, SABC does license content. “We can also acquire content through advertiser-funded programs,” he added.

Katiyo outlined the submission requirements as well. For commissioning, interested parties are required to submit five printed copies of their proposal, including story synopsis, treatment and character bible (where applicable). “For commissions, we also must get a budget from you, to say how much it will cost the SABC to produce it. We have a budget template available on our website.” Submissions must also include a brief about the company profile and the biographies of key creatives attached to the project. “We only deal with formally registered entities; we don’t deal with individuals, for governance purposes,” he shared. “So your company must be formally registered and have the requisite documents.” For those who want to license their content, SABC requires five DVD copies for the submission. For those looking to submit ad-funded productions, there must be a letter of interest from potential sponsors. For presales or co-productions, SABC needs the synoposis of the story as well as the funding model being proposed. If there are external funders, they require proof that discussions are in the works with corporations that would provide financing.

Danie Swart, the head of SABC Education, has been leading the local content acquisitions special projects. “In May, SABC undertook a decision to improve and increase our local content, and I was brought in to assist the commissioning office to help South Africans design their proposals and get them into the right format to be able to register them with SABC.”

He is also responsible for any type of educational content on the SABC platforms, including the radio stations and TV channels. “What’s nice about us is that we do have 360-degree projects. We love it when people approach SABC and say, ‘I’ve got this brilliant idea and part of it is a television concept but we also would like to support our program with talk shows on radio and we want to target youth through social-media platforms.’ And that’s what’s so nice about SABC Education: we have a digital section, a marketing section and an outreach [initiative].”

Swart added that the educutation arm does produce across all formats: it can be a drama, game show, documentary, magazine show, talk show. The same is true for all of SABC’s other genre departments, which are drama, religion, factual, entertainment and children’s.

“When people ask, ‘How do we pitch an idea to the SABC?’ One thing to note is that it’s about more than just sitting at home and having an idea in your head and thinking that will be enough to come to the SABC and say, ‘This is my idea.’ You need more than that.”

Nokuthula Msimang, the head of SABC Children, spoke about her remit to target kids 2 to 16, with the primary blocks being early childhood development, the under-9s, tweens 9 to 12 and teens. The secondary audience is caregivers.

Children’s programming airs across SABC1, 2, 3 and Encore, and there is a YouTube channel, which is primarily home to the early-childhood-development content. The programming anchor is “iconic shows,” according to Msimang, including Takalani Sesame, the local version of Sesame Street. “We have a dual strategy,” she explained. “We have a lot of content that is in the local languages, but we ensure that there is an English version as well so that all children can access the content.”

She said that there is currently a need for more children’s content for the platforms. “When you are submitting content for SABC Children, really what you want to do is stand out from the clutter. There are a lot of children’s channels that have predominantly international content. Our USP as SABC Children is that we put South African children at the center of our content. Children can see themselves and their voices are reflected in the way that they want to be heard.”

SABC Children does have strategic partnerships, where it then can localize existing content and dub it into local languages. “Young producers, come to the SABC! I know sometimes it feels a bit like you’re playing dice; it is quite hard with all of the paperwork, certificates and clearances. Have all of your logistics in place. It’s great to have a wonderful idea, but be able to back it up with proper logistics…. We look at, Will this person who has this wonderful pitch be able to deliver? Have a strategy! We’re going to be putting a lot of money into your show, and obviously we don’t want to put up money and have nothing come of it. Please do come forward and take a chance, push and try to get your content in.”

Jacqui Hlongwane, the head of programming at SABC2, has been working closely with Swart on the local content initiatives. The aim for the national broadcaster is to have 80 to 90 percent local content, as per a new set of quotas. “It’s great news for the local industry, especially our young producers. It means that your chance is even bigger to get your content out there. We are looking for new content, new ideas and young producers.”

She provided an outline of the different positionings for each channel to help producers hone their pitches. SABC1 is the largest terrestiral channel in South Africa and is primarily youth-driven. “Up until now, which is something that we are trying to change, it’s been speaking mostly to black youth in Nguni in terms of languages. The strategy going forward is to try to broaden that, so that SABC1 speaks to all youth in all languages.”

SABC2 is a family channel. “We’re trying to concretize that positioning better,” she said. “Up until now, yes we’ve been a family channel but we’ve over-emphasized the ‘channel of the nation’ bit. We are trying to really entrench the family positioning.”

SABC3 is the channel that is going through “the most radical change,” Hlongwane said. Whereas SABC1 and 2 have had a good amount of local content on air already, SABC3 has been airing a lot of foreign programming. “We are turning that around, positioning it to be 80 percent local content.” She admitted that the channel has struggled a bit to find its niche, but now has a clear vision. “We are talking to the viewers who are benefiting from the new South Africa. They are young entrepreneurs who have ideas, who are doing deals, have businesses going, are traveling, are into fashion and are bold. We call it the ‘progressive aspirant.’”

Even with the increased focus on local content, SABC3 will still continue to license programming from international partners. “We’re not insular; we live in a global space and we can’t be all closed up,” Hlongwane said. “As South Africans, we have a lot of work to do. As a public broadcaster, we have to provide content that has value. We have a lot of challenges, but what better way to address those challenges than by providing work, firstly, to our industry, but more importantly by creating content that really speaks to South Africans, inspires them, encourages them and informs them in an entertaining way.”

Hlongwane noted that prime time is dominated by dramas, entertainment formats and reality shows. She said that even though a show might be a drama, it’s important that it also has some value in it. “It’s not just entertainment for entertainment’s sake. We have that responsibility. So when we’re in a pitching session, of course we’re looking for entertaining shows, but we have to have more than that. What will be the take-away for the viewer? It’s important for you to spend time and look at the challenges that people are facing and look for stories that will resonate with everybody.”

As for entertainment, SABC is looking for more local formats. “It’s great to take an international format, like The X Factor, but it’s not ours,” Hlongwane said. “We’re borrowing it from somewhere, so it will never feel like it’s ours. We need to spend the time and resources that are required to find our own local formats that will entertain people and hopefully one day we can sell to Europe. I think the world is ready for African content and formats.”

She said that reality programming is resonating quite well with audiences and all of the SABC channels are interested in more of it. Telenovelas, for SABC2 in particular, are becoming more interesting. “It allows us to refresh our schedules. The long-soap format has its space, but I think that the telenovela has a great advantage in that you can really focus your content on an issue. And then change that issue after a year or two with another telenovela, so there are great opportunities there.”

As for children’s content, the SABC is on the lookout for more animation. Hlongwane revealed that through a partnership with Disney, Doc McStuffins and The Lion Guard will be localized into local languages. “We owe it to our kids to give them the best content. We know that animation is really expensive, so it’s great to dub [existing] animated content into Zulu or any other language so that kids can still consume and be exposed to great content. We’re looking to do more. Obviously we have to develop our animation industry further in this country.”

Overall, she said, while SABC is looking for new ideas, the broadcaster cannot compromise on quality. “Yes, it’s about growing [the South African] industry, but you have to do your homework! You’ve got to do the research; you’ve got to speak to people in the industry that have done this before. You can’t just bring us your one-pager and expect the broadcaster to take it. Audiences are merciless! If you put on boring content, they move on to the next thing. We ask you to take time and work on your proposals before you submit them to the SABC, because if they’re not at the standard that is required, they will be thrown out. Let’s make sure that we can put on content that we’re proud of.”