Batswana recently bid teary and rather dramatic goodbyes to their beloved South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) channels; as e-Botswana has won the fight for SABCs to re-encrypt their signals. It is a bitter-sweet victory or loss depending on the side that you are standing on.
For those in the entertainment industry, it is all jubilation as this means that the journey can now begin to develop the infant industry. It means that actors, singers and performers will have a platform. And, with the revenue from the advertising that is expected, it means there might be income to buy local programs.
Listening in on conversations at the BBS mall was all gloom, confusion and anger amongst people that were talking about this milestone.
The three women lost in conversation were talking about how the President was on about fighting poverty and yet there was someone else out there eager to escalate it.
“Even if I do manage to come up with enough money to buy DSTV, I am going to go to Multichoice and I am going to ask them to give me all the channels except for BTV, even if it’s free. I want them to remove it from my subscription. No one is going to force me to watch BTV,” one woman said eliciting laughs.
Another Motswana lady told me that she didn’t think it was a fair move because “our TV station (BTV) here in Botswana is lacking”.
How about e-Botswana?
“e-Botswana runs old programmes,” Kethamile Priscilla Gasa said.
She pointed out that the TV station still plays MacGyver.
“We watched it when we were 12 years. And now I am 51,” she said. “We are dead. South Africa has killed us. e-Botswana enforced the move but they are not giving us what we want. It is their TV station and only they know why they decided to do it. And what they benefit from the move. As viewers it is not benefiting us. Right now we have been following Generations. Where will we get it?”
On the DSTV matter she said that she couldn’t afford it as it was for rich people.
“DSTV is for rich people. Some of us can’t afford it. We are poor. We cannot be paying DSTV subscriptions every month.”
Asked what she thinks can be done to rectify the situation she said that the best solution would be to bring back SABCs.
“They should reverse everything so that everything can go back to normal as it was just fine for us.”
But there is Rhythm City.
“You can watch it sometimes but sometimes our TV station just shows showers. And you don’t see it clearly. Even if you wanted to follow it; you become discouraged. Because at times when you switch it on. It doesn’t show any pictures.” Gasa said.
I spoke to Dave Coles, the General Manager of e-Botswana.
How does it feel to have finally accomplished what you have been working towards?
I think it’s great; we are pleasantly surprised by Sentech’ decision to finally encrypt so soon after abandoning the appeal which they did about 2 weeks ago. But I think at this time, we are just very happy that we have achieved something that’s taken so long to do. When we started tackling this piracy issue, it was in March 2009 where we addressed it with both the regulator here as well as Sentech in South Africa. It then progressed to the lawsuit itself that took place in 2011. And we got a positive verdict in 2012. And then there was the appeal. So it really has been a long drawn out process, you know.
What do you hope to accomplish?
What we hoped to accomplish when we set out originally was more about e-Botswana and how the piracy was affecting our viewers, in turn affecting our revenues in terms of advertising. And jobs. When we started the lawsuit we could see that after thorough investigation this was not only affecting e-Botswana but that it was affecting the media industry here as a whole. BTV, the radio stations and even print to some extent. You must understand that a lot of advertisers across the border who have products or companies here advertise on SABCs and get all their adverts for free here. They know that Batswana are watching Generations. It is the most watched programme in South Africa. And definitely in Botswana so they just advertise during that slot. They target the audience in South Africa. And get Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana and all these other countries that have these Philibaos.
What changes should we expect to see – immediate and long term?
We have applied to BOCRA for a variation to our transmission mode which basically means that now we are terrestrial based and we have asked that we go Satellite. We are in that process with them. We are busy furnishing them with all the relevant details that they need. All very technical details that they require we are furnishing them. It is a process that we are undergoing. We are confident that we will give them the resources they need in terms of the information and that there will be a positive outcome that will come from them. We are hoping that in the next few months we’ll be making an announcement to the public that will be positive. It’s unfortunate that the SABCs have been cut now and there is a void. But at the same time one has to understand that we’ve been battling this process for a long time. Four years now. If we wait another 5 to 6 months. Or 4 to 5 months for us to go national and be in people’s homes throughout the country it is a short wait.
So does this mean e-Botswana will be a lot clearer?
Definitely. It will be via Satellite. And digital pictures are better than sometimes terrestrial picture is.
So by Satellite you mean that one would have to buy a decoder in order to access it?
That’s correct. Yes.
Free to air or DSTV?
Well, at the moment we are busy negotiating with different vendors to secure a box. But like I said, it will be premature to give out the details right this second. But definitely we are working vigorously to securing ourselves a space on the spectrum people will be able to tune into.
And afford. Definitely. For us we are free to air television station. That’s our primary goal. And that’s what our TV license states we are so we’d have to honour our license by being free to air within a decoder that is only to allow Batswana to watch e-Botswana. We can’t allow Zimbabweans to watch e-Botswana because again it’s the whole issue of licensing rights. And distribution rights. We don’t have the rights to broadcast our content in Zimbabwe. You see.
How do you hope to fill that void that’s left in Batswana? Especially their love for soapies?
Well, we’ve got exceptional soapies on e-Botswana at the moment. We’ve got Rhythm City. Which is the same episode that’s being shown on e-tv. We’ve got Scandal at 7:30pm. Monday to Friday as of the 1st of July. Usually it was Monday to Thursday. People can basically have to some degree, unfortunately, have to change their viewing habits in order to view us. We offer exceptional content. And people criticize our content and say that we are not local enough. Well, that’s debatable ‘cause the SABC channels have nothing that is local. There is no local content on there.
Sure people may speak Setswana but nothing is produced here. Nothing is filmed here. No people here are employed by the SABC. While here we have a staff of 32 employed full time. And another 10 to 12 interns from the Ministry. We are creating jobs. We are creating futures for people.
Do you watch DSTV or e-Botswana?
I watch e-Botswana. I do. We’ve got to ensure that what people are watching is relevant and entertaining. If I can’t watch it then I can’t expect others to watch it.
Any last words?
Listen, we understand people’s frustrations. We honestly do. But we believe that piracy is a cancer. It slowly eats away at the industry. Debilitating it. And before long, if it’s kept unchecked, it will kill the industry. We are here to ensure that the re-encryption of the SABC channels will hopefully be the medicine that will bring this industry back to life. Empower people through jobs. Another comment is how many people are we educating at Limkokwing and UB in terms of media studies, broadcasting, etc. If there are no jobs available, what is the point of educating these people in that area? We’ve got to ensure that those graduates find work. And the only way they can do that is if companies can afford to employ them. And how can companies afford to employ them if they don’t have advertising? And that’s the bottom line.