THE BLOG
02/02/2018 13:51 SAST | Updated 02/02/2018 13:51 SAST

DStv Adopted A Puppy To Chase The Dogs In The Yard - And Then Threw It Away

It's the height of bad parenting in terms of pet management and hugely irresponsible. Ask any pet shop owner: if you want to get a dog, take care of it!

The New Age and ANN7 proprietor Mzwanele Manyi during the announcement on the shareholding of his company Lodidox on August 30, 2017 in Johannesburg.
Wikus de Wet/ Beeld/ Getty Images
The New Age and ANN7 proprietor Mzwanele Manyi during the announcement on the shareholding of his company Lodidox on August 30, 2017 in Johannesburg.

COMMENT

From its start, ANN7 was always more Comedy Central than CNN, but DStv axing the notorious "Gupta news" channel reveals a brutal SA pay-TV news-channel war that exposes a "Game Of Thrones" conspiracy of shifting alliances. Here's how DStv should really go about finding a replacement.

For MultiChoice, it was never really about more or better news. When MultiChoice decided to pay millions to the Guptas for the launch of ANN7, what it was really about for the private pay-TV company was trying to contain and drive down the cost of news.

With more news players in an extremely costly TV genre (only sport channels and sports rights are more expensive) in which only eNCA (DStv 403) existed, MultiChoice thought that with more and better cards in the hand, it would be able to more effectively poker-face them all when often contentious negotiations for channel-carriage agreements took place.

With spiralling costs to keep eNCA on its channel grid, MultiChoice wanted more local TV news channels on its DStv bouquet that would aid in playing them off against each other. If DStv did let go of eNCA (or threaten to), it could say "but we still have B and C or A(NN7)".

The mistake MultiChoice made was the rush job of choosing (but not vetting) the Guptas, and of rushing (and the Guptas likewise rushing) to start broadcasting the misaligned ANN7 – a rough-and-tumble mess from the start that never improved.

Yes, ANN7 does biased, skewed news – and that is bad for South Africa. But also yes, axing ANN7 is very bad for the country's media plurality, in which already there were not enough differently voiced, self-sufficient, sustainable news sources.

Gallo Images via Getty Images
Indian businessmen, Ajay Gupta (R) and younger brother Atul Gupta at a one on one interview with Business Day in Johannesburg, South Africa on 2 March 2011 regarding their professional relationships.

As the Gupta kingdom started to fall, so alliances everywhere have shifted, with ANN7 the latest victim of a Cersei-style knife-in-the-back situation.

Poor MultiChoice, with its billions, is now caught in the middle of an ugly "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

Remember CNA circa 1994, after the advent of democracy? Naked ladies with nipples exposed suddenly greeted customers at kids' eye-height on the shelf, as a flurry of porn titles flooded the market.

CNA was too happy just to be the one offering more choice. Never again, we said, will anyone decide what we can and can't see.

Of course, cue the backlash – a little while later, when the pendulum of South African public opinion swung back. Caught in the middle were places like CNA, who were suddenly asked hard questions, like whether it would be stifling freedom of speech if it stopped stocking porn mags, or dared to move them to the higher shelves.

Quite ironically, Naspers' mighty pay-TV division is mired in a growing discussion about its treatment and marginalisation of news.

MultiChoice, that wanted to be the CNA shelf, has now been dragged into a nasty South African TV news-channel war it never thought it would be involved in – as the one simply "offering the shelf space".

Quite ironically, Naspers' mighty pay-TV division is mired in a growing discussion about its treatment and marginalisation of news.

It's probably fine if you never get a pet for your kids. But don't adopt a dog, and then after then years decide that suddenly you're going to give it away.

That behaviour is much crueller (and bad for both the dog and the kids) than not taking on the added responsibility in the first place.

But MultiChoice did get the dog – with its fleas – to chase around the other dogs in the yard.

So now it must answer: "Why are you giving the dog away? Where on earth is the dog supposed to go? What about the kids who liked the dog? Why did you give the small dog (ANN7) more food in its bowl than the bigger dogs (eNCA and SABC News), if you were only going to give it away?"

AFP/Getty Images
A picture shows South African broadcasting campany MultiChoice's digital satellite TV dishes.

And why on earth are they giving a dog away, and at the same time telling the kids: "Don't worry; we're going to get a new dog?"

It's the height of bad parenting in terms of pet management, and hugely irresponsible. Ask any pet-shop owner: if you want to get a dog, take care of it!

A new TV news cruise

Just as shocking and head-scratching, is MultiChoice SA CEO Calvo Mawela saying DStv will start a new local South African TV news channel that's majority black-owned - in an age when the time of linear 24-hour TV news channels have passed.

What colour is the crazy-town Kool-Aid being drunk at MultiChoice City? The BBC is constantly mulling over its linear TV news channel BBC World News, and asking if it is still worth the expense.

Even the U.K.'s Sky News (DStv 402) – although it's doing great news coverage – is loss-making, and hasn't been able to "justify" its existence on Sky's bouquet in terms of being a money-pit for years.

Last week, Sky's chief executive said Sky News is no longer a pivotal must-have channel, as its pay-TV operations continue to evolve. Translation: TV news channels are too much effort for basically no money.

MultiChoice should take its time, unlike the rush to get ANN7 and SABC News on the air as eNCA competitors – and approach one of the existing international TV news channels to do a localised news-brand extension...

Now, after ANN7's failure, MultiChoice signals that it's ready to pour even more millions of DStv subscribers' money into yet another local TV news channel - yet another retry in which success isn't guaranteed, and where a possible return on investment takes a decade or longer to materialise in one of the most expensive TV genres.

Who can afford to start a brand-new, majority black-owned TV news channel in South Africa in this day and new age? Ridiculous.

Here's what DStv should be doing: Instead of a new startup, MultiChoice should take its time, unlike the rush to get ANN7 and SABC News on the air as eNCA competitors – and approach one of the existing international TV news channels to do a localised news-brand extension; something that already has a level of built-in news trust and credibility.

Getty Images
The New Age and ANN7 proprietor Mzwanele Manyi during the announcement on the shareholding of his company Lodidox on August 30, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

CNN runs CNN International but also CNN (domestic) in the U.S., but U.S. viewers get both feeds on different channels. Did you know that Sky News runs Sky News Australia in Australia and New Zealand as a whole different feed, with its own newsrooms?

Did you know that Euronews started its own African offshoot called Africanews?

Instead of starting a new news channel, talk to BBC News, Sky News, Euronews and Africanews, or CBS News, even China's CGTN – all of which constant run circles around eNCA and SABC News in terms of TV news coverage from Africa - and ask them if they don't want to partner up in a South African TV news-channel brand extension.

Instead of having to duplicate a whole channel, get one of them to agree to partner with whatever majority-owned BEE South African group feels up to the challenge of investing in, building or enlarging their South African newsroom and presence, to appoint (more) reporters, editors and cameramen.

Stop trying to reinvent the wheel, the burden is too big. If ANN7 is to be replaced, be clever, be nimble, be TV news-partnership focused.

Rather create Sky News SA, or add Africanews with a strong South African presence (currently run from central Africa), or do a BBC Africa version like BBC Arabic Television, a CGTN Africa or a CBSN Africa (with Debora Patta, whose coverage from SA and Africa for CBS News remains excellent, running a substantive actual news bureau).

Stop trying to reinvent the wheel; the burden is too big. If ANN7 is to be replaced, be clever, be nimble, be TV news-partnership focused. MultiChoice thought throwing more money at ANN7 to try and improve quality would work. Of course, it didn't.

Whatever the new local South African TV news channel on DStv is going to be, one thing is certain: it will need much more than just money to survive, more than just money to be good and a lot more help - and love - in a globalised news economy than that new TV news puppy called ANN7 ever got.