Just thinking about comments MediaCompete’s Britta Reid made about declining SABC radio listenership in FinWeek recently, it struck me that the corporation’s TV viewership could also start suffering from the cause of this malady. If it hasn’t already.
Looking at SABC television strategy for the future, public service programming is certainly something the corporation is having to take seriously whether it wants to or not. One just has to listen to the reception SABC gets from just about all of the myriad pressure groups in parliament and society and general and you cannot help having a certain amount of sympathy for them.
That’s the problem with being a public broadcaster – pressure and lobby groups purporting to represent public interests beat you about the ears in terms of what you should and should not be showing on the box. And when they argue public service content, this generally involves getting across all manner of information and adult education.
Tractor spares syndrome
Similar to the sort of thing the Russians did at the height of communism – deciding that what the populace really got excited about on TV was a 52-part documentary on the origin of Soviet tractor spares.
But, back in the real world, the vast majority of television viewers actually don’t want to be informed or educated. Sure, some of them might like watching the news but that’s about the limit of their information requirement. Of course, daytime education programming to school children has certain merit. But, it’s what adults want that is the bone of contention.
All about entertainment
And research quite clearly shows that they really want is to be entertained. Preferably entertained in a way that allows them to escape the humdrum existence of the poor or the high pressure, stressed out, world of the filthy rich.
And proof of this is not only in the pudding but the whole darn meal. The country’s top ten most-watched TV programmes are all either escapist soap operas or voyeuristic reality shows, both of which make the humdrum lives of the poor and executive stresses of the rich seem tame by comparison. Which is why viewers like them.
Not only has global television become a medium of entertainment and nothing else, even those channels that specialise in information have had to inject a modicum of showbiz into their reportage to keep the attention of that TV viewing minority that watch the news.
In fact, it’s getting to the point where broadcasts from international news channels are getting to look so much like Hollywood-inspired reality shows that one is almost inclined to lump the news into the category of entertainment rather than that of information.
All of which leaves the SABC in a quandary. To survive it has to pander to Parliament and all those interest groups. But, as sure as nuts, the more it is forced to deviate from entertainment and divert its airtime into so-called public service content, the more viewers it will lose. That is an absolute given.