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e.tv plans to change the free-to-air landscape on its 15th birthday next month – by launching four new channels on the digital terrestrial television platform via an OpenView HD satellite. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with e.tv’s group head of channels, Monde Twala, to learn about the channel’s history, its expansion and what it means for viewers, while also getting some hints about upcoming content…
IF anyone understands the heartbeat of e.tv it is Monde Twala, the company’s group head of channels.
Having spent almost 14 years with e.tv, which started broadcasting on Thursday, October 1, 1998, from 5pm to 11pm, Twala has shared in the channel’s struggles and successes as it went on to broad- cast for 24 hours a day in 1999.
Despite industry predictions that it would collapse, especially with the channel facing financial ruin in early 2000, it survived. Fifteen years later and with 17 million viewers, the broadcaster is stronger than ever and on the brink of launching four new channels, in addition to e.tv and eNCA.
On how far they have come, Twala says: “The business has matured quite well in 15 years. Our programming strategies are getting better and better, in terms of relevance and our approach to content, both local and international. I think we are staying on top of trends, finding out what works and what doesn’t, which creates quite an exciting future in terms of looking ahead.”
Some of the first shows to broadcast on the channel were Baywatch and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
The affable Twala, who is the epitome of cool, calm and collected, continues: “Over the years, we have managed to develop key pillars that drive our content strategy. So soapies and obviously the news are a big part of the brand. As well as movies, the reality series, wrestling, etc. We are growing new audiences and introducing new genres.”
When asked whether eNCA, which launched on June 1, 2008, was affected by the launch of SABC’s 24-hour news channel and the Guptas’ African News Network 7 (ANN7), being the consummate professional that he is, he steered clear of any mudslinging and controversy.
“I think competition is healthy. I think the one element we pride ourselves on is to be able to develop content and promote diversity. And the more diversity there is in the market, it keeps us on our toes and allows us to stay at the top of our game.
“We are fully aware we are entering a digital space – we have to be ready for it. We have to be forward-thinking. I think growing the market is important. We want to be at the forefront of that and advancing our offering.
“It is 15 years with one channel. We have managed to introduce a 24-hour news channel. We have managed to grow in Africa and with our pan-African programming.”
Now for the big surprise – while celebrating its 15th milestone on October 15, e.tv will be launching eKasi+, eMovies+, eAfrica+ and eToonz+.
Twala says: “We have been good at finding gaps in the market. People want choice. That is why we are launching four additional channels on the free-to-air digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform. We are looking at an entertainment channel, a local content channel, a movie channel and a kiddie-themed channel.
“We are extending the success of our eKasi dramas for our themed channel. We are commissioning sitcoms, game shows, lifestyle magazine shows. We are looking at Nollywood offerings – basically everything across various genres.”
To fulfil the content mandate, he says they are working closely with the production sector to ensure they are “getting the right balance” when it comes to educating and entertaining the market.
“We have an entertainment talk show with Khanyi Mbau. We are also going to get South Africa talking with a daily talk show hosted by Masechaba Lekalake.”
Other homegrown highlights include Ntombi Mzolo hosting a music show, Katlego Mlambo taking viewers on a culinary adventure with his cooking show and Bonolo Nkosi keeping gospel aficionados suitably entertained.
“What is important is that we need to use this opportunity to unearth new talent and new conversation. And part of that means we need to identify people. So you will get mainstream people/actors and new talent who will change the dynamic of television at the moment. All you have to do is look at what we have done with eKasi. We gave first-time actors, writers and directors an opportunity.”
From a logistics standpoint, four new channels means an expansion of their operation.
“We have been getting ready to launch digital channels for a couple of years now. It has been a steady progress.
“We had to build new infrastructure and expand in terms of operational playouts and staff. We had to employ and train new people and upskill others to get them ready for the multi channel. And we are fortunate to have a loyal and dedicated staff to get us ready for the October launch.”
While local content will be the mainstay of the channel, it will also have an international influence, especially with movies and series.
“Our key objective is to grow our brand and continue to be the entertainment destination of choice. We have secured movie and series deals with some of our international partners. Local content is the key driver and we will continue to come up with concepts we feel will fill the gaps,” Twala says.
• e.tv will launch the four new channels during its 15th birthday celebrations on October 15.
HOW IT WORKS
• Sabido Investments has established Platco Digital (a sister company to e.tv), which will launch and manage the free-to-air satellite offering called OpenView HD.
• It will carry the existing e.tv channel, the new e channels and independent channels.
• OpenView HD will launch with a minimum of 15 channels next month. The OpenView HD set-top box will be available at retail stores nationwide at a cost of R1 299, which includes the satellite dish and installation.
• It is a once-off payment – there |are no subscription fees.