JOHANNESBURG – Last week we delved into the world of the cultural and creative industries (CCI) in the most recent in our series of sector specific forums (coming after successful events for the poultry, pharmaceutical and clothing and textile industries).

It was a riveting event that put the emphasis on the value the sector has for our economy and on the challenges faced by content producers in TV, film and radio.

We are acutely aware that we only scratched the surface of this fascinating industry, of which so many people aspire to be part. But be warned, it is not for those that merely seek the limelight; there is tenacity and hard slog in bringing a project to fruition. Fame can be fleeting and fortune almost unheard of in this country.

So first to the value this sector adds to the economy. Globally the contribution of this sector to GDP is 3percent and in South Africa it is comparable at 2.9percent, equating to around R90billion - higher than the agricultural sector.

The CCI in South Africa offers equal opportunities to male and female across all races, with 77percent of people employed in the sector being black, coloured or Indian.

And even better news for a demographic, which is worst hit by rampant unemployment, 60percent of the workforce in the creative arts is young - under 34years old.

Job opportunities, it would seem, abound. But it is not an easy living, especially for the instigators of projects who must chase finance. Only on securing a funding partner can producers employ the actors, directors, technical crew, props, costume and make-up artists, catering companies that feed and keep crew happy and the post production editors and mixers that work to bring a production to life and to our screens.

One panel (bossed around by the pint-sized but fearless Devi Sankaree Govender) on funding models and sources concluded that limited money is available for content producers who are able to comply with certain Ts&Cs around monitoring and evaluation (why should creatives be exempt from what funding recipients are subject to in other sector simply because they are artists?)

In addition, we are told, money follows authentic stories told with integrity.

On authenticity and telling our own stories, our MC for the day, Redi Tlhabi, quoted Mandla Langa who said: “We need to document our stories as a protest against forgetting. When a country forgets, it forgets its identity and values.”

As long as we tell relatable stories that reflect and engage us we are on the right track.

A local movie’s performance at the box office has everything to do with audience engagement. While TV viewing is in many ways passive, going to the cinema is an investment in money and time. If audiences don't respond to a movie, it will be pulled from the circuit very quickly, and that's fleeting fame.

One question that was raised is why we are so ready to watch subtitled movies in "exotic" foreign languages such as French, yet we are unwilling to cross our own linguistic barriers and watch in a South African language that is not our own. Imagine how much you might learn from another culture if you were to immerse yourself in a film, series or telenovella about another language group.

So next time a local movie releases, we urge you to go and see it and keep it showing for as long as possible so that many more people can enjoy its success including its producers.

As for TV, we were amazed to learn from each of the so called "big 3" broadcasters, namely the SABC, eTV and Multichoice, that local content increasingly makes good business sense.

With each having a commercial imperative, mandate and/or shareholders to satisfy, it is gratifying to know, as Proudly South African, that all 3 have made significant increases to their local content. eTV spends 71percent of its budget on content that generates 45percent of its revenue. The SABC has brought its prime-time local content across all channels up to an astonishing 87percent - on SABC1 alone it is as high as 95percent! And MultiChoice has its Mzansi Channels as well as KykNet serving different local audiences.

So, as we tune-in to our favourite soapies - (South Africa has up to 15 a day) - we are creating all those jobs through the value chain we mentioned earlier.

As for the future of traditional broadcasting, local content producers must now think about the transferability of their material across many platforms, and that is where the younger generation will thrive and find opportunities.

Gareth Cliff, the founder of Cliff Central, who to date has commissioned between 200 and 300 programmes, told us: “Reach an audience that counts, don't count the audience you reach.”

We South Africans are a discerning and complex audience who love to see ourselves reflected in what we watch.

But if you don't make local viewing and listening choices, hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost and local artists’ hopes dashed.

If it wasn't for radio audiences' calls for local music we wouldn't be hearing my current favourite tune, Monate Mpolaye, by DJ Sumbody, Thebe and Casper Nyovest on the airwaves.

Eustace Mashimbye is chief executive of Proudly South African.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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