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Is it time to give SABC3 a chance again?

’The Estate’ on S3. Picture: Supplied

’The Estate’ on S3. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 13, 2022

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Is it time to give SABC3 a chance again?

SABC3 was the favoured channel of those who fancied themselves as lovers of the finest things in life. We all knew where to get the latest high brow international programming. Even the local shows that aired on the channel were pristine.

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However, as more people became upwardly mobile and could afford satellite TV and streaming networks, the channel fell from glory and became an afterthought.

Sure, there were shows like “Isidingo” and “Top Billing” that viewers would go back to out of habit, but when the channel cancelled their long-running marquee brands, the audience left, many for good.

Over the years, the channel has tried to resuscitate itself, including it's latest re-brand where it's now called S3 – Fearless by Nature.

At a recent S3 content showcase, the channels current head Pat van Heerden implored attendees to start watching the channel again.

“Please participate. It is your broadcaster. It doesn't belong to the SABC, but to the South African public.

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“Audiences have to defend public broadcasting. The audience have to turn on S3 and interact with us about the content we are offering you.

“What are you doing as an active citizen to make sure that the money you are paying to the public broadcaster, is used appropriately,” she asked.

Noting the competition public broadcaster faces, Van Heerden said there are various obstacles that the channel faces in fully implementing its vision – which is to keep public broadcasting alive.

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“What we are trying to do is keep public broadcasting alive in a very chequered environment, where we have massive new players in the market who are coming in and colonising the media space.

“So how do we retain a sense of independence as a public broadcaster? How do we remain connected to our audiences?

“We are facing tremendous obstacles in terms of pursuing that vision and making sure that we have energy to see it through. There is a lot holding us back.

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“There are a lot of things that are happening in the world and in the country that are forcing us to ask ourselves what we are doing wrong.

“We need to ask those questions – how can we do things better for people who live in this country and as global citizens? This also goes to the content we have on our channels. How can we do things better for our viewers?” she stated.

One of those things is focusing on original content. The South African audience is uniquely placed in a way that while we have access to satellite TV, the streamers and even piracy sites, there are still millions of people who do not have access to these things.

What will keep them coming back is original content that is designed to appeal to them and tell stories they resonate with, and content that is aspirational.

The local shows on S3 currently are “The Estate”, a daily telenovela, “The Insider” which is a show similar to “Top Billing”, but also features segments about eco-conscious living and “Unpacked with Relebogile Mabotja”, which is a late-night, no-holds-barred talk show.

There are other local shows coming from next month and later on in the year on the channel, which Van Heerden hopes will bring back viewers.

“Obviously we aren't an international channel. It doesn't make sense anymore. But we are challenged when it comes to the budget compared to our competitors, hence we are strategically looking into getting more original local content, that’s linked to pre-sales.

“We are also commissioning local content and will be putting out briefs for original content.

“We are trying to get a new sitcom off the ground and are looking at a local drama based on a book – short form rather than long form.

“And local documentaries, which we are strongly focusing on that, speaks about the psyche of the country that we can also sell to a global audience,” concluded Van Heerden.

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