If you had asked what South African television would look like at the beginning of this decade, I would have told you: A new dawn is upon us and the future looks amazing.
The optimistic, or naive, entertainment commentator in me would have had every reason to be optimistic. Local television was set for a new revival with more channels and opportunities on the horizon. More people would have jobs and our audience would have a vast variety of content from which to choose.
But, as we wrap up this decade, I am not as enthusiastic, even though we have more platforms to create and consume local content. The arrival of new channels such as Mzansi Magic, kykNET and Moja Love has challenged the dominance of the SABC in local content.
The biggest evolution in this industry in the past decade is the incorporation of social media in how we watch television
Streaming services, such as Netflix and Showmax, are promising to be the next frontier in television.
However, the same problems that producers and consumers were complaining about at the beginning of the decade are still prevalent now. Where is our biggest folly?
As the world, and indeed the technology around television evolved and continues to evolve, the South African television industry has been reluctant to be more innovative.
Writers still write series as if they are writing a soapie. Take one character from one show, put them in three others and you won’t even know the difference because shows are written and shot the same way.
The biggest evolution in this industry in the past decade is the incorporation of social media in how we watch television. We use social media to chat to our friends and the world about what we are watching, enabling us to express our taste, choice and opinions.
As we are more exposed to what the world is producing and getting to engage with, beyond just illegally downloading the shows or streaming them, we are demanding more from our own writers and producers. We demand the same quality, frequency and innovation … and, so far, we are way behind.
South Africa is a unique country in that what is hyped in the media is not necessarily what the public supports. Ask anyone on social media which is the most popular show in South Africa and they will probably say The Queen. But The Queen is watched only by about a million viewers and does not even come close to the Top 10 overall most-watched shows on television. Juggernauts such as Uzalo, Generations: The Legacy and Scandal! pull 10 million, 9 million and 6 million viewers each, respectively.
A decade on and our television is still stuck in gear one
DStv and streaming services have earned a sizeable number of customers but the traditional trend of appointment TV during prime time on linear television still holds. We still change channels with a remote control and, while we can log in to watch shows on our phones or other devices, linear television is still king.
Ultimately, the more things change, the more they stay the same. We are creatures of habit. With an abundance of choice, come 8pm our households gather around the television to watch our old friend, Generations: The Legacy – though some of us will go on Twitter and moan about how bad it is and question why it still dominates our screens; why it still exists.
You might argue that things have changed and improved in terms of how much television we consume; how and where we do it; who gets to make it; and the level of respect given to the creatives who work in the space.
I would, in turn, half-heartedly agree but counter-argue that the changes are mostly superficial.
At the core, at the end of this decade, our TV issues are still the same, our content is still the same.
A decade on and our television is still stuck in gear one.