Authenticity, hyperlocal stories, and a visceral understanding of the audience are pivotal indicators for success in the African television and film landscape.
While various insights, overwhelmingly practical and actionable, were shared during a MultiChoice panel discussion at MIP Africa this week, these three indicators served as a throughline for how content creators could successfully pitch to become part of MultiChoice’s creative ecosystem.
The panel discussion, Unlocking Opportunities: MultiChoice and the African Film & TV Industry, took place at MIP Africa, an annual opportunity for African content creators, producers, and sellers to present their work to a global array of buyers, investors, and potential co-production partners. MIP Africa forms part of Fame Week Africa, a week-long festival focusing on African television, music, and film. MultiChoice plays a key role as a sponsor of both events.
According to Waldimar Pelser, Channel Director: Premium Channels at MultiChoice, their most valuable content creators understand their market. “The most productive conversations we have are with producers that consume our content and on a visceral level know who our audience is. (Our partners) have to understand who they’re making content for.”
In terms of what that content looks like, Pelser shared that content that can only be made locally, and that viewers would not be able to find elsewhere, reap the most success.
Popular genres include drama and unscripted reality, with the consensus being that while successful themes are universal, viewers want something “uniquely South African,” with the setting being locally specific and the story and storytelling showcasing an understanding of who the audience is.
Viewers also tend to gravitate toward dramas with authenticity, warmth, and optimism, while there is generally a low tolerance for gimmicks – in any genre. In unscripted reality, shows where the audience can see themselves on screen generally enjoy success. “For unscripted it’s a mirror,” said Pelser. “We want to see ourselves on screen. (Shows) that remind us who we are – those tend to work.”
Tebogo Matlawa, Head of Scripted Content: Middle & Mass: South Africa at MultiChoice, echoed Pelser and said that while the audience wants to see themselves on screen, producers should also “look outside the bubble of their own existence” when working on content.
“Our audience likes to be involved and go on the journey” and for that reason, they’ve found that very family-orientated shows, with a female point of view, and generally not risqué, do well. While action and dramas have seen success, there isn’t much of an appetite for violence. “Always think, would you watch this with your grandmother?” he advised when considering pitches for scripted content for middle and mass markets.
Victor Sanchez Aghahowa, Head of Production, West Africa for MultiChoice Africa, as well as Nicola van Niekerk, Head of Content for Premium Channels and co-productions, reiterated MultiChoice’s success with hyperlocal content. “We need the connection; people need to feel. If not, what are you doing?” said Aghahowa. “Compelling characters in compelling situations that anybody can relate to – that’s what we’re looking for. Anything inauthentic will immediately be sniffed out by our younger audience.”
According to Van Niekerk, Showmax, specifically, has seen significant success with documentaries as well as dramas.
In terms of co-productions, Van Niekerk pointed to the necessity for producers to have an in-depth understanding of both the local and the international audience before pitching a project. “As a producer, you need to assess your story and say, ‘Where will this story work?’ Will it work in a very specific demographic hyper locally in South Africa, but where else will it work? Which other broadcaster will like that? And to know that you need to understand all of the broadcaster’s strategies (on a global level).”
She warns against assuming that what works locally will work elsewhere. This helps to secure funding if the appetite and interest have already been assessed.
Van Niekerk said popular co-productions generally have three things in common: “It’s crime, it’s English and it’s in a beautiful setting. We can tell that those work the best.”
Lerato Moruti, Senior Manager: Reality and Entertainment for Middle & Mass: M-Net, said that successful reality shows provide a sense of tabloid voyeurism, with family-based reality shows that rate high with viewers. But, said Moruti, South Africans look for meaning in content, and respond well to “help TV”, specifically referring to the popular Mzansi Magic reality show Abandoned about orphaned children that seek out family members later in life.