Is there too much to watch on TV?

2014-08-25 18:45

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If there’s one thing that South Africans love to gripe about more than Bafana Bafana’s dismal track record, it’s that there are “too many repeats on television”.

Yes, SABC3 is showing Shaka Zulu for the umpteenth time since the 1980s, but it’s actually excellent, locally made television of a bygone era – with Henry Cele in his most iconic role.

Yes, weekends are littered with omnibus broadcasts of the week’s soaps – which, yes, were already repeated during the week.

But the reality of the matter is that the popular punching bag phrase of “too many repeats” obscures what has really happened to South African television: there is now actually too much good television to get to and simply too little time.

If you took stock of your piled-up and recorded TV shows, took just five minutes a week to look through your TV schedules, and highlighted what you wanted to watch and planned your viewing – instead of just randomly falling on your couch and flipping through channels – you would discover that there’s more great television to watch than what the average South African viewer can ever hope to get through.

Stop shouting indignantly: “But there’s nothing on now, but repeats.” Get a highlighter and start prioritising. Take personal responsibility for what you want to watch and when you would like to do so.

In 1961, Newton Minow, US attorney and former chairperson of the Federal Communications Commission, famously called television a “vast wasteland”, but that has given way to a new golden age of television with more quality television than ever before.

Such has been the glut of good television that even M-Net realised earlier this year that simply too much of it was just washing away, unwatched.

The pay TV broadcaster will be restructuring its M-Net Series TV channels in October after the ratings for two of the channels on DStv – filled with some of the very best international drama and reality series, daily talk shows and other programming – remained flat.

The reason? Absolutely great television that viewers simply don’t watch because they don’t have time goes down the drain and out to sea like precious rainwater.

The government is dragging its feet and keeping the country back with a switch to a new TV system standard – a new broadcasting structure called digital terrestrial television (DTT), which will mean that broadcasters can bring viewers more TV channels.

When DTT finally arrives, the SABC, e.tv and M-Net will all start broadcasting roughly five to eight new TV channels each.

These broadcasters know full well that in order for these new channels to get traction, viewership and advertisers, they simply will have to have at least some great, original and new TV shows on each – or viewers won’t bother.

Television’s content, what you’re now able to see and have access to as a South African viewer collectively, has moved far away from being a vast wasteland to what’s really an oversupply of excellence.

Learn to know where to watch and how to watch.

Put in a little bit of effort by looking at the whole TV store shelf and you’ll find an almost repeat-free profusion of quality choices on your telly – more than even the most ardent couch potato can ever hope to get through.

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