Where’s our Voice?

2014-05-11 15:00

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South Africa needs its own version of The Voice.

The award-winning singing reality competition is now shown in 160 countries with 500?million viewers across the world.

The format was just picked up in Angola, Mozambique and Chile, yet South Africa isn’t sharing in the buzz while it’s hot. Instead, for the past two years, we have had to watch US judges and US contestants on SABC3 and M-Net.

Picking up and making a local version of an international show like Come Dine with Me might seem like a no-brainer, but there are interesting sticking points at play behind the scenes.

To make a local version, a TV channel needs to first pay the troll under the bridge?–?the international format rights holder. And that’s some big

ka-ching. Then a broadcaster has to pay a production company to make a show it doesn’t really own.

On the one hand, the benefit is a lowered risk because, like grandma’s flapjack recipe, you buy something with an already-proven, popular concept.

On the other hand, because the rights are often expensive, a broadcaster needs to make very sure there will be a payoff in terms of viewers?–?which will bring advertisers and income?–?and even more importantly, buzz.

And there’s another caveat. The more successful and profitable the show, the more money the format licence holder might want if further seasons are negotiated.

Then there’s the question of where exactly to put it on the schedule?– what day and time to help a show break through. It needs to get those all-important ratings and critical praise in the press.

For South African broadcasters, it’s a case of too much work and effort. That’s why our television meanders through tepid, nondescript fare.

Producers are keen, willing and able, but channel bosses remain reluctant to spend money to gain big.

Remember SABC1’s Popstars in 2001, the format rights that e.tv took over and revived half a decade later? Both broadcasters failed to properly capitalise on their initial format rights investment after all that effort. To borrow from Project Runway host Tim Gunn, they didn’t stick with it to “make it work” and grow it into a successful local TV franchise.

For South Africans to still be watching Idols, for instance, while the rest of the world has moved on (and while American Idol is dying) strikes an oddly anachronistic tone.

While M-Net has the broadcasting rights for the US version of The Voice, it keeps paying licensing rights to make the local Idols. Why not pony up for the rights for a local The Voice, switch off Idols and have a more dynamic, energised and next-generation reality show?

With the introduction of a new set, new judges and new rules, new viewers are guaranteed?–?viewers who will tune in precisely because it’s fresh and different.

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