MacGyver saves the SABC

Cape Town – Anything remains possible with a Swiss army knife and a little bit of ingenuity.

In an amazing display of viewership traction Angus MacGyver is singlehandedly saving the SABC with a rebroadcast of MacGyver on SABC3, which is helping to drive a successful ratings gain for the public broadcaster's struggling TV channel.

MacGyver - almost 30 years old - is suddenly a massive viewership hit on SABC3 since the library title was recently reacquired by the broadcaster.

It started airing again on the SABC's only commercial TV channel since the end of February. The SABC first showed MacGyver 27 years ago on TV1 when the American action drama ran in America from the mid-eighties to early nineties.

It made the mullet-wearing Richard Dean Anderson a star - fighting everything from killer ants to his arch nemesis Murdock - with little more than a Swiss army knife.

Since re-airing MacGyver, the show has shot up in ratings, with only Isidingo - SABC3's local soap - and Days of Our Lives managing to get a bigger viewership on the channel.

Not in primetime

What makes MacGyver's viewership feat as a library title even more impressive, is the fact that the show is not broadcast in primetime, but at 12:00 daily when a much smaller potential TV audience is available.

It therefore makes it even harder for a show to pull a sizeable TV audience, let alone becoming a TV hit ranked 3rd on a channel's top 10 list.

MacGyver is more popular than anything else in all of SABC3's primetime line-up, including strong performers such as Top Billing, Survivor, Gossip Girl and reality show The Voice.

With a consistent 5.1 to 5.3 rating on TAMS over the past few weeks, a MacGyver episode pulls roughly 1.54 million viewers.

It's a welcome viewership uptick for the channel which lost The Oprah Winfrey Show when it concluded its 25th season last year - which was a stable and strong ratings grabber for SABC3.

SABC3 has surprisingly also heard from viewers who phoned the channel and told them they're rushing home during lunch time to now watch MacGyver.

SABC3 turnaround plan

The show's remarkable performance is good news for the channel which has to submit a special SABC3 Channel Turnaround Plan to parliament.

This turnaround plan forms part of the SABC's overall turnaround strategy.

That turnaround strategy includes an emphasis on the rebuilding of SABC3 as a TV channel specifically, following sliding viewership due to a lack of compelling content, erratic scheduling, waning brand quality perception and a steep drop in advertising income since 2009.

SABC3's acting channel head Ed Worster has made considerable improvements since he took over.

'MacGyver appealing'

The remarkable ratings strength of MacGyver is actually not surprising, according to television and popular culture expert Dr Nadia van der Merwe from the department of Journalism, Film and Television at the University of Johannesburg.

"The story context and action-adventure genre of MacGyver is easily transferable even thirty years later - not like some programmes that are context specific," she said.

"Viewing of reruns are often associated with what I would like to call nostalgic viewing - in these cases the appeal of the programme can be linked to what we as viewers associate with the time when we first viewed the show".

"MacGyver's non-violent resolutions to problems might also be appealing to an audience who themselves are part of a violent society and would like to escape from that."

"SABC3 also successfully marketed the programme, bringing it to the attention of the larger SABC3 viewership," said Van der Merwe.

Also possibly driving viewership is time-shifted viewing, she said. "Although it is shown during the daytime, it could be recorded by some viewers to watch later."

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