Three decades of TV magic as M-Net turns 30

M-Net turns 30! (Photo supplied)
M-Net turns 30! (Photo supplied)

Cape Town – M-Net officially turns 30 years old today – celebrating three decades of bringing viewers in South Africa and across the African continent premium TV content since it changed and revolutionised the face of South African television on 26 October 1986 forever.

Today – exactly 30 years ago – M-Net went live in South Africa and broke the stranglehold of the often staid South African public broadcaster's moribund programming.

M-Net introduced viewers to exciting TV content and concepts – from the soaps Loving and Egoli and the latest movies shown without commercial breaks, to M-Net East Net for Indian viewers, a dedicated youth slot, KTV; real magazine and investigative programming ranging from Revue Plus to Carte Blanche, and buzz-worthy reality shows from Idols to Big Brother and beyond.

M-Net started with R50 000 after securing a pay-TV licence in April 1985 and while its start was catastrophic – it lost R3.5m per month just six months after it started – the Randburg based pay-TV operator started to break even on a monthly basis just two years later and since then, has never looked back.

In 1990 the existence of M-Net, that at that time passed the 400 000 subscriber mark, led to the creation of MultiChoice and its DStv satellite pay-TV service that has grown to provide M-Net supplied as well as global third-party channels to million of DStv subscribers in South Africa and across more than 50 countries in Africa.

Open time

Remember M-Net Open Time during which viewers could get unencoded access to the M-Net magic on a daily basis between 17:00 and 19:00? 

Remember the multiracial M-Net continuity presenters – white and black, Indian, and coloured – all on one channel together – that presented a vision to South African viewers of not how the country was, but how it could be?

With an M-Net decoder costing R595 and a monthly subscription of R29, viewers gorged on the feast of international content and growing local slate as the pay-TV subscribers started running rings around the SABC, realising that viewers wanted to be treated like consumers, instead of being spoonfed on old series and hokey local programming with bad production values.

It also held true for South African and international sports coverage. Creating the SuperSport brand, M-Net revolutionised outside broadcasting for sports events – especially  rugby – realising that consumers will pay for premium coverage, in multiple languages, with multi camera-angles and insightful commentary, of live events.

Viewing for the whole family

While the kids watched the goofy KTV presenters and dad watched the Currie Cup, mom watched Egoli, the local soap from Franz Marx that set new benchmarks for serialised daily TV storytelling in South Africa and spawned the creation of all the other local soap operas that came after it across South African television.

From Survivor South Africa, to Who Wants to be a Millionaire? to Dali Thambo's talk show Night Moves and from Sex Etc. to Trevor Noah's first TV talk show and from the creation of kykNET to Mzansi Magic and M-Net Movies, M-Net has always pushed the boundaries to better what South African television could be.

Idols which started in 2002 on M-Net andis still on, is as popular, judged by the ratings, as when it first aired 14 years ago while M-Net kept with what worked and added: everything from The Weakest Link and MasterChef South Africa to The Voice South Africa.

As M-Net grew, shows like Big Brother SA grew into Big Brother Mzansi and Big Brother Africa – indicative of M-Net and MultiChoice's continental television expansion drive that became and remain as ambitious as when Koos Bekker in the early 1980's at Columbia University in New York did his thesis on a pay-TV model for South Africa and started to dream about bringing a better world of television to viewers.

Celebrating 30 years

M-Net's 30th anniversary celebration will carry on during November. M-Net is running a pop-up channel, M-Net Movies BlockParty on DStv channel 109 during October and will do a M-Net Movies Harry Potter pop-up channel during November.

M-Net is doing a 30th anniversary theme song competition in which 30 viewers can each win R30 000 with their rendition of Queen's iconic theme song A Kind of Magic that M-Net used as one of its theme songs, and there is the The Greatest Movie Ever Made competition. 

A coffee table book is in the works, while M-Net is also producing a new TV special looking back at its three decades as a pay-TV broadcaster that will be shown across M-Net's channels on DStv during November.

From this coming Friday, M-Net and DStv will open three of its DStv Premium channels, M-Net (DStv 101), M-Net Edge (DStv 102) and VUZU AMP (DStv 103) to all DStv Extra and DStv Compact subscribers.

"M-Net has grown immensely over the past 30 years – from being one pay-television channel to producing more than 40 channels for different audiences across the continent on different platforms," says Yolisa Phahle, M-Net CEO.

"But we wouldn't have been here without the continued support of every single person who finds our kaleidoscope of story-telling entertaining, informative or inspiring."

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