Social Media Is Killing Creativity In Mzansi Television

Twitter, in partnership with Vizeum and Denstu Aegis Network, conducted a research that stated that social platforms such as the micro blogging site have a major impact on what people watch on television. While that may be true world wide, in South Africa, I think Twitter is destroying local television content.

The research found that two-thirds of superfans watch more than three hours of TV per day, and 60 percent of those fans tweet about what they’re watching. They use these platforms to share their thoughts after a show, watch video clips and follow hashtags to see what others are saying.

Fair to say Twitter South Africa also has a significant impact on our television content — to the industry's peril in my opinion. Firstly, majority of television viewers are not on Twitter. That is just a fact, so the impact Twitter has on ratings generally is minimal. Yes, for Mzansi Magic it's big and has revived the channel. 

However, as we see with Mzansi Magic, Twitter has a big role to play in how channels commission shows now, and the perceived popularity of local shows for that channel is driven by trending on social media. That has been a good thing for Multichoice because the Sunday block on Mzansi Magic has become a lucrative spot for advertising and has even prompted SABC to get in on the game. 

The only problem with this is that now that trending shows have become the focus of media attention and broadcasters' resources, creativity and original ideas have gone out of the window. Producers and writers are now making shows to trend, not to be groundbreaking or creatively compelling. 

Television is a business and there is absolutely nothing wrong with broadcasters and producers chasing money. But as a creative, it does sting when you see our local content being eroded to fluff just so they can meet below par standard set by Twitter trends for television content.

Social Media celebrities...

It is also important to point out AGAIN (as I have done in my previous posts), celebrities like Boity, Bonang, Pearl Thusi and others' influence on the platform does not translate onto screen. 

Neither Boity or Bonang have roped in their massive social media following onto the shows they host. Boity has failed to pull in viewers for the floundering Club 808 show on etv. She has also done nothing for the ratings of the disastrous local version of Ridiculousness. The same is true for Pearl Thusi with Lip Sync Battle Mzansi. 

Bonang may be the biggest star in South Africa, but she too can not pull viewers. Ratings for Top Billing continue to be poor. Her stint on Afternoon Express hasn't really upped the channel's ratings nor was she a ratings gold when she hosted Clash Of The Choirs.

Yet you will still hear channels and producers justify hiring these celebs on every other TV show because "they have a following", when ratings numbers tell a different story! 

In essence, popularity on Twitter can be misleading. That is not to say it can not be lucrative. Our media is obsessed with what's trending on social media. So, the channel and advertisers still get their money's worth because if it trends, the media will report on it and that is good publicity for the channel. 

My biggest gripe is not even about hiring talent based on social media followers, my issue is that mediocrity has now found prominence in local television because that is what Twitter applauds. 

Take Our Perfect Wedding and Date My Family for instance. The shows have just become a cesspool of melodramatic nonsense and a stage to mock black South Africans — they trend, advertisers love it and channel makes money ... at the expense of what were great concepts which now have become fluff.

Even shows that are specifically tailored on Twitter content such as Trending SA and The V Table are not particularly racking in the viewers. Both shows fall under the least watched talkshows on South African television.

It came as no surprise to hear SABC channel head bemoan the other day that the problem they are facing with getting new shows is that everyone is now pitching a dating or wedding show. That is a clear influence of social media on what producers now think is what audiences want.

Now even drama series are influenced by Twitter trends. Writers are pushing ridiculous story plots just to get their shows to trend. Gone are the days of trying to write stories that will resonate or be compelling to the viewers. These days, it's all about regurgitating the same redundant topics because they have attention on social media. "Moreki" is trending, someone is going to put that in a script.

The reality is different though. Twitter SA only has about 8 million accounts. Of that 8 million only about 60% is active and of that probably half is engaging with others on a daily basis. Logic then dictates that a very small number of television viewers in our country, with over 20 million television viewers, come from Twitter.

Which begs the question; Why has South African entertainment industry surrendered itself to social media, especially Twitter?

Don't just be a follower...

Don't get me wrong. Social media has changed the way we engage with our audiences and that is a good thing. However, I think we need to find a balance. South Africa is a unique country. What often works a certain way in other countries, works differently here.

Just because Pokemon Go was a world wide phenomenon it didn't mean SA was going to latch on to the craze too. And it did not. That is my argument here. Yes Twitter trends have an impact on viewers and consumer habits but this is South Africa, let us not try and force the process. We must let it evolve organically, otherwise we risk destroying what makes our creative industry special by trying too hard to fall in line with everybody else.

We created Kwaito for heaven's sake — a genre creatively unique to SA. We used to create our own dance craze. We used to have tv shows that were uniquely South African. That is what Africa and the world appreciated our creative arts for. We have to get back to that place of not just being followers and become groundbreakers in our right again. 

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