TBI Spotlight On Africa: SABC’s Nirvana Singh

Nirvana Singh

TBI has partnered with US-based cable and streaming service The Africa Channel, which develops, produces and distributes content that reflects Africa’s influence on the world, to deliver insight from some of the key players on the continent about its place in the global market.

The Africa Channel (TAC) and its production division, TAC Studios, recently hosted the International Emmy’s semi-final judging round for the Drama Series category at a virtual event from Johannesburg, South Africa. For the first time, the company assembled a panel of industry executives and talent from major media companies across Africa and the Middle East to help adjudicate the event, some of whom will be sharing their perspectives with TBI this week.

Today, we hear from Nirvana Singh, genre manager, drama, local productions and acting manager for industry development, at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

What has been the single biggest industry change for the drama business in Africa over the past two years?

I will give a South African perspective on the market place as am unable to talk to the whole of the African continent. The single biggest industry change has been the arrival of streaming platforms such as Netflix, VUI, Amazon as well as the local streaming platform Showmax.

The biggest change is the investment by the streaming platforms in commissioning of local content for their platforms. Up until in 2017-2018 when SABC, ETV, MNET and Mzansi Magic were the main curators of local dramas, the landscape changed dramatically with Netflix and Showmax commissioning local content, followed by VUI.


The continent is huge and diverse as is its drama industry output – which country/countries do you think are producing the most eye-catching scripted series at present?

South Africa has been at the forefront of producing ground breaking, high end drama that has both a local and international presence. SABC recently partnered with Netflix to co-produce a drama series called Agent that was shot both in South Africa and Mauritius. Other partners included Arte and the Mauritius Film sector. SABC also partnered with VUI to produce the adaption of the Ugly Betty franchise, called uBettina Wethu.

Interest in scripted programming from Africa also seems to be blooming globally, what’s driving this and how do you expect this to affect your operations?

South Africa has 11 official languages. SABC and other broadcasters primarily produce content that talks directly to the language group. Up until recently local content was not appealing to the international market due to the language barrier. However with the onset of Netflix Africa, VUI and other streaming services, the barrier has been overcome whether the content is queen and prevails. Subtitling and dubbing makes the content accessible to a global audience. SABC’s sales division has had a long standing relationship with African, Caribbean and European broadcasters who have licenced SABC-owned dramas. We foresee an increase in sales to the streaming platforms and other broadcasters as language is no longer the issue.

uBettina Wethu

What differentiates your company’s drama from imported series?

99% of SABC drama is commissioned in line with the channel’s brand positioning and target audience. In addition, SABC as a state-owned entity is mandated to commission local content in the 11 official languages. SABC drama is focused on engaging the mass population where they resonate with the world and the characters through a portrayal of culture and language. Stories are universal, but in the context of a South African perspective. SABC tells authentic stories that inform and entertain the South African public. The two highest rated shows currently in South Africa are Uzalo and Generations The Legacy, both are soapies on SABC 1.

Are you looking to work with other international players on drama, and if so, how?

SABC is constantly working with the local industry to partner with both local and international players. Currently we offer a pre-sale licence/equity model to local producers, where the SABC offers a licence fee and development funding depending on the project. In return, SABC takes a licence window for its terrestrial channel for a period and an equity return on its investment. We also have partnership with key governmental and industry bodies to develop the local industry through skills development programmes. SABC has partnered with RTI Cote d’ Voire and Ambre lab to produce a pan-African limited series that will be shot in both countries.


How is your drama slate developing and what upcoming show are you most excited about?

SABC has over 80 programmes in development and production. New programmes to be released in October and November include African Dreams on SABC 1, a mockumentary set in an events company; Giyani Land Of Blood season two for SABC 2, set in a safari lodge in Limpopo Province; local sitcoms including Kwamamazala, 13 Weeks To Mr Right and Ou Toppies.

What is the single biggest challenge holding back the African scripted industry?

In South Africa, we are challenged by the budgets allocated to local drama production. As a public broadcaster, SABC has a limited budget for local content. One of the issues that we constantly face is the script to screen translations. Great scripts are written but the production budgets do not allow for the scripts to be fully realised.

What needs to change more widely across the industry to improve diversity?

In South Africa, diversity is critical. It is the mandate of the SABC to be inclusive, procure content that reflects the diversity of our nation. We continue to strive to improve on our content to ensure diversity.

Most Recent