Empty pockets frustrate Pockets Hill: ZBC looking for money to buy new TV content

ZBC acting chief executive Patrick Mavhura

ZBC acting chief executive Patrick Mavhura

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THE Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation is battling to acquire new content from independent producers due to lack of funds, The Sunday Mail Leisure has learnt.

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ZBC is racing to meet the June 17 deadline for migration from analogue to digital broadcasting, after which the national broadcaster will become a multi-channel entity.

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Content is one of the major components of the impending digital migration, which will see ZBC introducing channels that will only be accessible through subscription.

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The migration creates great opportunities for the TV production industry as new programmes are needed to fill airtime.

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However, there appears to have been little private sector initiative to take advantage of this by coming up with funding mechanisms, leaving Government with the burden to finance content creation.

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In an interview last week, ZBC acting CEO Patrick Mavhura said they did not have money to buy finished products for these new channels.

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“There are independent producers with finished products but they are not willing to release their material unless we pay them first,” he said.

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However, Mavhura said, Government has assured them that the funds will be availed on time to guarantee a smooth transition.

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“I had a meeting last week with officials from the ministry and they assured us that they have secured the money. We expect to get the money soon, though we initially expected it to have been released in January,” said the acting chief executive.

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After the digital migration, ZBC will introduce channels that focus on sport, news, music, children and one with full spectrum programming.

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The proposal is, however, still subject to amendment.

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Below, ZBC acting CEO Mavhura responds to questions on these issues:

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Q: Is ZBC ready for the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting considering that the June 2015 digitalisation deadline is fast approaching?

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A: Digital migration or digitalisation is a national project that is funded by the Government of Zimbabwe and incorporates a number of stakeholders, including ourselves, ZBC.

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In that regard, the issue of compliance to the International Telecommunications Union deadline of June 2015 is a national matter, in so far as switching off analogue transmission is concerned. As a country, therefore, and as indicated by our ministry, we are ready to switch off analogue by the ITU deadline. As a member of this historic project, our role is to ensure that we have stocked adequate and exciting content to feed the six high definition channels that will come with digitalisation.

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As was indicated by Professor (Jonathan) Moyo, our (Information) minister, in his statement to Parliament captured in your sister publication, The Herald of May 19 2015, the implementation of digital migration or digitalisation will be divided into two phases.

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The first phase, which captures the essence of the ITU deadline referred to above, is the digitalisation of 20 transmitters and to ensure that there is no analogue transmitter along or near the country’s borders, which interferes with digital transmission in neighbouring countries.

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ZBC’s thrust, therefore, largely falls within the second phase. As part of that process ZBC has been working hard to ensure that we fulfil our obligations. At technical level and in preparation for the installation of the six television studios, Huawei Engineers, in league with our own technical staff are busy with groundwork in preparation for the installation of the state of the art digital equipment.

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Four studios will be installed at Pockets Hill, while two will be mounted at Montrose Studios. This is to ensure that ZBC’s in-house content production capacity is boosted to augment that coming from independent producers and other national, regional and international suppliers for the benefit of our esteemed clientele.

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Q: Has your internal project team that is dedicated to the generation and stocking of content for the new channels achieved its mission?

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A: In view of the need for content for the envisaged increase in the number of television channels, ZBC established a Content Creation Unit with the mandate of identifying, creating or developing and canning content. This mandate meant that the unit would work with independent producers (local, regional and international) to secure content in readiness for digital migration. In addition, they were required to approach suppliers of content locally, regionally and internationally for the same purpose.

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In the context of the cited ITU deadline and the outlined mandate, the CCU has made strides in securing and canning content. To date, some 700 concepts have been received, with half of the number having gone through the adjudication process conducted by a panel of experts incorporating renowned personalities in the arts industry that were assigned to ZBC for the said purpose through the recommendations of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe.

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This relates to work done with regard to productions with independent producers. Elsewhere, the Content Creation Unit has also entered into negotiations with suppliers of finished content and made inroads in that regard. The bottleneck has largely been due to the delay in the release of funding but Government has reaffirmed the position that it will fund these processes.

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Q: Funding has been cited as one of the major threats to the digitalisation project. Have you found ways around the predicament?

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A: The digital migration project, including the facet of content provision, is funded by the Government of Zimbabwe. In that regard, and in view of the cited deadline date, together with the commitment expressed by the Government to fund the project, we expect that all the concepts that are approved for production will have been funded. Indeed, as ZBC, we have continued to strive not only to acquire and produce content, but we continue to engage stakeholders to identify strategies that can be implemented to secure more and better content. However, this is being done within the parameters of limited financial capacity deriving out of our historical circumstances.

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Q: Tied to this, how far true is it that ZBC does not have money to pay for content?

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A: As stated above, the funding to secure content for the six HD channels, anticipated at the onset of digitalisation, is from Government. In that regard, we wish to advise and assure independent producers that Government has indicated that funding for such content was secured and producers and/or suppliers of content will be paid.

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Obviously, the fact that Huawei Engineers are on the ground, working with ZBC, is clear testimony that the project is underway and Government is funding these activities.

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Q: And what are going to be the terms of payment for approved content?

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A: From the onset, it is important to note that payment for approved content or concepts is, in fact, funding provided to the independent producer to finance the production of their concept into a drama, feature, documentary etc.

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The payment for concepts is dependent on the submitted budget. That is, where an independent producer submits their concept, the adjudication panel examines the concepts using the set criteria.

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Where the adjudication panel rules that the concept can be developed or made into a production they use the submitted budget to determine the funding required. This will determine what the producer will be paid.

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For finished content, normal conventional methods of purchase of such materials is used.