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Is P58m roundly slammed as too stinting?

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In the wake of American TV host Steve Harvey’s visit, critics iterate the common position that a budget 10 times more would be more like it. As for the President’s guest, it would take more than a touching up on the studios at the Mass Media Complex for him to move production of two of his shows to BW

GOSEGO MOTSUMI

Visiting American comedian and TV host Steve Harvey, who was recently in Botswana at the invitation of President Mokgweetsi Masisi to promote the local creative industry, says the industry needs content injection if it is to create opportunities for the youth. Harvey was touring the Mass Media Complex that houses Radio Botswana and Btv where he said the facility’s potential was not realised, a revelation that begged the question of whether the P58 million cash injection for local content by the government was enough to run the television stations. During his State of the Nation Address last year, Masisi said the P58 million was a deliberate move to empower citizens in the creative sector. However, to-date there hasn’t been much progress in sourcing content that most people have access to.

In an interview with Time Out, the creator and producer of Colours TV series, Samuel Ngwenya, said the P58 million allocated for programme acquisition was “way too little” for the purpose, adding that a budget 10 times more was needed per annum for one television station. According to Ngwenya, a P580 million budget would work like magic to improve and produce impressive local content that Batswana would be proud to see on television. He said the greatest lesson was that if there was insufficient investment in television and film, the industry would stagnate and mediocre programmes would continue to be screened.

“By Botswana standards, a 26-episode TV drama should cost about P10 million,” Ngwenya continued. “This is little money compared to the South African industry whose budget of R13 million, the equivalent of P10 million produces a 13-episode drama. This therefore means a P10 million budget for a 26-episode drama here in Botswana is half what the South Africans use for a similar 26-episode drama. The South Africans peg their drama at P1 million per episode while we do ours at P500 000 an episode. And wait for it, a Colours TV drama, which is of high quality, was produced at P3.8 million. This is untenable. Even though we pulled it off, we are poorer because we had to use our own resources to drive the production. So basically Colours cost us P146 154 per episode.”

Oteng Munyadzwe of production company Club Media echoed similar sentiments. “Botswana is rich when it comes to content,” said Munyadzwe. “We have our unique stories that need a proper budget so they are beautifully told. Content is different and the cost depends on the concept. But when P58 million is divided among 100 companies, that will compromise quality because the funds are simply not enough.”

Another creative who opined on terms of anonymity said to prove that the funds were not enough, the government even had to negotiate for a proposed production. “This amounts to giving out content for free because there are no returns,” the creative said. “So most of us resort to sitting on our content because we would run at a loss if we pitched for a share of the lean slice. This is why you don’t get to see our stories.”

A film student who is running a start-up production house said although that the P58 million was not enough, it was a good start because the current content procurement by government was not working. In his view, what works is commisioning, which means funding ideas as oppossed to producing content and trying to sell it a later stage. “Standard rates per minute can really help when it comes to content production and distribution,” said the student. “One major challenge in my case is tenders that got cancelled by government broadcasters in the past two years. This basically means we spent money on content that won’t give us a return. We also need structures such as a film commision that regulate everything from giving international companies coming to film here.”

At the end of Harvey’s visit, President Masisi said he and his guest had agreed the American star would move production of two of his shows to Botswana and create employment for Batswana before the end of the year if minor refurbishments were made at the Mass Media Complex. Harvey also pledged to work with top Hollywood producers to train Batswana creatives in content creation for the global market.

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