THE power of ideas is best exemplified by TV shows such as Idols, Britain’s Got Talent and the Voice.

Moreover, the runaway successes on prime time television of game shows such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and reality television such as Big Brother prove the fact that not only is content king, but that concepts are critical in delivering millions of hapless “couch potatoes” to ravenous corporate advertisers trying to sell one product or the other.

In simple terms, television stations need compelling content that can generate the kind of viewership that will become captive to the sales pitches of different advertising agencies.

These advertising agencies get paid to produce adverts to help trigger sales of products and services. No one will really switch on their television sets to watch adverts though!

The idea then is that while watching a television show or listening to the radio, an advert occasionally “disrupts” the flow to place a message about an offer.

Sometimes these messages are subliminal, but most times they are overt. The marketing folk will tell you of product placement also.

Judith Sephuma
Judith Sephuma

The point is that in an ideal world, television stations pay content producers from the advertising revenue that is generated through the adverts flighted on their programmes.

ZBC invites content producers
Recently, a number of artistes met at ZBC Montrose studios. Musicians, filmmakers, photographers and other such persons who are active in our local creative sector met with the local management headed by veteran broadcasters.

The meeting was a sort of induction for artistes into how to engage with ZBC, among other things. The purpose of the meeting, however, had been to invite content producers to submit concepts for development into television and radio shows.

What precipitated the meeting is the ongoing World Telecommunications Union-ordained digitalisation drive which will result in the widening, or rather, the increase of the spectrum for broadcasting signal.

What this means in effect is that whereas Zimbabwe currently has one, if not two, television stations, by June, ZBC will have the ability to carry eight television stations.

The current system is analog. When we go digital, there will be more spectrum which basically means there is need for content to fill up that spectrum. Think of it this way: It will be like having an eight-lane highway. Obviously you need cars on that road.

The meeting

I thought the meeting ZBC Montrose was deftly chaired by Samuel Mkhithika who I know from personal experience as one who cares a heck lot about the creative sector.

One by one the executive producers and reps from SFM, Radio Zimbabwe, National FM, Power FM and ZTV explained their operations to the invited guest artistes who had the likes of Nkululeko Nkala, Raisedon Baya, Kudzai Chikomo, Pathisa Nyathi and Jeys Marabini, to name a few.

Of interest to producers is that it is open season to engage with the broadcaster if one is able to conceive programme concepts for potential development into radio or television shows.

Rapulana Seiphemo
Rapulana Seiphem,

Three levels of engagement with ZBC for content producers
Commissioning: In this process, a producer submits a concept for consideration by the broadcaster and the broadcaster funds the entire budget. In this case, the copyright vests in the broadcaster.

Co-production: A producer submits a concept and they share the budget. Issues of copyright are negotiable between the two parties.

Selling: A producer designs and submits their proposal. If concept has been accepted, the producer of the concept is paid off.

Copyright vests in the one who has paid for the concept.

The management handled questions about ZBC’s payment record for work done previously. There were some artistes who raised concern on whether content producers would be paid in the future. Other questions were raised about what digitalisation actually means for artistes and whether it would put money in their pockets.

“When the chief executive comes, he will tell us exactly how much money has been set aside for this exercise, but we have been told that the money is there,” elaborated Nonceba Mnkandla at the end of the meeting.

My two cents
I believe that the current digitalisation exercise is being led by a minister who is known for action. I believe that this exercise is being done in earnest and that it is an opportunity for those in the creative sector to come forward and be rewarded for their efforts. One may be so bold as to say it is happy days for artistes.

Now here is my reflection: There are structural issues that need to be in place first. It is commonly accepted that Bulawayo is a cultural hub. The incidence of raw talent in our creative sector is irrefutable.

The challenge we face is that most of it is largely untrained. Zimbabwe needs to face the fact: Talent alone is not enough. The current call to artistes for content can thus be credibly described to be like the call of a parent for support from a child whom they never sent to school!

Our neighbours South Africa have institutions of higher learning wherein the gifted artistes go for polishing. For example, the lead actor of popular South African soapie Generations Raphulana Seipemo, who acts as Karabo’s husband, is a Wits University-trained masters in dramatic arts holder.

Judith Sephuma the famous Afro-jazz chanteuse is a Cape Town University music graduate. There is a plethora of academic institutions such as Damelin and AFDA offering various courses from acting, filmmaking and music.

My word to our ministers is that work in clusters. The Information, Arts and Culture and Higher Education ministries can collaborate to facilitate a scenario in which the local colleges and even Nust can commence faculties in film studies, sound engineering, performance and other related creative sector courses.

The facilities are available. What is begging is the understanding by the powers-that-be that they cannot reap where they have not sown.

A few weeks ago a couple of youngsters zealously launched a movie which exposed the glaring deficiencies of local artistes in terms of the skill set.

The movie Qiniso had a good storyline, but it was poorly executed. I cannot blame the young people in all good conscience for trying, but I must call our government ministers to wake up and smell the coffee.

Parting shot
There is no institutional support for our creative sector in terms of training in Bulawayo. The situation is so dire when compared to Harare with its film school and Rotten Row College of Music.

But even that is not enough. I had a chat with the first secretary of the Japanese High Commission in January and I did enquire about the possibility of having personnel train students in audio engineering.

The occasion was the launch of Cont Mhlanga’s music label Giya Music at Amakhosi. He explained to me that they would gladly do it if approached. Big nations do this sort of thing for their “soft power”.

Now what does it take to set up schools or faculties in the creative sector this southern side? Government, abantwana bayakhala (children are crying).