SABC3 boss on the channel’s latest schedule change, Anele, Top Billing and Bollywood

Cape Town – At the beginning of February SABC3 changed its schedule, with channel head Aisha Mohamed saying the channel's ongoing prime time evolution "is not the beginning nor is it the end. It's definitely the start of much more. It is our journey".

Channel24 sat down with Aisha Mohamed, to hear why the new schedule change happened and what it means, why Top Billing moved to Saturdays and why the news and Real Talk with Anele moved to later timeslots.

Aisha explains how SABC3 is trying to catch up with The Amazing Race, those Supernatural episodes that got cut and new seasons coming, what viewers' response are to the Bollywood content and how SABC3's schedule is responding to viewer feedback.

Why did SABC3 decide to change its schedule again in February?

The changes have been coming for a while and we thought it would be really great to start a new year. The changes are definitely part of our thinking and our strategy and we've spent a lot of time so that the changes we put forward from February are sustainable but also come with longevity. We decided to launch it in February and it can sustain itself to as soon as May when we get new titles in again, and then in the next 3 months again, we get new titles in again. So it made sense for me to start a new year with a new, fresh feeling.

We also had a lot of feedback and time to get feedback from viewers. So we've spent time reading that feedback, researching that feedback, having a look at what people actually want - you know, what are they saying to us.

What is nice about our audience is that they're very vocal. So they will tell you exactly what are the things that they like and that they don't like. And that actually assisted us in this process, with simple things like The Real Talk with Anele that we've moved a little bit later. They're very much a part of those decisions, telling us things like "I'm not home when this is on" and SABC3's schedule is very much about those decisions - so we considered all of those things.

The thing is that you're never going to make everybody happy all the time. It's a competitive schedule for us as a channel, so we can compete aggressively but also make our viewers happy in the same vein.

Why did you decide to move Top Billing to Saturdays at 18:00?

That Top Billing has been on the air for so many years is a testament to the kind of product that it is and the fact that it has such high value. It is regarded in the viewers' mind as something that's really unique.

Top Billing is a very unique property. It encapsulates a little bit of everything. But also we found that in the viewing experience we're moving into a very different age. So as Top Billing is changing and evolving – and you would have seen if you've watched it for the last couple of months – it’s definitely moving to a different direction.

It's moving to the direction that SABC3 is moving, but it's also moving in a digital age, it's savvy about how it's responding to it's viewers from a social media perspective, but it's also about ensuring that we give it a home that it can really shine.

And we felt that Thursdays are definitely our home for reality and for drama and that kind of thing. We found from a viewer perspective those people appreciated watching it over the weekend, so it's about giving Top Billing the opportunity tor really shine on a Saturday, and with a repeat on a Sunday. So we're really hoping to see good things in the new timeslot.

The move of the SABC's English TV news bulletin from 18:00 to 21:00, is that to make a less interrupted flow?

That's exactly what it is. So it was about flow and balance, and also allowing our viewers the opportunity to have news and lifestyle strands where they are. We've got a 2 minute bulletin at 6 o'clock that's you'll still get that's very much the headlines. And then a very detailed bulletin at 9. So it's 2 minutes at 6 and then a very detailed bulletin at 9 encapsulating what's been going on the day.

Also our viewers are very savvy. They're aspirational. They are aware. They are aware of what's happening around them. Often a lot of the news stories, they've seen what's going on around them, they know what's happening. So it's about bringing it all together for a more detailed conversation at 21:00, which I don't think we could have done at 6 o'clock.

And then the rationale for moving the talk shows Afternoon Express and Real Talk with Anele to early prime time, is it to leverage the more viewers that potentially available later?

So definitely, definitely in terms of Real Talk with Anele that has been the feedback from viewers who told us "I have to catch it on YouTube", "I can't believe I missed it again today", "I can't believe I missed so and so" – it’s all of that feedback.

So the later timeslot is a testament to the show's success?

Yes. Absolutely. Also, it's a SABC3 production. So we're invested it in. And we want to give it the best possible opportunity to shine. So 6 o'clock makes a lot of sense. And I hoping that people are comfortably at home then and can enjoy the viewing experience as opposed to being still at work, which is the feedback we got.

Also Afternoon Express has sustained itself over time. It came on as a new show, we weren't sure how it was going to do, and it really has improved our schedule tremendously.

A lot of viewers have been scared about the possibility of Survivor and The Amazing Race disappearing from SABC3's schedule?
We've kept Mondays as adventure, so our reality and adventure on Mondays sustain itself. So Survivor is definitely still on a Monday. 

We chose to put The Amazing Race on a Wednesday because we want to bring our seasons forward. So we're looking at what's happening with how many seasons there are and where we are at, and to bring things forward so that we can give viewers the next season sooner rather than later.

So we've got season 25 of The Amazing Race on Wednesdays and then we've got Survivor coming in shortly. And we've got further seasons actually. So there'll be a one and then a break and then another one. But again, just to make sure that we maintain interest and make it relevant, because we find that the gaps otherwise are a bit too far apart.

Will SABC3 ever show the last four episodes of Supernatural's stopped season?

We are still playing the last 4 episodes out. In the schedule change one of the shows that were affected was Supernatural on a Sunday night. Unfortunately it is a little bit later, so it's not in the same timeslot that it was at, but we are most definitely showing it a bit later, so we are finishing the season. And it's nice that we also have the next seasons of Supernatural coming.

Do you know which ones?

I think its 11 and 12. So they're coming in and will come in on a drama slot on a Wednesday.

What has been the feedback in terms of the Bollywood content and will there be more of that?

So we're very excited about that. The viewer feedback has been well around Bollywood, also the pairing of Mela and Bollywood together was also very much in favour. The movies feedback was really great. So we got a lot of feedback around the types of movies. 

We've also got really good titles, and we've got a good combination of for instance Hindi, Tamil and how we can pair them together and can ensure that both communities can enjoy that equally. So it is a bit of a touchy area sometimes. So we are very careful how we schedule them; so that we ensure we have enough titles, pair them nicely.

Also we try to get latest movies, we've just acquired a lot of new ones with some new titles coming on as well. I think we acquired 20 or 25 new ones.

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