Sara Standish

Soweto TV: Reaching 4 Million in South Africa

Today the South African Mail & Guardian featured an article on the launch of Soweto TV, a community television station that is designed to train and empower locals to produce news that reflects their reality. Much like, TV Rocinha that was featured at WRI’s Base of the Economic Pyramid Conference in Brazil, Soweto TV reaches a largely low income market; while Soweto includes over 40% of the population in Greater Johannesburg, it accounts for only 4% of the city’s GDP, source: Johannesburg’s Official Website.

Driven by community derived content, special programming will focus on community health issues in the township, particularly HIV / AIDS, as a build up to World AIDS Day on December 1.

Beyond the business case for engaging low income populations by providing services that meet their most pressing needs (5.3 million people in South Africa are living with HIV – 21.5% of the population, source: UNAIDS), the station’s success could signal a number of other trends, such as shifting media strategies that focus on BOP markets and increased grassroots engagement in determining media production and consumption.

In fact, while I was in South Africa in 2001, the most popular show among young people was a soap opera based on high school life produced entirely in Xhosa that many felt accurately depicted the rough life of many township youth. Other popular programming including local soap operas (Soul City) and youth shows (Takalani Sesame) deal with HIV / AIDS issues, but Soweto TV plans to take this a step further. By training HIV + South Africans to produce stories of their own, they are building employable skills and ensuring intellectual capital remains in the community to fuel future economic development.

Reaching over 4 million people in the Soweto area, the station hopes to continue service long after its trial run ends in December. And if the success of other models like Rocinha TV are any indication, there is enough financial support to keep the station running…and training the community.

See a background paperon community television in South Africa that draws on international examples.