09 July 2012

Television

In 1969, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, the world was watching.  But not South Africa...   The government here had long viewed television as something that would be detrimental to the system of apartheid; if they imported television shows from other countries, they might show race mixing, and the government didn't want to appear to support that.  When South Africans couldn't watch the moon landing, there was enough discord that the government eventually relented, and started broadcasting in 1976.  Because of the late start, South Africa skipped over black & white programming, and was one of a few countries that only ever broadcasted in color. 

Satellite television is now the preferred distribution, as the expensive process of laying out cable networks didn't make sense in such a large spread-out country.  The programming today is a mix of British, American and local programming, mostly in English, although Britain refused to allow their programs to be shown here until after apartheid was dismantled in the 1990s.  Since South Africa has 11 official languages, there are broadcasts in Afrikaans, Zulu, and the other languages, but English seems to be dominant.

There are a few modern US network shows that are on the air, but there are a lot of older American shows that seem to be on heavy rotation, like Home Improvement, Hanging with Mr Cooper, and My Wife and Kids.  Reality-type programming, like cooking shows, stand-up comedy, home decorating shows and wildlife shows are all prevalent, presumably due to the low licensing costs from US networks.  Oddly enough, Christmas-themed shows seem to pop up routinely, despite it being July.

Most shows are broadcast with fewer commercials than we would see in the US, so what takes us 30 minutes to watch airs in just 25 minutes here, leading television programs to start at very random times, like The Daily Show, which airs daily at 7.40pm, followed by The Colbert Report at 8.05pm.

South Africa is gearing up to go through the digital switchover that we went through in the US a few years ago.  Luckily, sports are quite popular here, and there will be 4 different satellite channels providing 24-hour Olympics coverage; being only 1 time zone away from London, I may get to see more Olympics coverage here than in the US!