TV channels drop all else to air Mandela

MUMBAI: The lion of South Africa roars no more. Nelson Mandela, who emerged from prison after 27 long years to lead South Africa out of decades of apartheid as his country’s first black president, passed away last night at his home in Johannesburg surrounded by his family members.

Mandela or Madiba, as he was fondly called, proved to be as much a symbol of South Africa’s struggle against racial oppression as one of integrity and resilience when after being freed from prison in 1990 he negotiated a peaceful end to apartheid and urged forgiveness for the white government that had imprisoned him.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that the man who was a phenomenon during his lifetime, is set to make history, even in death. Ever since the news of his demise, social media is aflutter with #RIPNelsonMandela trending on Twitter, Facebook full of Mandela posts and Google News showing close to 1,000 results on him. All publications, big or small, are digging out articles on him for their readers’ information and interest. Not to be left behind, TV channels while news channels have gone berserk showing features around the leader, even the infotainment channels are competing with each other to come with even more special segments on the revolutionary-turned-prisoner-turned-president.

So, if National Geographic Channel is showcasing Mandela: His Life and Legacy on Saturday, December 7 at 11 pm and December 8 at 1 pm; Discovery is airing The Making Of Mandela again on 7 December at 9 pm and 8 December at 8 pm. Similarly, History TV18 is narrating the story of South Africa’s political transformation under Mandela’s leadership with Miracle Rising: South Africa airing tonight (9 pm) while TLC has a special line-up for audiences.

With Mandela having motivated Indians as much as he did the South Africans, television channels started digging for features as soon as they came to know about his passing away.

So what about the programmes that had been lined-up previously? “It’s not easy, but I think in a highly competitive environment where viewer interest can be ephemeral it becomes almost mandatory,” says A+E Networks TV18 VP and head marketing Sangeetha Aiyer, adding that they had to drop Hidden Cities at 9 pm and one of the channel’s biggest shows - Pawn Stars at 10 pm from the regular line-up to accommodate the program on Mandela.

Drawing a parallel to how the channel aired a biography on Steve Jobs two years ago after his sudden demise and how it dropped the regular line up to air a show called The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka when the international community was bearing down on Sri Lanka for war crimes committed by its army, she says: “The effect was quite humbling as the show created a stir in Tamil Nadu and was even discussed in Parliament.”

Coming back to Mandela, NGC has dropped its popular series Taboo. National Geographic and FOX International Channels VP, marketing Debarpita Banerjee, says that shows based on big events and people always bring more viewers. “Our rich and diverse library has always offered contextually relevant shows like Trapped in Kedarnath, Inside the Mahakumbh, 26/11 specials, 9/11 specials, that have fared extremely well. In fact, shows like Trapped in Kedarnath, 9/11 special went on to become one of the top three shows of the infotainment genre. Most of these special features have largely been based on events that have turned into the country’s news headlines. We realise that there are people curious to know more about events that have impacted their lives,” she says.

Business-wise, it isn’t a good deal for channels to change the line-up at such short notice as they rarely find sponsors. Add to that the tough market that makes it even more difficult. With sponsorships taking a few weeks, finding an advertiser for a show that is to be aired in a few hours is difficult for any channel and thus, none of the channels got funders.

However, since the curiosity around the topic is huge, the promotions become big. “For our regular viewers, we promote the shows heavily on the channel along with all our social media platforms. Pertinent shows like these are also promoted heavily on our news network where we can reach out to relevant audiences,” says Aiyer.

“Getting sponsors is but naturally difficult on such short notice, however, our prime focus for such features is to ensure that we have the most relevant and well researched content put together by our programming team and then, try and promote it well so that our viewers are aware of such a show. We reach out to our captive audience of over 4 million fans on Facebook along with running promos, graphic-overs on the channel itself,” concludes Banerjee.

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