When you look at the current state of the SABC, it’s easy to forget that the company has a long and storied history.
Nobody is sure how much longer it will be able to stay afloat, because TV licences and government handouts alone won’t fix the mess, but let’s leave all that behind and cast our minds back 50 years.
That’s when Teljoy was formed, spearheaded by Theo Rutstein, who is widely regarded to be the man who brought TV to this country.
MyBroadband has a great profile on Theo, who took a huge risk in June 1969, given that there were no televisions in South Africa at the time.
Let’s get stuck in:
Rutstein was enamored with the moon landing in 1969, and noted that while the rest of the world watched the broadcast on their black-and-white televisions, they were relegated to listening to reports of the landing on wireless radio. It occurred to him that there was a major opportunity to bring television to South Africa…
Teljoy then ran an advert in the four major Sunday newspapers which simply read: “TV will come, when it comes, there will be a shortage of supply. Where will you be to watch the first broadcast, in your own home or with your neighbours?”
Damn. If you’re in the business of flogging television sets, that’s a mighty fine advertising campaign.
Rutstein (pictured below) was very encouraged by the number of subscribers who signed a subscription agreement, even though the offering was a non-binding proof of concept, and that gave him the confidence to soldier on with the project:
“That actually gave us something to show anybody that I wasn’t dreaming, that there was a business model, and I took that business model to four banks to talk to them about funding,” he said.
“To my amazement, all four of them wanted in. So we had a lot of investors that were willing to put money in at the time that we started.”
The biggest challenges faced by Teljoy at its outset were the difficulty of attracting a reasonable number of initial subscribers, and the struggle to convince the government to bring television into the country during apartheid.
Whilst America had been watching telly since 1948, when four television networks (NBC, CBS, ABC, and DuMont) launched full-time programming, South Africa had to wait a little longer.
Here’s some info from SA History:
On 7 March 1964, the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, Dr Albert Hertzog, confirmed that the government’s policy regarding television was unchanged. Television was not to be introduced in South Africa.
In 1971, the SABC was finally allowed to introduce a television service, which began experimental broadcasts in the main cities in mid-1975, before the service went nationwide at the beginning of 1976.
The reason for television’s late arrival in South Africa was ideological, as the white minority regime saw it as a threat to its control of the broadcasting media, even though the state-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) had a virtual monopoly on radio broadcasting.
It also saw the new medium as a threat to Afrikaans, and to the Afrikaner volk, giving undue prominence to English, and creating unfair competition for the Afrikaans press.
Well, the SABC sure has done a pivot from pro-Afrikaner volk to pro-Zuma – more on that here.
Back to Rutstein, and his take on the most important thing needed to be a successful entrepreneur in this country:
“Don’t imagine that you can be an entrepreneur unless you are prepared to really understand that what you’re offering is better than what other people are offering.”
He also recommended that aspiring entrepreneurs exhibit confidence in their ideas and seek investment for their product or idea.
“You need to have self-belief and the courage to go for it,” Rutstein said. “Make sure that you find other people that will buy into that idea and provide finance.”
Like those who encourage budding South African entrepreneurs say time and time again – Just Start.
When asked about the best business advice he had ever received, Rutstein replied, “Don’t panic – everything can be solved and always works out.”
Thanks for the telly, dude.
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