Tuesday, July 21, 2020


Dear DStv Subscribers,
          As one myself I thought I would find out what Mark Rayner had to say about various aspects of what we have been watching that have been bugging me for some time. He is the CEO of MultiChoice the owners of DStv that has a total of some 18-million subscribers, not only in South Africa but in other parts of our continent.
          Here’s what I put to him on Monday 6 July followed by his answers. My additional comments are in italics.
Content & Repeats
Me: As there are so many repeats of shows why is it not possible to ensure that they do not appear at about the same time night after night? This sort of thing happens often. The Graham Norton show on 120 was an example in the last few days.
Mark: Regarding content, as Africa’s most loved storyteller we invest significantly into both local and international content – partnering with both local talent and the world’s best production studios to ensure our customers have an unrivalled selection to choose from.  DStv has one of the lower repeat rates globally, but the amount of TV watched per day in Africa – amongst the highest globally - means repeats are sometimes inevitable. We actively push our channel suppliers for fresher content and have started flagging which content is “new” to promote customer awareness. Channels also have strict performance criteria to ensure fresh hours and ratings remain at acceptable levels. He missed my point which was: It is surely possible, or should be, to schedule shows so that the same repeat does not appear night after night virtually at the same time. I don’t accept that repeats are “inevitable.” They are clearly there because they are cheaper than buying new shows. The “new” labels are very often not true anyway. If DStv was in the shoe business how long would it last if customers heard that the “new” shoes they had bought had already been worn for several days by somebody else?
Me: The promos appear to be increasingly over done. The way they interrupt the shows that you are watching without warning sometimes makes you think you have flipped channels by mistake. Talk about Pointless. The one for this even interrupts the actual Pointless show while you are watching it. (I’m not talking about when the promo is connected to the bed that is being advertised). How inane is that? And this sort of thing is not uncommon with other promos. In general they are very often pointless because what they tell you makes nonsense of what you can actually see. As
an example the film MacDonald & Dodd appeared at around 6.00 pm last Saturday with a promo telling us it would be on at 8.00 pm on Monday. The film was repeated again last night (Sunday) at the about the same time while the promo continued to tell us to expect it tonight (Monday) at 8.00 pm. When it was screened on the Monday we were told in the top left hand corner it was NEW.
Mark: On the issue of promotions, it’s important we ensure our customers are aware of what is available to watch so that they get the most of their subscription. That said, a promotion that advertises something in the past is clearly not acceptable. Some promos are scheduled by us as DStv and some by the channel themselves, in this case the BBC. The scheduling of DStv promos has been a manual one which can be prone to human error from time to time. Since we are committed to providing customers with a quality viewing experience, we have introduced a new technology for DStv promo scheduling that will significantly reduce the occurrence of over exposure to a particular promotion by applying more accurate targeting of promos to the relevant viewing segments and limiting the number of runs of any particular promo to avoid overkill.  Regarding the BBC specific promos, we have shared your concerns – and you are not the first customer to raise this – with the BBC to address directly on the channels under their control. Please let us know if you experience any improvement over the coming weeks and months. To clarify with regards to the series, McDonald & Dodds, it premieres on Mondays with repeats on a Wednesday at 21:00, Saturday at 18:50 and Sunday at 20:30 – to give viewers other opportunities to see the show.
Timing of Shows
Me: When it comes to deciding when to put on shows there doesn’t seem to be any planning at all. How sensible is it to have a Christmas episode of QI in June? And to have a Paul O’Grady dog one at 10.00 at night?
Mark: According to our research, and viewership patterns, we find most viewers prefer watching QI in sequence and channels typically do not skip over these for that reason. Unless I can’t see for looking QI has stand alone episodes. They don’t follow one another in any kind of sequence and you don’t have to have watched one episode to enable you to follow the one that comes after that.
Me: Regarding competitions like the Great British Bake Off surely it would be better to finish showing the various episodes before starting the repeats otherwise viewers don’t know where they are.

Mark: Third-party channels, for example BBC BRIT which broadcasts among others, the Great British Bake-Off, are responsible for their own broadcasts and content inventory. Although they often broadcast episodes of the same season before the full season ends, we have made them aware that it is confusing to some customers.  Confusing is an understatement. It’s a competition that has quite a number of episodes before the winner is chosen. So if the BBC repeats episodes along the way viewers can be left wondering whether they will ever see the final.
Me: When it comes to the shortened form of any type of cricket, who came up with the idea of making them more boring than even the dullest part of a normal test match with every shot being repeated two or three times and even more often if somebody goes out. We are being taken for complete dumb dumbs. Surely people would be more interested in seeing more of the match than all these unrealistic repeats.
Mark: SuperSport remains of the leading sports broadcasters in the world. The team is continuously striving to improve its offering, and with the growth of short format viewing we understand how important this is to satisfy and keep sports fans stimulated. Our production team is constantly improving the quality of highlight packages. At the same time our technology division is exploring a growing global trend to utilise machine learning to improve these highlights.  As a cricket fan and former player myself, I do sometimes share your frustration that a short highlights reel doesn’t capture all the key moments in a game. For that reason we schedule longer highlights versions too for key games. We’ve shared your comments with the SuperSport cricket production team.
My First Question
Me: How about conducting a survey among DStv subscribers to see what they think about all the promos we have to contend with to get some entertainment and various other aspects of what we are given?
Mark: He steered well clear of this question. Would this be too risky in case what the majority of viewers actually think would involve too much of an overhaul of what is currently being screened?
                                               *    *    *    *
Mark finished his reply to me by saying: “We strive at all times to provide an uninterrupted video entertainment service with the best available content for our valued customers.” Do you subscribers agree that this is what you get?

Thanks Mark for your prompt and comprehensive answers.

Jon, a Consumer Watchdog who hopes he got his fellow subscribers the answers to some of the concerns they might have had about what we pay for when we sign up for DStv.

Thursday, July 2, 2020


Dear Readers,
Daily Mail flight attendants
   When I heard that bottom pinching had been outlawed in Italy it filled me with nostalgia. Italy’s highest court decreed that this is a dirty deed punishable by the full force of the law. It’s just as well the spoil-sports who are now breeding faster than rabbits never got around to dealing with this heinous crime a long time ago otherwise I might still be in jail. It was depressing to read they had added this to the long list of harmless things we are not allowed to do these days, while murderers get away with murder. It won’t be long before the ‘no bottom pinching’ law is extended to the bedroom world-wide.
    Some time ago I flew to Rome on a freebie with a group of Financial Planners – life assurance salesmen who called themselves anything but foot-in-the-door, hard sell merchants. They were going to Rome and London as a prize for out selling everybody else and as a journalist I was invited to tag along as a sweetener to ensure that I never wrote anything detrimental about the firm that was behind it all. These Planners had an unwritten understanding that they would never let on that, as pillars of financial rectitude, they ever sold anything. They merely put the best financial options on the table for their clients to choose from and if they happened to buy, sorry I meant invest in, the odd life policy here and there nobody was going to stop them.
    Now that I no longer feel gagged by that no expense spared, overseas junket I can reveal that whatever name they tried to hide behind their only objective was to sell life assurance by the policy load. Why else would their firm have got a million pound, hall of fame, or whatever they called them, London broker to divulge his secrets of success that had worked so well in Britain? He came up with some gems. His best one was worth noting for all you life assurance peddlers out there, masquerading as friends of the family, or a financial adviser on such a high plain that you would never stoop to something as vulgar as selling.
     “Look through the death columns in the newspapers,” he said. “Get the address of someone who has just died. If he lived at say 10 Church Street, call at every house in the street except number 10 and you’ll sell life assurance like hot cakes.”
      Don’t be appalled by this idea. It comes under the very respectable guise of Financial Planning. “Didn’t your neighbour, who died last week, leave a penniless widow? We wouldn’t want that to happen to your wife do we? So just sign here.” I could hear them say.
     What’s all this got to do with bottom pinching in Italy?  Everything really. It had a vital bearing on the outcome of what happened on the Alitalia flight that took the all male, joke cracking, crowd to Rome. Before we left my wife warned me, light heartedly, not to pinch any bottoms while I was away. The warning was possibly more pertinent because I had some Italian blood, having had ancestors from Turin, although this was my first visit to Italy. Anyway we settled into our seats without incident at Jan Smuts airport, in the days before all the airports had been renamed.
    We were somewhere between Johannesburg and Nairobi when the shock hit us. Drinks were going to be in very short supply. The cabin crew were on a go-slow and generally being as offhand as possible. Suddenly there was a frightening commotion on our side of the plane.An airhostess ran screaming down the isle as though Jack the Ripper was after her.
    I had been sitting on the isle trying to make the best of our parched situation and as she walked past my hand involuntarily wandered to that wiggling behind of hers. It would never have happened if my wife hadn’t given me the idea. I mean what man thinks of these things unaided. In any case I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. You would have thought I had raped the girl the way she was carrying on. I was only doing what millions of Italian men had been doing for years. But what I didn’t know was that as part of this peculiar strike a whole sub-culture was being subverted - bottom pinching was out. Perhaps this was the start of the movement that has now banned it forever.
    The next minute the First Officer appeared at my side trying to extract a confession out of me, without warning me of my rights, not that I probably had any in mid-air over Africa. Sternly he pointed out the Captain had the authority to have me thrown off the plane at Nairobi, where in those apartheid days a polecat would have been given a better reception than a White South African. Looking on the bright side I was thankful they were at least going to wait until we got there.
    Fortunately for me a whole row of salesmen came to my rescue. Calling something that it wasn’t was their speciality. I couldn’t have asked for better eye-witnesses. I never pinched her they all said. I only touched her to get her attention because we all needed a drink, badly. That’s how Financial Planning saved me from a spell in a Kenyan prison.
    An Alitalia public relations officer, who was there to look after us because we were such a big group, took me up front to the almost empty first class section. There he sat me down and apologised. He did his best to fill seats, he told me, while the cabin crews were now trying to empty them. I was very relieved I was not going to end my trip in some hellhole of a jail. After that I only saw the lady who had made all the fuss in the distance, on the other side of the cabin. She was keeping well away from the serial rapist that was me.
    Months later I was at Jan Smuts seeing somebody off when I saw her. I thought it was her. I wasn’t sure. She was with other crew members of an Alitalia flight that had just come in. She was much prettier than I remembered. The way she had screwed up her face in rage had put me off her completely the last time I had seen, what I now believed was the same girl. I was determined to find out if I was right. I had always wanted to know whether she had been genuinely upset or whether she had been putting it on to drive home the aims of the strike. 
    I located the hotel where the Alitalia crews spent their Johannesburg stop-overs. On some pretext or other I got chatting to her. Fortunately she did not connect me to that groping incident. She agreed to have a drink with me. Her English was impeccable. Well, for an airhostess it would have to be wouldn’t it? So I did not need to battle with my non-existent Italian. The next time her flight arrived in Johannesburg she called me at my office and after I had told my wife I would be working late we went out clubbing. This went on for months until one night I finally got up the courage to ask her. The wine had loosened my inhibitions and the red mini she was wearing prompted me. I was thinking only an Italian would be able to get a grip of her because her skirt was so tight. I could just see her sylph-like figure strutting down the Via del Corso in Rome with an octopus of outstretched male arms trying to lay a hand on that soft, tantalising behind of hers.
    I was wondering whether I would spoil everything if I mentioned it. I skated around the subject to begin with, a little fearful. “Leonie,” I said, “Is it right that in Italy men pinch girls’ bottoms all the time? In the street, in lifts and anywhere else where they can get an opportunity?”
    “That’s a compliment Peter,” she replied. She was positively glowing “I just love it. In Italy we know when our beauty is appreciated.”
    I took the opportunity to confess. Tentatively I said, “If it was you, then I was the bottom pincher who sent you screaming down the isle when your cabin crew were on some kind of strike a little while ago.”
    She burst out laughing. Stretching her sensual legs and flicking a blonde lock away from her face she said, “Was my acting that good.  I’ll be a film star soon. You English are so reserved a girl does not know where she is,” she added snuggling up to me and putting her head on my shoulder.
    We were married in Rome. But if it hadn’t been for my wife’s, or should I say my ex-wife’s, idea I would never have got involved with this airhostess, who is now the mother of my two sons. I’m sure my ex now wishes I had been put off that plane in Nairobi. “It would have served him damned well right,” I can hear her saying. May be you’ll understand now why I think prohibiting bum pinching is a bum idea. And if you ask my Italian wife she’ll tell you, “How else would I have got a husband.”
Jon, a former Sunday Times journalist, unchanged busybody, Consumer Watchdog and Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman.
P.S. This is 80% fact with fiction added for a bit more spice.
P.P.S. In 2003 Italy’s High Court overturned a ruling made in 2001 that pinching a woman’s bottom was not a crime provided it was not premeditated. Under this new decision it became a sexual offence.