M-NET TURNS 30

Over the past three decades, M-Net has achieved unprecedented success, however its CEO, Yolisa Phahle, believes that one of its most notable highlights is the exponential growth of the business, which has been driven by its continued investment in local content

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M-Net was launched in 1986 with just the one shiny, new channel… but today, it has over 40 channels, among them M-Net movie channels, M-Net Edge, Mzansi Magic, VUZU AMP, kykNET, Africa Magic and Maisha Magic. In addition, it broadcasts to nearly 50 African countries and in 10 local languages, making it a truly diverse video entertainment company.

“It has been incredible to watch how our teams and operations, which started as one building in Randburg, today span the continent,” says Phahle.
As a group, M-Net invested R1.7 billion in local content this year and these investments have proven to be economically viable as they continue to see audience growth year upon year.

“M-Net believes that business has an obligation to support communities and our continent. By generating jobs and developing skills, we build our economy and a future for our children.”

M-Net has invested heavily in the creation of local content. Its clear vision has always been to tell the best stories: some are international, critically-acclaimed programmes, which it acquires and others are local stories.

“We are working hard to provide more home-grown African stories, told by Africans for Africans. Africa has incredible stories to tell and an abundance of talent. We believe it is important to document our past, reflect on the present and create the future through storytelling.

“We work hard to add value to peoples’ lives by educating, informing and entertaining our viewers. Great stories create communities and add meaning to the world in which we live. Productions such as ‘Isibaya’, ‘Our Perfect Wedding’ and ‘Suidooster’captivate our viewers with real, authentic stories, whereas the adaptation of world-renowned shows such as ‘The Voice’ and ‘Idols’ endeavour to keep our customers in touch with world-class shows. We call it magic!” Says Phahle.

In terms of the future of local content in the South African context, Phahle believes that constant innovation from a product perspective is paramount.

“We live in a global world—the internet has changed everything. As a business, we need to work hard to surprise and delight viewers. Our stories have to be more relevant, more resonant, and we need to make sure people can watch our shows anywhere, anytime.

“There are many stories to be told and a multitude of languages to tell them in, and continued investment in skills development will ensure that M-Net is able to produce quality programming that keeps people talking and watching,” she explains.

Yolisa believes that the future of television, from a global perspective, lies in the content.

“The best, most HD or 4K television will not be watched unless it broadcasts the right kind of shows for the right kind of audiences. It, however, is important to use technology to enhance the story and make it accessible to as many people in the most convenient way possible.

An example would be the DStv Explora with its amazing features, such as Catch Up and BoxOffice—people can now watch what they want, when they want,” she says. M-Net has a long tradition of successful empowerment initiatives, and Phahle is proud to be associated with an organisation that resonates with her personal values of transformation.

“I am committed to providing opportunities for passionate, hardworking women to enter the workplace. At M-Net, we have a strong team of women; our Head of Operations, Channel Director for Afrikaans and Channel Director for West Africa, are all high-achieving females.

It has been reported that Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors deliver higher financial performance, on average, than those with less representation of women board members. While this may be debated by some, diversity in terms of gender and race brings a more balanced perspective to the workplace, which is a good thing,” she explains.

As an employer, M-Net ensures staff retention and personal growth within its organisation by providing an environment which is conducive to self-development and collaborative opportunities for those who are passionate about broadcasting and for people who have an entrepreneurial spirit.

“Employees are afforded opportunities to develop through specially crafted skills development courses, which allow them to grow within the business. M-Net has a competitive benefits structure, which makes it an employer of choice for those inside and outside the business,” she explains.

“Our corporate social investment projects over the decades have helped many communities. We are very committed to making a real impact on the continent and, what started as M-Net Cares—which funded many projects—made way for a South African social responsibility initiative, which is the M-Net Magic in Motion Academy.”

Designed to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical implementation, the Academy is focussed on delivering highly employable professionals into a rapidly growing industry of television. The vision of the Academy is the ongoing development of new generations of film and TV creators. This is done in a way that aligns with its business strategy of bringing people the very best in video entertainment, with the creation of authentic, home grown content as an essential part of that viewing experience.

“The first 12 graduates completed four films, two of which were amongst the top 10 films on Mzansi Magic in December 2015. The Academy has expanded to 20 interns in 2016 and we are extremely optimistic about the future of our interns.

“As a business, we have to work with the government to ensure a brighter future for all. Everyone deserves a chance—I am committed to providing opportunities for young people and have seen how internships can change lives. We have worked hard to ensure that, post-internship, our interns are supported as they seek long-term work.

“These are all proud moments for all of us at M-Net,” she adds.

Yolisa Phahle is a dynamic leader who attributes every part of her career journey to her success as CEO today. In terms of leadership, she says her greatest lesson has been to always listen to the customers. “As a socially-connected brand, it is important for us to know what our consumers think and how they feel about us.

“Our business at M-Net is to entertain and inform, which we are very passionate about doing. Most times, we are able to strike the right balance of entertainment… and when we don’t get it right, our viewers tell us through our social platforms, and it is our responsibility to them to ensure that we give them the best content that resonates with them,” she says.

Yolisa Phahle was born in the United Kingdom, to South African parents who had firm roots in South Africa. She cut her teeth in the industry as a musician and attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, majoring in classical piano and violin, but soon found herself immersed in popular music, sharing a stage with the likes of Soul II Soul, Duran Duran, Take That and Boyzone.

Phahle joined the BBC in 1998, training as Studio Manager and later as a Music Producer. Four years later, she took the post of Senior Music Producer at BBC 6 Music. In addition, she worked as a Sound and Vision Mixer in continuity with BBC Television.

Her South African roots and love for African music saw her return to South Africa in 2004, where she joined Channel O as the General Manager.

In 2009, she became the Channel Director for the local entertainment channels. In this role, she was instrumental in driving M-Net’s local content strategy by launching many successful local channels and building a strong content team. She was appointed as M-Net SA CEO in 2013, before taking over the reins for the M-Net business across the African continent in October 2015.

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