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Interview with Lyle Stewart, Sony's SVP for Africa

In early April, Sony Television Pictures held it's first media preview for Africa, where they told the press of the upcoming shows we can look forward to on their channels, Sony Entertainment Television and Sony Max.  The network's Senior Vice President, Lyle Stewart, presented the preview and the next day Buhle Mbonambi met up with him at the Sandton Intercontinental Hotel. 

Lyle Stewart is the senior vice president of Sony Pictures Television’s Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa region.

He was in Joburg last week for the first Sony Entertainment Television and Sony Max channel previews and he presented what we can expect on the channels from next month. 
Sony Entertainment Television is popular for re-runs of iconic shows, like Friends, Martin, CSI, NCIS and current shows like Hannibal, The Arsenio Hall Show and Rookie Blue.
I met up with him the next day to talk about the two channels and more. 

You have been the senior vice- president for two years now. How has it been?
It’s been a great time. Really enjoyable. I’ve worked in the African market for about five or six years, so now as senior vice- president, taking on additional territories like Russia, Turkey and more has been a blast. It’s an ever- changing market. Each market has its own idiosyncrasies, quirks and it’s great offering the right content to the relevant territory. 
Your biggest challenge?
I think there are two. First one is cultural. Getting around the cultural sensitivities, whether it’s Poland, South Africa, Russia or Moldova, getting my head around those cultural nuances is really tough. 
Also I think being in television right now, the ever-changing world of television, the competition, the over-the-top content and the way people are consuming media has changed so much. I read somewhere that the way TV is consumed is going to change so much in the next five years, compared to the past 20 years. So we as a group, the network has to be prepared to adapt to those innovations in technology. 

Do we have a typical TV viewers in the region?
I don’t think there’s a typical viewer. It definitely varies in every territory. Some people prefer subtitles while others prefer dubbing. Some territories prefer local content, while some love Western shows. Part of the joy of the job is that there’s no typical viewer across the whole region. Everyone has their different quirks.

How do African viewers differ from the other territories in the region?
Because of the way DStv have gone and introduced programming, there's a sophistication in the way viewers in the African territory consume content and the expectation on what’s new, what’s a repeat and the need for original, fresh stuff. Probably this market, South Africa, is the driving force of what the African consumer wants to watch. The expectation is probably higher here than in some of the other markets, just because of the evolution and the ability to consume lots of different content and it has been that way for many years. 
Any word on maybe getting some shows even closer to the US screen time, with piracy of TV shows rising every year?
Absolutely. There’s two factors to this, I think. One is we want our viewers to have new content and the programmes we have control of, like Hannibal, we will aggressively attempt to make sure that they are screened as close to the time as possible. 
Piracy is a major problem to all TV networks and productions. So we do need to cut down the window in which people have to wait for new episodes and seasons of shows. 
But then that being said, people also love a clean, uninterrupted run of 13 or more episodes. So while it’s great that TV is becoming international, from what I gather, people don’t want to have breaks in-between their favourite shows. So it’s a double-edged sword. 
How do you choose the classic shows you have on the channels?
I think it’s all about finding out what shows people loved, watched religiously and how long they ran for. Shows like Friends, CSI, Girlfriends. 
We look at the show, performances, the number of seasons… the bigger the brand of the TV show the better – something that resonates with our Sony Entertainment Television audience. 

You spoke about an Asian version of The Amazing Race. Can we expect an African one soon?
(Laughs) It would be great. I’d love for there to be one. But it’s to be determined.

Is there any chance of an original, local show being developed by Sony for South Africa?
Local content is very important to us, so chances are, yes. Soon. We are constantly looking to add value to our channels, so more viewers can tune in. So we need to find a balance with local and international content, which is important for each territory. So we are looking into it. We absolutely want to be more local.

This story first appeared in the April 13 issue of the Sunday Tribune SMtv Magazine

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