Ready to face the challenges of a new era in broadcasting
THIS week Lazarus Zim, the chief executive officer of M-Net Channel, made a strongly worded submission to the Independent Broadcasting Authority on proposed amendments to its licence conditions.
Zim's toughest task will be to stop the IBA's proposals to impose a yearly licence fee of a percentage of turnover, a fee which will cost the pay-TV channel about R17-million. The amendments to its licence conditions, which have been gazetted, propose a licence fee of 2% of turnover.
As head of M-Net Channel, Zim is facing other challenges, including the issuing of a new private commercial licence which is sure to lure some of M-Net's 1.1-million subscribers away.
M-Net "welcomes competition, which will only serve to make us all better", says Zim. "Obviously it will affect us for a time. Our experience in Europe shows that whenever a new free-to-air channel is licensed, it does affect the other stations as people want to experiment. "
He says viewers follow programmes rather than channels, so M-Net must ensure it has a strong line-up. In the competition between stations, M-Net has an ace up its sleeve. "Our biggest strength is that you will see it for the first time on M-Net because we enter into long-term output deals with the studios, some of which run into the next century. In terms of our deals, first run of movies will always be on M-Net. "
The SABC, to whom he refers, has been complaining bitterly - and officially - about M-Net's comparative advantages.
The SABC is peeved about M-Net's exclusive rights to sport events, the amount of adverts it broadcasts during open time and the legality of the CSN channel.
Recently, the SABC dropped some of its complaints and the rest were dismissed by the broadcasting complaints commission of the IBA.
He finds M-Net's relationship with the SABC "a bit distressing", he says. "It is convenient to blame M-Net and use it as a scapegoat. There is no need for an adversarial relationship, and the SABC's complaints are both destructive and time consuming."
Time is something Zim does not have a lot of, being responsible for keeping M-Net's subscribers happy. But he has managed to pack a lot of experience into a relatively short period.
Zim was born in Bethlehem in the Free State and matriculated from Tiisetsang High School. He obtained a B Com from Fort Hare, honours at Wits and a M Com from RAU and also attended a post-graduate programme in small business development at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
In the 1980s he worked for the Qwa Qwa government and the Qwa Qwa Development Corporation. He then moved to the Wits Business School's Centre for Developing Business as a lecturer and consultant.
It was during this time that he gained exposure to the media. He was a columnist for the Sowetan and wrote for Black Enterprise, as well as appearing on a weekly business management programme on TV3.
In 1994 he joined M-Net as executive assistant to group chief executive officer Gerrie de Villiers. "This was a fantastic introduction, to be able to learn the ropes from that level," says Zim. He was soon made special projects manager and then general manager, operations, where he was responsible for EastNet and human resources and was the project leader of the Phutuma trust.
Phutuma, an initiative aimed at broadening M-Net's shareholder base to black people, has become a model for empowering people through the JSE. Zim says it was "a humbling experience. We were not trying to make history, but it was important to come up with a broadly based way for shares to reach as many hands as possible. We had our fair share of critics, so it is gratifying to see that other groups, like Johnnic, are looking at this model."
Last year he became general manager of K-TV and since February he has been head of M-Net Channel. . He is responsible for the terrestrial and satellite channels branded as M-Net, M-Net Africa East, M-Net Africa West and M-Net Egypt and the Movie Magic channel. Two new channels will be launched before the end of the year.
Zim is married with two daughters, aged 8 and 3. He reads a lot (he is reading four books at the same time), watches loads of movies and tries to find time to go to church and spend time with his family - quite a task for a man who has to spend a large part of his time travelling to the 37 African countries which M-Net serves as well as to overseas markets to source new programmes.