Words and Photography by Owethu Makhathini
Last month the Livity Africa office got the opportunity to meet, share and collaborate with some of the enthusiastic team from SB TV. We were joined by Theo Grace and Lewis Knaggs- who gave some illuminating insights on the goings on “behind the scenes” of SBTV.
‘Find Your Channel. Find Your Vehicle.’
According to Wikipedia SBTV or SmokeyBarz TV is SB.TV Global Ltd, also known as or SmokeyBarz, is a multi-faceted company run by a small team of amateur young people who work on web-based viral content at different music-based events. Most of its content can be seen on its own YouTube channel which was created on November 2, 2006 or the official website. Much of the content includes unprofessional footage, or ‘street-shot’ freestyle raps and music videos. Upon meeting Theo Grace and Lewis the Livity Africa, LiveMagSA and DigifyZA group found it is much more! SBTV was founded by YouTube wunderkind Jamal Edwards. A London native, Jamal took the less traditional road on the way to his eventual success. We found out just how.
As a brand that is dedicated to educating, collaborating and nurturing youth culture in South Africa, Livity Africa’s enthusiastic team would serve to benefit from hearing how exactly one young company monetized their creativity to finding their identity through their digital channel.
‘Quality over Quantity’
Having ideas that can revolutionize the youth market and the SA economy mean little when there isn’t a well researched strategy on how best to execute those ideas. We have seen too many great concepts fail because of a reliance of hype and not strategy. Having the right tools to bring an idea to life is essential too. SBTV demonstrates with freeing equipment such as hand held cameras how they are able to show up and capture video content that is edited and out to fans in a day. According to Lewis, about one video a day is published. Their equipment is also how they are able to easily bypass tradition to make their own rules. This just highlights having one very well done piece of content for an audience over bombarding an audience is better.
‘You can’t do everything’
Having a broad idea of what content your potential audience might enjoy does not translate into attempting to cover all the bases that are associated with said audience. The success of SBTV lies in the ability of the team to pre-empt the types of engagement their video content will produce. This ability comes ‘with a lot of time and practice’ stated Lewis who also emphasized the fundamental task of taking the team and resources to understand your audience. Understanding your audience takes the form of tracking and measuring the types of content that get the most engagement then attempting to find new and creative ways to keep your audience well taken care of by giving them essentially, what they love. Treating your core audience well is critical to the success of any venture or as Lewis put it ‘you have to treat your fans and followers like they are individuals, your babies who you nurture and ensure by all means they are well taken care of.’
At some point in the interactive session, a question arose as to how the team at SB TV, with such a young, unorthodox company could be in the company of heavyweights like Jay Z and Richard Branson. The response came quickly and naturally to Lewis who simply stated that Jamal is ‘a great networker.’ Lewis explained that the team at SB TV essentially followed through on any lead that they had in relation to a concept they wanted to explore. This means just showing up where they want to shoot and taking it from there. Networking is central to business model adopted by SB TV as well as taking the initiative to leverage relationships once they have been formed. The second part of the answer highlighted the integral part played by mentors. Having older, more experienced players in the related industry is essential in the development process. There are insights and growth opportunities that are just not available at the start of one’s career. This does not speak to capabilities or tenacity, but rather to the reality that many lessons come from experience. It was this understanding that helped SB TV work with the industry-wide respected Director X.
Being young companies with a shared English heritage aren’t the only similarities shared by Livity Africa and SB TV. An explanation by Lewis of how content is sourced revealed shared methodologies with LiveMag SA. Both platforms have a symbiotic relationship with their core audience, to such an extent that the pool of prospective content is never in short supply.
At the end of the session there was a feeling of reflective inspiration at the ways in which we could apply the principles that make SB TV a success. Although there are structural and historical limitations that are cited in South Africa, albeit justifiably, taking initiative makes like a river and finds a way to the proverbial ocean. Some limitations we assume are holding us back are often self-imposed and are related to the ego. Using circumstances that are prima facie negative and flipping them to work however isn’t easy. Using negatives well takes research and creativity but as in the case of SB TV and many other unconventional businesses’ it is worth it.
Young cats gettin’ it. Follow SBTV online.
The SBTV South Africa tour was brought to you by British Council Connect ZA.