Urban Brew Studios

BBQ Magazine sits down with the CEO of Urban Brew Studios, Mr Calvin Sefala to tell us a bit about the company

WhatsApp Image 2019-08-21 at 11.14.49-2[1].jpeg

Please introduce yourself to our readers by giving us background info about yourself and your career journey?

I am Calvin Sefala, currently Acting CEO of Urban Brew Studios. A chartered accountant by profession, my career started in the auditing profession with KPMG. My interest in media started during the FIFA World Cup in 2010 when I was appointed by the SABC as a financial manager within their sports division. It was a very interesting challenge as it was uncharted territory for me, and it happened to coincide with one of the broadcaster’s most exciting yet taxing times, which was the live broadcast of the tournament for the first time coming from Africa. I later realised that this was the beginning of my long journey into this exhilarating creative space. I made myself available to learn everything that came my way, and I would at times even volunteer to assist just so that I could learn more about the business and the industry.

Following some considerations, I decided to leave the SABC to join Schneider Electric, where I was exposed to the project accounting environment. A year later an opportunity presented itself for me to return to the media space. That’s when I joined Endemol Shine Africa as Head of Finance and later became the CFO. I was responsible for operations in SA, Nigeria and Kenya, which involved a lot of travel and exposure to these different markets. During this time, I got to learn more about the creative space of the business through projects such as Isidingo, Big Brother, Survivor, Project Fame and Clash of the Choirs.

Following a successful five years at Endemol, I decided to move to a more local company that did not require too much travel, as this had placed a strain on my family life.

I then joined Kagiso Media as Group Finance Manager and subsequently moved to Urban Brew Studios, a television asset of Kagiso Media, as the CFO. Three months into the role, the then CEO resigned. That’s when the Board asked me to step in as Acting CEO.

What have been some of your personal highlights as part of the Urban Brew Studios team?

I joined a diverse and experienced team that is highly passionate about the Urban Brew Studios brand and the industry, which helped me to settle well and connect with the people. Immediately after I’d joined we had to embark on an exercise to rebrand, which gave us the opportunity to reposition Urban Brew Studios’ offering in the market as well as solidify the high-quality products and service that we have always been known for, be it studios, channels or creativity.

Since we relaunched our new studio facility, which includes nine audio post studios, eight TV studios, a 100-seater cinema and an events dome, our existing and new clients have experienced content production in a world-class environment, both from a technology and service aspect.

What are your main responsibilities as Acting CEO for Urban Brew Studios?

My key responsibilities are to ensure that there is effective leadership within the business by providing the overall strategic direction. This includes monitoring of financial and business performance. I am also responsible for creating value for stakeholders and managing all governance while ensuring that the business is sustainable. In doing this, I also have to ensure that the business delivers quality service to all our clients by maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of operational processes. Lastly, it is important for me to drive the right culture and values within the business.

Can you tell us the history of Urban Brew Studios – when it was established and how it has grown over the years?

Urban Brew Studios was founded 32 years ago by the Ferreira family, and later included well-known board members such as Windsor Shwenyane, John Kani, Zwelakhe Sisulu and Barney Cohen to name a few.

Since formation, the company has contributed massively to the growth of the TV industry through partnerships with the broadcasters both locally and internationally. For many South African producers, Urban Brew Studios has been the main platform that provided them the space and opportunity to develop their talent.

The company has produced some of the country’s iconic shows such as Woza Weekend, YoTV and Khumbul’ekhaya, shows which people my age grew up watching.

Since inception the company has been home to many young people, providing them with the opportunity to not only host shows but to also harness their skills behind the camera. This includes well-known names such as Bonang Matheba, Dr Musa Mthombeni, Sipho Ngwenya, Hulisani Ravele and the late Akhumzi Jezile, to mention a few.

The company has also played a pivotal role in the development of community television in South Africa through our involvement in channel management of Soweto TV, 1KZN TV and BayTV.

Our love for television expanded through the creation of television channels over the years such as One Gospel, Dumisa and ED.

Please give us an overview of the services that the company provides.

Urban Brew Studios creates and produces world-class television content for both local and international appeal for linear and other platforms, such as digital.

We also provide facilities and technical service through our eight TV studios, with the biggest being 1000sqm, our 100-seater cinema, which is suited for TED Talk style events and an events dome. Our facilities include nine audio post and music composition studios that are fully equipped with the latest technology.

We can do live broadcasts from any location, thanks to our SNG van as well as our six-camera HD OB van.

We also boast some of the industry’s best set builders, who’ve created sets for all our shows as well as external clients, such as the IEC set for the 2019 elections on behalf of the SABC.

We have dual fibre broadcast lines that allow us to connect our studios directly to all broadcasters in South Africa and internationally via satellite.

Over the years the company has branched into broadcasting with its own TV channels which sit on the DStv bouquets, namely One Gospel and Dumisa.

What is the company culture at Urban Brew Studios?

Ours is a high-performance culture where people work hard but still manage to have fun in a friendly family environment that allows people to shine. We inspire a sense of accountability on all staff levels to our stakeholders.

This Urbanite culture, as we call it, is embedded in the passion we show for the brand, the high level of compassion for people, the importance of career development and the need to always give your best which reflects in the quality of the service we provide. These principles are inspired by the late Eric Molobi, co-founder of Kagiso Trust.

At Urban Brew Studios what are the keys to being a leading content creator?

The most important factors for us are an understanding of the market by gaining insight into consumers’ behaviours and attitudes through research, and the ability to provide innovative solutions to our client’s challenges by immersing ourselves in their business and building a healthy relationship with them.

Our content, quite often, gets inspired by our unique and rich South African culture while connecting to the world at large through the creative eyes of entertainment.

On the other hand, our religious channels play a pivotal role in society by providing solace to our viewers when they face difficult times, and also celebrating with them through praise during happier times.

How is the local content that you are creating comparing to international content – is SA keeping up?

The quality of our local content has made quite a leap to be on the same level and at times even better than international content. This is driven by our ability to tell authentic local stories using global story-telling techniques.

The local content industry needs more investment by the Government and private stakeholders, especially from a technology perspective. This will enable creators and producers to enhance the onscreen value of the content, which will complement the rich stories we are telling, growing the industry further and allowing us to compete on an international scale.

In your experience, what drives successful content?

Well-researched, unique, relevant and entertaining content that speaks to the viewer’s needs tends to do well. Also, integrated content that connects with the community in the form of engagement on and off screen has a potential to live long in the minds of the viewers.

Can you provide some insights into the content creating sector of SA. What are some of the biggest trends at the moment?

Over the last few years we have seen an evolution of different genres of content in South Africa. We had a period where game shows were very popular on our TV screens. Viewers then migrated to local dramas, then reality shows, followed by local telenovelas and recently lifestyle shows. This evolution reflects the flexibility and growth of the South African creative space, which is inspired by everyday conversations, as well as the viewers’ ever-changing tastes, which we have to keep up with at all times.

With regards to accessibility, among the first considerations of content creators lately is ensuring that the content can live on various platforms, and that the content created speaks to the local market while appealing to the global viewer.

What are the challenges?

Some of the challenges we experience as content creators and studio facility providers are budget constraints, which make it difficult for industry employees to improve their earning capability and continue to create an even bigger gap in earning parity between local and international talent.

While budget constraints are an issue across brands and broadcasters, the challenge also provides opportunities for production houses to be more innovative in how they deliver high-value service with limited resources.

The electricity stability challenge poses a risk to many studio providers, requiring generators to run for extended periods in order to minimise disruptions to content delivery, especially when delivering live content. This sometimes puts a strain on already tight production budgets.

In order to appeal to international clients, as local companies we are faced with the challenge of having to adjust our technology, which comes at a huge cost. For instance, moving from HD to 4K technology requires significant investment which most companies do not have access to.

It is stated that your technology defines Urban Brew Studios as a market leader–can you elaborate?

Urban Brew Studios’ technology is definitely a big advantage for us and serves as an enabler to us producing world-class content. The fibre-optic backbone which allows for operational flexibility and efficiency between studios and control rooms, together with the power backup obtained by the UPS and generator infrastructure, as well as the integrated data workflows and off-site archive, enable us to produce content that matches the creative vision without disruption. Urban Brew Studios is a purpose-built facility which allows for freedom of creativity and also provides comfort in terms of the redundancy of critical components in order to increase reliability.

How are South African studios innovating in 2019, from sound stages to sound design?

As a studio facilities partner, it is paramount to find innovative ways of working and offering bespoke solutions to clients. Adding value to the production and enhancing the experience of content creation is a key factor. What is sometimes underestimated is the value of including the full value chain, such as video and audio post at the start of a production, prior to shoot. This enables a collective vision of the production and also provides the benefit of great creative ideas and input flowing from the various different disciplines within the value chain. Customer centricity, innovative solutions and creativity are critically important factors to create a great experience and captivating end product.

Are there any upcoming projects that you can talk about or any past ones that you would like to highlight?

As part of our ever-evolving creativity, we have for the first time created a scripted drama for SABC 1 called Makoti, that incorporates diary sessions in the show. We continue to deliver shows like Khumbul’ekhaya, Ikhaya, Break Da Beat, Lotto and Powerball, to name a few. We’ve partnered with external producers to host amazing shows such as The Voice SA (blind battles and knockouts), Idols SA (Judges and theatre week), The Bachelor SA finale, Celebrity Game Night and Wedding Bashers SA finale, all filmed in our studios.

We also retained old clients such as the producers of the much-loved Noot vir Noot, One Day Leader, Musiek Roulette and In Die Kollig, who had the opportunity to work in our new facilities. And of course, we welcomed new seasons of RGB, Live Amp, YoTV and Khumbul’ekhaya, to name a few.

We have a pipeline of new projects that we are working on amid difficult market conditions which affected business growth and the industry at large. We continue to look for new opportunities and partnerships to sustain and grow our business.

Can you comment on the Urban Brew Studios team?

We have a team of skilled individuals who are highly motivated and committed. Our team is made up of diverse, hard-working, vibrant and ambitious staff who thoroughly enjoy what they do, and this is evident in the work we deliver.

The motivation is also driven by the fact that we have a very engaging team at Kagiso Media that shares the same passion and commitment for the Urban Brew Studios brand.

comments powered by Disqus


This edition

Issue 83


BBQ_Magazine_SA BBQ Magazine sat down with Clinton Walker, the Director of e-learning for the Western Cape Education Department for… https://t.co/foXDceuN2s 4 months - reply - retweet - favorite

BBQ_Magazine_SA is a statutory regulator and manager of the .ZA namespace - the internet country code top-level domain fo… https://t.co/KgothbFXRN 4 months - reply - retweet - favorite

BBQ_Magazine_SA BBQ magazine sat down with self-made real estate entrepreneur, who aims to bring new blood into the o… https://t.co/tQ2KdXnJiW 4 months - reply - retweet - favorite