An innovative and sustainable approach to countering Joburg's high levels of pirated DVDs launched this week (4 December 2009) in the City centre, opening up a means to legally tap

PHOTO: Zipozonke
into the massive informal/commuter market while contributing to youth employment and upliftment.

Bliksem DVD's, overwhelmingly supported by industry stakeholders, including the Gauteng Film Commission, city authorities and government institutions, launched a six month pilot project, 'The Hoek Street Depot', from a depot and sales outlet in a new, secure 'market mall' in the Joburg CBD. The depot is at Trading Spaces on the corner of Plein and Hoek Streets. They then intend, within days, to have two street vendors, and their assistants, and four "stalls within stalls" set up and selling premium content DVD's at affordable prices to a market that has called out for local language/local content films and music.

PHOTO: Zipozonke

On 11 and 12 December, they'll be joined by many industry stakeholders in a massive event to stage a public awareness and education campaign about the detriment of piracy to the SA economy. Taking place in the deepest of the pirate waters, the corner of Sauer and Bree Streets, Johannesburg, the initiative is supported by the City of Johannesburg, Bliksem's closest partners Nu Metro Home Entertainment and their holding company media giant Avusa, the Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFACT), Ster Kinekor Home Entertainment, Next Entertainment and many others.

Over the next six months, Bliksem will roll out eight vending stations and 16 point-of-sale outlets in the area. As the Hoek Street targets are met, Bliksem will then implement five additional Joburg branches, based on the Hoek Street model.

PHOTO: Zipozonke

Managing director and founder of Bliksem DVD's, Ben Horowitz, says the support and collaboration for the entire initiative has been overwhelming. "We all seek to create employment, promote a culture of non-criminality of our city streets, stimulate the local film and music industry, strike a blow against piracy and protect intellectual property."

Bliksem DVD's seeks to establish a profitable and sustainable network of street vendors selling legitimate and affordable dvd's to the commuter market in the Joburg city centre. The commuter market's demand for low cost local language/local content films and music is massive, a demand that is currently being exclusively serviced by pirates. According to SAFACT, over 50% of the dvd's sold in South Africa are sold by pirates. Bliksem estimates that the pirates are selling approximately 14million illegal dvd's annually in South Africa.

The Bliksem vendors
"550 000 pirated dvd's were seized by SAFACT between June 2008 and February 2009," says Horowitz, who adds: "But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Despite the valiant efforts by industry and government stakeholders the pirate industry continues to flourish.

"The pirates are turning a sweet profit on stolen films and music and sustaining a culture of criminality on our city streets," explains Horowitz, a producer and director with over 20 years experience in the film and TV industry.

"In Johannesburg, on any afternoon, up to 30 illegal vendors can be found on the 'The DVD Highway' that runs from the Corner of Bree/Sauer Streets to beyond the Park Station entrance on DeVilliers Street. These illegal vendors are selling a wide variety of counterfeit DVD's; pirated music, the latest release Hollywood films, pornography, low budget local films (swak movies), home produced videos of political rallies and high end local films. The DVD's range in price from R10 to R20, depending on whether they are sold with a cover or not," says Horowitz.

"The pirate gangs communicate via sms, can literally wrap up their stalls in super quick time and are young, nimble and able to outrun the JMPD. The current 'blitz' tactics by law enforcement agencies on the streets results in a temporarily cleared street, the confiscation of a few inexpensive items and the arrest of the 'little fish'. In the meantime, other pirates have set up a vending stall somewhere else, and the next day, the 'little fish' is back in exactly the same spot," he says.

Through a network of street vendors and accessible sales depots, Bliksem wants to bring top quality, genuine DVD's and CD's, at an affordable price, to every street corner where the pirates are currently operating. The company has carried out research and development, developed a brand, trained vendors, tested the market and established financial, logistical and stock supply partnerships with industry stakeholders.

Bliksem understands that the very successful Pirates exist because of market demand. South Africans are buying millions of counterfeit DVD's because of the lack of awareness and consumer education. Most importantly, there is no competitive product on offer.

"There are a number of causes behind the debilitating phenomenon of counterfeiting: the high price-tags attached to the purchase of genuine products; technological developments which contribute to the ease with which a particular product is able to be copied or pirated; the demand by consumers for more cost-effective alternatives. Ultimately, counterfeiting is fuelled by the consumers who are willing to buy counterfeit goods: the evaporation of the market for non-genuine articles will rapidly see the evaporation of the counterfeit-goods industry itself. Consequently - and apart from the extreme importance of global co-operation on all levels against counterfeiting - consumer education is key," comments the South African Institute of Intellectual Property Law.

Bliksem's striking brand is highly visible. The company will adapt its model to market demands and city regulations, but creating 'trolley' stations, 'fixed point' stations, 'point-of-sale' stations for existing stall and spaza owners, 'foot' stations for small township home-based vendors and 'mobile' stations for special events and large gatherings. The Bliksem vendors are young, patriotic, streetwise and ambitious entrepreneurs who have undergone training, selling DVD's to very receptive markets in Joburg's CBD and Soweto.

"They have proved themselves to be formidable partners and are determined to grow with the venture," says Horowitz. "As Bliksem expands and new vendors are enrolled, it is this core of pioneers who will guide, train, lead and manage. The vendors are working towards a profit share relationship within the company."

As he points out, the support from the industry and authorities has been critical in getting Bliksem to this point. Besides Nu Metro Entertainment and Avusa providing the bulk of the stock, they have also provided logistical, strategic and managerial assistance.

Ster Kinekor Home Entertainment, Next Entertainment (DVD distributor), Paul Raleigh (producer Tsotsi), Ten10 Films (producer and sales agent Jerusalema and White Wedding), Stepping Stone Pictures (producer White Wedding), DV8 (producer Forgiveness, Max & Mona, The Flyer and Bunny Chow) and Fireworx Media (producer and distributor Swap) have all agreed to supply Bliksem with the best of South African films at a cost that makes it possible to compete with the pirates.

Other partners include:

Department of Economic Development, City of Johannesburg
The Metropolitan Trading Company
Regional Director Region F and senior management of Development Planning and Urban Management
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)
The Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD)
The Film and Publication Board (FPB)
The South African Customs Administration, a division of SARS
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA)
The Gauteng Film Commission (GFC)
The National Film & Video Foundation (NFVF)
The Independent Producers Organisation (IPO)
The Recording Industry of South Africa (RiSA) and
The Association of Independent Record Companies (AIRCO).