An empowerment venture, Bliksem DVD's, aimed at combating film and music piracy to boost local production, launched successfully in Johannesburg in December, causing much

Bliksem trainee Philani Mhlongo presents the day's DVD line-up PHOTO: Eddie Wes
interest from commuters by selling legitimate product at affordable prices.

Ben Horowitz, MD of Bliksem DVD's, believes it's time something is done about the rampant piracy that is killing the SA film and music production industry.

"Tens of thousands of South African artists are unemployed while the pirates steal their products and turn sweet profits in the largely untapped informal and commuter markets. Successful Brazilian and Russian business models have shown there are three essential

liksem vendor Lebohang Chauke explains piracy PHOTO: Eddie Wes
elements required to successfully fight piracy: enforcement, education and the provision of legitimate and genuine product at affordable prices.

"Bliksem DVD's, working closely with enforcement agencies, has stepped forward to provide both the education and the genuine product at the right price," he explains.

Judging by the venture's highly successful launch and education drive in the Joburg city centre late last year, it looks like this approach, which also focuses on self-employment, will be a winner.

Members of the Film & Publication Board with Ben Horowitz (on right) of Bliksem PHOTO: Eddie Wes
With their strategic partners AVUSA Media and Nu Metro Home Entertainment, Bliksem seeks to establish a nationwide network of vendors on all street corners from where pirates are currently operating. The Bliksem Vendors will be selling legitimate films and music at affordable prices and continuously educating the massive informal and commuter markets about the detriments of supporting piracy.

The venture promises to create self-employment through the establishment of sustainable and profitable franchises. Bliksem DVD's strategy falls in line with current government policies to introduce a positive culture of non-criminality and legitimate, regulated trading on the streets of South African cities.

Traditional healers at the opening

With 5 previously unemployed Sowetan youth, Bliksem DVD's opened their depot at Trading Spaces, on the corner of Plein and Hoek Streets in Johannesburg. A ceremony was

Bliksem's Jabu Ngcobo assists customers PHOTO: Eddie Wes

conducted by three traditional healers, who cleansed the depot and prayed to the ancestors to bless the venture and protect the participants.

The opening was followed by an anti-piracy campaign on the corner of Sauer and Bree Streets, normally the haunt of a brazen pirate gang. At the launch, facilitated by the Regional Director of Joburg City Centre, Nkosinathi Mthethwa, Bliksem team members were joined by representatives of The Film and Publication Board (FPB), the South African Revenue Services Customs division (SARS), the South African Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFACT), the Independent Producers Organisation (IPO) and the Gauteng Film Commission (GFC). JMPD officers were active in the area, keeping the pirates at bay and helping create a secure and safe environment.

"The response from the public was phenomenal," says Horowitz. "While the Bliksem DVD products were touted by the enthusiastic Bliksem vendors, the participants tirelessly engaged with the public and made a tangible and positive difference to the mindset of hundreds of commuters, many of whom had never been enlightened about the facts of piracy.

"The campaign created an enjoyable and festive atmosphere without the haphazard illegal vending and pirate gangs usually associated with the corner. Many business owners operating in the area came to congratulate us, hoping that the campaign would be a permanent fixture," elaborates Horowitz.

Bliksem DVD's was overwhelmed by the demand for product, for example selling 250% above target at just one vending station.

"The free t-shirts, very kindly donated by the Gauteng Film Commission, the presence of the various organisations and the spectacle of the campaign helped boost sales. The sales figures prove what we have been saying: The commuter and informal market are quite willing to pay a slightly higher price for genuine products and a better brand if only it is accessible and available where they are used to shopping- on the streets.

As Bliksem engaged with the public, the extent of entrenchment of the piracy culture became evident. One customer returned a DVD thinking it had the wrong film on it. It turned out that despite buying DVD's regularly, she had never watched one that had trailers and promotions on the front of the menu. She had mistaken a trailer for the movie she had bought. Another customer ran back to the stall insistent on buying a second DVD because he was so impressed with the quality. He had bought a new large plasma screen, had been buying pirated DVD's all year and for the first time had seen what a genuine DVD looks and sounds like on his expensive system.

The Regional Director's Office, impressed by what they saw, indicated their intention to grow the campaign into a travelling bi-monthly event. From the launch until now, Bliksem have been arranging permits to allow their own vendors on the streets, recruiting existing legitimate vendors to sell their product and engaging with potential investors to grow the company.

For more information on the campaign or to become involved, please contact Ben Horowitz on +27 (0)82 595 4626.