CAPE TOWN - M-Net CEO Yolisa Phahle, as part of M-Net’s answering affidavit in the acrimonious court case with Gareth Cliff after firing him as an Idols judge, submitted detailed marketing and social media research showing how he became "poison" for the M-Net and Idols brands.
The public's sudden negative sentiment against Gareth Cliff after he waded into the racist Penny Sparrow debate, and with his proximity and association with M-Net and Idols, was part of the motivation for the M-Net CEO giving the longtime Idols judge the boot.
Gareth Cliff is now suing M-Net for R25-million, wants his judge's seat at the reality singing show back and wants the court to urgently postpone the 29 January start of the auditions of the 12th season of Idols before it starts without him.
Yolisa Phahle says in her affidavit that marketing intelligence and social media analysis showed M-Net that Gareth Cliff became "poison" to M-Net and Idols' image after he made his "insensitive" comments on the Penny Sparrow racism controversy.
M-Net and Idols face "the very real prospect that the negative sentiment surrounding him will continue and poison the success of the show. This could affect viewership numbers, which in turn affects the revenue that will be generated from broadcasting the show," said Phahle.
As part of its 141-page answering affidavit, M-Net submitted very detailed marketing research and social media analysis of how Gareth Cliff impacted the M-Net and Idols brands – as well as examples of the press clippings, media coverage and media enquiries it received after he became embroiled in the racism debate and pulled the M-Net, Idols and Mzansi Magic brands into it.
Negative mood towards Gareth Cliff continued after apology
According to detailed marketing and social media research done for M-Net and included in the affidavit "it clearly indicate that the negative mood towards Gareth Cliff on social media continued after his apology on 5 January," says Phahle.
The pay-TV broadcaster says the widespread calls from the public for a boycott of M-Net and Idols was not a typical response to get for this kind of debate.
"If M-Net had permitted the 2016 season of Idols to continue with Gareth Cliff as judge and and the threats and calls for a boycott had grown, it would have become even more problematic to address the situation at a later stage and the damage to the Idols and M-Net brands would already have occurred," she says.
M-Net cites social media research reports indicating that the public "remains critical of Gareth Cliff". "This continued negativity and controversy demonstrates exactly why [M-Net and SIC Entertainment] felt that it was not appropriate to continue to be linked to Gareth Cliff".
Phahle says "Gareth Cliff's claim that he received overwhelming support is clearly not correct," and that "a significant portion of the public were clearly offended. Accordingly M-Net was entitled to take action to protect its brand and reputation".
According to social media marketing research M-Net submitted, there were 32,886 tweets mentioning Gareth Cliff between 4 and 12 January this year. Idols, M-Net, Mzansi Magic and DStv and MultiChoice were all suddenly mentioned in some of these tweets and social media discussions.
Other big words that popped in the tweetcloud due to the high frequency of its use together with these words were "racist", "hate speech", "pennysparrow" and "hate".
After M-Net announced it had fired Gareth Cliff, "although the positivity towards Cliff had increased, there was still significant negativity towards him [23 percent negativity between 9-12 January compared to 19 percent positivity]".