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Underdog Turns 20

Underdog turns 20!
A History of being Pioneers!!

As the year draws to a close, and we get to spend time with our loved ones, I want to tell you a story, think of it as my "Christmas Story". I know it's a bit long… but it's very exciting, full of passion, performance, a bit of politics and far too little prestige.

Some companies in our field celebrate 10 years in business, some even celebrate 15 years, but only a handful celebrate being 20! Underdog Productions (then a Closed Corporation) was founded on the 13th September 1993, at one of the most exciting times in South Africa's journey to liberation, literally 6 months before the country's first democratic elections. I am so proud to have founded such a progressive company; we, in one of our first commercial projects, produced the first election video for what was then seen as an immensely radical political party, the Pan African Congress (PAC)! Yes, back then Patricia de Lille (now Mayor of Cape Town) was one of the people we interviewed for a campaign produced in 11 South African Languages! I remember her complaining that a "white boy" was producing the film, and admitting we had some work ahead of us!

It's equally hard to think back 20 years from the iPhone / iPad / other mobile device generation we live in today: imagine a country with only ONE Commercial Internet Service Provider, which was born the same year as Underdog, and a year before the first fibre optic link between the USA and SA was installed!

I had an unusual education, in that as early as 1985 I was "connected" at home. Being a young geek, I started one of the country's first BBS systems - bringing the first version of "E-Mail" (then called FidoNet) to the Western Cape in 1986. Yep, you read right, I really pioneered publicly accessible E-Mail. It quickly became the first online entertainment source in the country - with my brother Lars writing on-line restaurant and movie reviews at the age of 14. He was probably one of the youngest movie and restaurant reviewers of that time. Okay, so we only had 16 colours on our screens back then, extremely slow data speeds, and you had to wait for a reply to your "e-mail" up to 48 hours… but this was almost three decades ago!


At the age of 17 I was contracted by a then leading computer company in Cape Town to build the first 6-line BBS, which allowed chatting between lines. Online chatting is something we all do today: by SMS, BBM, iMessage, Facebook, Whats App, etc, but in 1987, around 28 years ago, this was seriously groundbreaking stuff.

Five years into my advertising career with Young & Rubicam, I founded Underdog, with lofty ambitions to create "South African Entertainment for THE WORLD". On-line was obviously a crucial part of our offering. By 1994, as "the Internet" was just starting to enter the South African parlance, Underdog was creating web sites, first for itself, and soon for clients. I remember one of our first commercial clients for web design was "The Rand Easter Show", along with its sister trade show "Auto Africa" (please don't judge - this was the mid 1990's!)
What made Underdog so unique was its combined experience of film, television, on-line and design knowledge, which was supplemented by its then creative director and co-founder Luiz DeBarros (who now runs an offshoot of Underdog's labours, Africa's biggest online portal for Gay and Lesbian people


So why am I not stinking rich and living off my fortune, I hear you ask? Sad story really, but it seems not all pioneers make it rich on their first attempt. Perhaps we were sometimes just a bit too "ahead of the curve" with nobody believing our insane ideas.

At one point we came close to finding "believers" in Endemol, when in 2001 we created the first mass scale, truly transmedia project in SA - Endemol's Big Brother Season 1. We beefed up our team for 2002's Big Brother Season 2, and then took on Africa with the first Big Brother Africa. Sadly, in an unregulated sector, it's hard for the dogs to remain ahead of the wolves, and so our knowledge and even our staff were taken from us by the brodcaster, to form their own in-house entity.

So here we are more than two decades later, still pioneering, still offering the latest ideas, and providing a depth of experience that nobody else can match. Can anybody else claim to be the FIRST TRANSMEDIA COMPANY IN AFRICA? I challenge anybody to prove they were ahead of us.


Okay, enough reflecting on the past - we're looking at an even bigger, bolder future. Do you want your 16-year-old nephew to build your transmedia experience and reach out to a small, pimply audience, or would you rather it were done by the wiser and somewhat older dogs who invented the concept in South Africa?

Please call me, and for goodness sake, help make me rich - I promise I will do my best to do the same for you!

Marc Schwinges
Underdog Productions CEO

PS: Due to the unprecedented knowledge my team and I have built over the years, I am proud to announce my newest venture: Transmedia Africa (Pty) Ltd, a consulting firm that really means business. Transmedia Africa will harness the transmedia storytelling world of tomorrow in Africa. Call me to discuss this if you are curious… but more will follow next year!


PPS: With all that talk about "Transmedia", here is the Wiki definition: "Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies. It is not to be confused with traditional cross-platform media franchises, sequels or adaptations. From a production standpoint, it involves creating content that engages an audience using various techniques to permeate their daily lives. In order to achieve this engagement, a transmedia production will develop stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content in each channel. Importantly, these pieces of content are not only linked together (overtly or subtly), but are in narrative synchronization with each other."


MIPCOM, DISCOP and IDFA (and other acronyms)

Since our last Kennel Talk, thanks to the DFA, AFTF, GFC, IPO, and yet another meaningless acronym, the DTI (ok you may have heard of the Department of Trade and Industry), I had the great honour of attending the world's largest (and we mean massive) television marketplace MIPCOM, which takes place at Cannes in the south of France, in early October. I was there as a mentor on a pioneering trip for the new "Association for Transformation in Film and Television", and it was so great to be part of that team. The small team had a great presence, and sexy stand at MIPCOM. The same can however also be said for Africa's largest TV market, DISCOP, which took place here in Sandton mid November, followed swiftly by a trip to Amsterdam for IDFA with the Documentary Filmmakers Association of SA, like MIPCOM also financed by the DTI, where I was one of the delegation leaders of a team of 20, in what ended up as 57 South Africans there! Sorry I have been so slow to follow up if I met you at one of these events… things have been insane since! I met over 200 people, and had around 120 meetings in the last two months… no excuse however, and if you are on this mailer already, and it's the first time you are hearing from me… I promise I will follow up!


Thuthuka new Website

Web wise a lot has been going on at Underdog, and while we could yack the hind leg off any dog with all the existing stuff we are up to, one of the most recent sites we put life to is that of our subtenant "Thuthuka"… which is an amazing Jewellery and Product Development program.
See more at:



Rough or Smooth sold to ANN7

I managed to licence "Rough or Smooth" to the exciting new news Channel ANN7 shortly after they launched. I know I was amongst those who said "mean and horrible" things about ANN7, and it's easy to poke fun at a newcomer when they create such fun "You Tube Clips", but as I went to deliver material, literally days after they went live, I got the sense that these guys were attempting the impossible, and trying so hard against all obstacles that I really was honoured they chose to licence "Rough or Smooth" as their first licence ever!



Room to spare?

We have a room to spare at the Kennel, our back room is free again. It's suitable for ONE person, is a stand alone office with services such as Cabled ADSL / WiFi Access, its own dedicated land line, off street covered parking in the heart of old Melville, at a base rental (including ADSL, Incoming Calls with Voicemail, Parking, Boardroom Use and a furnished office) of R2 070 a month excl. VAT. Occupation available from 02 January 2014! Start the year off with your own private office in trendy Melville!



Happy Holidays from all us at the Kennel!

So… all good things must come to an end. This year the recession means that we are taking only the smallest of breaks! We will be closing the Kennel this Friday the 20th, and we re-open (partially) on the 30th of December, and fully on the 3rd of January 2014! Have a great break, and see you in 2014!

Marc, Keren, Nomali and the part time dogs.



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