The period 2007-’08 has seen the launch of a significant number of newcomers in the television and radio landscape – particularly news offerings, community television and regional commercial radio stations.
Franz Krüger, senior lecturer at the Wits Journalism School, regards the launch of Radio North West, Mpumalanga’s MPowerFM and Limpopo’s Capricorn FM, and the launch of the 24-hour eNews Channel, as the most important recent industry developments.
The latter has received mixed reviews since its launch on the DStv bouquet on June 1.
The most frequent criticism seems to be the extent to which content is repeated.
For this reason, Cristina Karrer, head of the broadcasting department at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ), says she is not impressed: “If something is on the DStv bouquet, where there are (numerous choices), you need to give me something special. It is not good enough to repeat the news over and over.
“They seldom re-package their stories; there is no aspect of storytelling and the structure is bad. They promised to deliver news of high calibre and they haven’t lived up to their promise.”
But Krüger disagrees: “People have misunderstood what the channel is trying to do. They expect people to dip in and dip out. It is not intended for people to watch all day. I think a 24-hour news channel is incredibly punishing and demanding, but I think it is starting to find its niche.”
Debora Patta, editor-in-chief of eNews, is “extremely pleased” with the performance of the channel. “Our ratings are higher than anticipated and over the last month (September) they have increased following the dramatic news events in South Africa.”
According to the South African Advertising Research Foundation’s (SAARF) Television Audience Measurement Survey (TAMS), the channel’s average daily adult audience (Monday to Friday, 6am to 11pm) was at 12,372 during September – up from an average daily adult viewership of 9,360 in June. The channel’s cumulative total viewers by week, for adults aged 16 and above, in the period September 8 to 14, was 695,220, according to Telmar SPC SA.
“I think we have demonstrated that when it comes to local news, we are the first place viewers turn to for their daily fix. The feedback we received following our coverage of the (recent) turbulent political events in South Africa has been excellent,” comments Patta.
In June the channel managed to secure R4.6-million in advertising, which dropped to R3.7-million in July, according to the most recent available figures from Nielsen AIS. Vasili Vass, head of e.tv publicity, was not willing to comment on the channel’s finances.
Patta says the channel’s plans include “expanding our on-air offerings with more current affairs programming and developing a stronger Africa focus following the appointment of our Africa news editor, Chris Maroleng”.
Business channel CNBC Africa launched in June last year on the DStv bouquet and according to Peter Ndoro, director of corporate communications, it has achieved phenomenal success. “When we started we had no idea what a big task it would be as there was no template to look at. But we are very happy with the progress of the channel thus far.
“There is still a lot of potential for the channel, but we have gained a lot already.”
It is targeting 7.5-million viewers across Africa and it hopes to achieve this viewership “within the next five to 10 years,” says Ndoro.
SAARF’s TAMS indicate that the channel had 94 adult viewers, on average, per day (Monday to Friday, 6am to 11pm) on the DStv platform in June, which increased to 301, on average, in September.
Gary Alfonso, CEO of CNBC Africa, disputes these figures, saying that the channel is an “out-of-home TV platform which makes measurement difficult. According to figures released by Telmar we have between 210,000 and 225,000 viewers a week”.
Telmar SPC SA puts the channel’s cumulative total viewers by week, for adults aged 16 and above, in the period September 8 to 14, at 139,044.
Alfonso adds that the channel is doing well financially. He would not disclose adspend figures, but claims that the channel is “four times ahead of our nearest competitor in terms of adspend”.
“Given the current market, we are ahead of the curve. We are very happy with the progress we’re making.”
Nielsen AIS does not measure adspend for CNBC Africa. The Media magazine’s sister website, TheMediaOnline, reported in January that the channel had secured advertising of R30-million for the period June to December 2007.
According to Alfonso, the initial investment in CNBC Africa was over R100-million.
Krüger says the channel seems to be faring reasonably well in terms of content. “They seem to focus on hard-hitting news. The content is very interesting, however the channel is very niched and not for the mainstream consumer.”
SABC News International
SABC News International, dedicated to reporting domestic and international news from an African perspective, was officially launched in July last year. The channel is currently broadcast on Sentech’s Vivid satellite platform – to Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Europe. It is also broadcast on a separate platform in the US.
It is part of the portfolio of content that the SABC’s news agency is offering to clients. The agency has, however, not succeeded in selling the channel since the agency’s launch on May 8 this year.
The SABC previously said it wanted SABC News International to be available on DStv once its contract with Multi-Choice for SABC Africa had expired. The latter was dropped from the DStv bouquet from August 1.
SABC News International’s channel head, Sol Pillay, says this channel is still negotiating with DStv, “but the ball is in our court, so we will get the final say… I think one can expect to see the channel on the DStv platform within a month or two.”
Aletta Alberts, head of content at MultiChoice, confirmed that negotiations with SABC News International were underway. “DStv is still conducting research as to whether the channel will be viable on our platform”.
Pillay was not willing to provide details of the cost of setting up the channel. He was also unable to give an indication of the audience numbers. “I do know that there are more then 60,000 Vivid decoders (a figure that Sentech was not willing to confirm) on which the channel is broadcast, but I cannot give an exact figure.”
Karrer says SABC News International is unimpressive: “SABC just hasn’t got it right with regards to news. I would never purchase footage from them. The script is prepared and accompanied by plastered pictures. The news also seems to be very government-driven.”
Krüger agrees that the channel has been disappointing: “I think it is struggling; the challenge is to get it on a platform. But the idea is good. There is space for an African voice.”
September 1 saw the launch of Cape Town TV. Karrer says this is a huge accomplishment for community TV in South Africa. “Compared with 10 years ago, when legislation did not allow for this to take place, it is a great development. Community TV will soon be seen as huge competition for the SABC as the TV industry in South Africa is so barren.”
Karen Thorne, station manager of Cape Town TV, says the response to the channel has been phenomenal. “We have already set up an SMS line, through which we have received very positive feedback from viewers.
“I have been surprised at how the people of Cape Town have stepped forward with donations and assistance. However, we are still missing essential equipment and resources.”
Karrer says Cape Town TV is impressive: “It’s very innovative. This is a true community station, owned by the community, but its growth will be slow. It is admirable what they have managed to do it on such a small budget.”
Thorne says the station broadcasts 80 percent local content, “but at the moment there are still a lot of repeats. We are in the process of creating incentives for the people of Cape Town to send us their footage and we will give them a platform to air it.
“We will also develop in-house programmes soon, such as a local community news service, investigative programmes, education and a focus on youth issues.”
Viewership figures are not available for the station as yet. Thorne was not willing to comment on the initial investment or the adspend figures for the channel. She previously told The Media magazine a budget of at least R3-million was required for the year.
Regional commercial radio
Capricorn FM has managed to secure 1.5-million listeners in the 10 months since its launch. According to the South African Advertising Research Foundation’s (SAARF) latest Radio Audience Measurement Survey (RAMS), the total radio listening public in Limpopo is estimated at 3.3-million, and Capricorn FM has captured just under 50 percent of the market.
Claire Welch, technical support executive at SAARF, says it is the first time that both urban and national data are available for the radio station. The August RAMS release, which included rural data only, indicated that the station had 42,000 listeners.
Gilbert Mokwatedi, Radio lecturer at the Tshwane University of Technology, says if the numbers go up, the station is doing something right. “To reach 1.5-million listeners is a huge milestone for them, given the population of the province. One must also bear in mind that this is one of the poorest provinces, so this is a huge accomplishment.”
Station manager, Simphiwe Mdlalose says that from a product point of view they are successful: “The reason for that is we speak to the core of the province; we give the people of Limpopo what they want.”
He adds the station is on track financially: “At the moment we are making 60 percent of our target in adspend. We haven’t received much national adspend as national advertisers are playing the waiting game to see if we last. But we are not pressed financially. We are doing really well.”
Mdlalose was not willing to reveal exact adspend figures, targets or the initial investment, as it is “competitive information”.
The station is hoping to increase its listenership to 1.8-million in the next six months. “We will keep nurturing the product, deliver to the province and concentrate on growing our listenership figures.”
After a year, MPowerFM in Mpumalanga has established a listenership of 103,000 (RAMS, October), up from 16,000 (urban data only – RAMS, August). Marketing manager, Louisa van Wyk, is pleased with the figures, “considering that there are only 400,000 people in Mpumalanga in LSM 7 – 10, so we have secured 25 percent of the market”.
“We are very happy with our performance.” (Van Wyk would not comment on the initial investment in the station.)
Mokwatedi says this listenership figure is admirable. “They are growing bit by bit; they are slowly gaining steam. It was very unlikely that they would reach a million after a year.”
The station will embark on a “massive research project soon to find out exactly what listeners want. We will then act on this information and attempt to increase our listenership,” says van Wyk.
Newcomer, North West Radio has 419,000 listeners (RAMS, October), up from 162,000 (urban data only – RAMS, August).
Station manager, Shadrack Menyatswe, says listenership figures could have been higher: “We were hoping to attract more listeners. I think at our full potential we could reach between 2-million to 3 million, which we hope to achieve in five years.”
He could not release exact figures with regards to the initial investment, but said that the radio station “broke even in the first four months. At the moment about 65 percent of our ad revenue comes from government and municipality ad campaigns.”
Mokwatedi says people were expecting this radio station to grow faster than others “as it consists of rural areas, but also a good urban area, which could compete on the same level as Cape Town or Durban. They need to look at themselves and work on improving their growth. However, they have made progress.
“It’s a baby. It still has time to grow.”
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has granted a temporary licence to community television station Soweto TV to broadcast from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009.
The station went on air on July 1, 2007 with its first one-year licence, which has since expired. ICASA is still processing an application from Ekangala Community TV.
A number of channels have been added to the DStv bouquet in the past year, including Africa Magic Plus, National Geographic Wild, ESPN Classic, Nickelodeon and Saffron TV. Aletta Alberts, head of content at MultiChoice, says the platform will not be acquiring new channels in “leaps and bounds, as it did over the past year”. She adds that DStv will launch a preschool channel in the second quarter of next year, which will broadcast content in two languages, with the majority of content produced locally. She would not reveal more.
Prospective satellite operators Telkom Media, On Digital Media and Walking on Water TV were issued with broadcast licences, but are yet to launch.
Regional TV channels SABC4 and SABC5, for which licences were granted in 2005, are yet to launch. Sol Pillay, channel head of SABC News International, says the SABC is still looking into launching these channels. “We are waiting for the commencement of Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting and we will take it from there. We plan to launch not only SABC 4 and 5, but others too.”
KwaZulu-Natal’s newly licensed community television station, BayTV, failed to launch in September as planned. The launch date is now December 1, according to the station manager, Edwin Mncwango.
Welcome Magagula, CEO of Mpumalanga Broadcasting Television, says a launch date for the channel is yet to be announced. At the moment it is aiming to launch in December on an existing platform. ICASA could not make available a list of community radio stations that were issued with licences over the past year.
Nazley Omar is content manager of TheMediaOnline, www.themediaonline.co.za.
- This article first appeared in The Media magazine (November 2008)