It’s a question of…taking eNews online. Timothy Spira was recently appointed general manager of online at eNews. The online veteran is keenly anticipating the challenges of developing the news channel’s online presence, and finding the right people to help him create “news that is broader and richer than anything currently on offer, both in terms of the stories we tell and the diversity of media that we use to tell them”.
- Memeburn reports that until now, Sabido/e.tv/eNews Channel has “made no significant investment in an online presence”. What has changed, why now and what kind of investment are we looking at?
The market has matured in two, interrelated, respects. First, broadband penetration in South Africa is beginning to improve, though it remains pitiful by global and even continental standards. eNews has long recognised that it is only within a broadband environment that we can offer an online news service that plays to our strengths in video and multimedia content. Secondly, agencies and advertisers have begun to take online space seriously, not just as a direct response channel but also as a powerful branding medium. This said, online still accounts for only 2% of the local adspend pie, which compares to almost 30% in developed economies like the UK. So there’s a lot of scope for growth in the next few years.
In terms of the size of the investment, and without giving too much away, the investment is realistic. Senior management is strongly behind the initiative and understands that we require sufficient resources to operate an online business that reflects the quality, production and brand values of our broadcast news services.
- Your experience in publishing has been with financial titles and taking that to creating Fin24, as well as being in on the early stages of iAfrica. How does it differ when looking at creating on online presence for a broadcaster?
The environment at eNews is very different from what I’m used to. This is partly because the broadcast DNA is different from print. But I suspect it has more to do with the fact that eNews is a young operation that has retained many of the best qualities of a startup. Despite the company’s considerable success, there remains a culture of humility, openness to new ideas and a desire to continuously improve that is very refreshing. I suspect that this culture will prove to be a formidable competitive advantage in the online media space.
- What is your strategy and vision for this project?
We are looking to provide a perspective on the news that is broader and richer than anything currently on offer, both in terms of the stories we tell and the diversity of media that we use to tell them. We aim to build a multi-platform offering that is world class in every respect, yet which remains firmly and consciously rooted in Africa.
- When are you planning to launch?
We will go live in the fourth quarter of 2012.
- What do you see as your biggest challenge with this job?
Hiring the right people.
- What are you most looking forward to?
At the moment I’m really looking forward to launching a product worthy of the eNews brand. It’s always daunting to build something from scratch, but fortunately we have the advantage of a well-established marketing channel and a raft of quality broadcast content.
- You’ll need to be looking to Africa too. Any thoughts on this? (I’m thinking of how BBC segments countries in their online presence.)
Sub-Saharan Africa is a big part of our strategy. It’s difficult, though, because it’s such a diverse market that you really need to hone in on specific regions if you want to deliver deep and relevant content. But it helps that we are based in Africa and have a distinctly African identity. As the eNews editorial team expands its presence on the continent we believe we’ll be well placed to provide something that our European and American counterparts cannot.
- Will you be integrating social media? Right now, the various programmes each have their own Twitter feeds.
Yes. Social media is part of the fabric of today’s web and mobile environment. I don’t think any news offering can afford not to pay very close attention to what is happening on the social wires, and the most successful outlets will be those that set the conversation, or at least become an integral part of it.
- Are you hiring staff? (I believe I saw something on Twitter?) What positions are you looking to fill and what type of people are you looking for?
At the moment we are advertising for an online editor, a lead developer and a head of user experience design. Ideally – assuming we fill these vacancies relatively soon – each of these people will have the opportunity to build out their own teams.
- Will you be starting from the bottom, so to speak, and looking for a new content management system?
We are currently assessing various options, from established CMS vendors all the way through to open source frameworks.
- How do you plan to ‘catch up’ with established news sites?
I think the established sites are very good at what they do, but our editorial approach will be different, and hopefully provide angles on the news and a depth of coverage that others are not offering. The eNews broadcast content and platform will obviously be an asset from both a content and audience perspective.
- Will you be using much multimedia in terms of news reporting and your access to that kind of material?
Yes. We do plan to offer a lot of multimedia and rich media content.
- How about a mobile offering?
The proliferation of smart mobile and tablet devices in recent years has ushered in a raft of new possibilities for content delivery, and any serious digital publisher needs to take a cross platform approach, particularly in Africa, where many more people have access to the internet through mobile devices than through computers.
- There’s a lot of chatter internationally about how television, as we know and understand it, is changing. http://techland.time.com/2011/12/27/looking-forward-to-2012-the-end-of-media-ownership/. “We have our online radio and our streaming television already. What I’m waiting for from 2012 is the one thing that brings all of that together, one media hub that fills your television, movie, music and textual needs for one low monthly price. Surely that can’t be far off? When it comes to just who is going to end up doing it, I’m looking towards a trio of familiar faces: Amazon, Apple and Google. All three of these companies have made moves in digital media that involve partnership with large content creators, and it’s those existing partnerships and relationships that make them best placed to launch endeavors–apps, platforms or just ideas–that are likely to catch on with consumers and creators alike.” TIME magazine.
Is this kind of thinking impacting on how you take forward eNews’ online presence?
The debate around device convergence has been raging for a long time, with no consensus on the impact that these new technologies will have, and in what time frame. Two years ago the iPad didn’t exist, and now it’s well on its way to becoming ubiquitous. But then other things, like Digital Terrestrial Television or broadly accessible WiMax, have been on the cards for ages and haven’t even got off the ground. So I guess one must try and be as nimble as possible, pre-empting certain developments and quickly adapting to the ones you didn’t foresee.
- What is your advertising strategy, or elements of it?
It’s a little early to say.