When Kagiso Broadcasting announced earlier this year that it was giving talented members of the public a shot at creating programming for its stations, it proved once more that being ahead of the curve, particularly when it comes to digital, is what the company stands for.
The call for content – from conceptualising a reality radio show to coming up with something new for the South African Music Awards – generated enormous excitement. After all, Jacaranda 94.2 FM and East Coast Radio (ECR) are not to be sniffed at. (Kagiso also has minority stakes in other stations such as OFM (Free State), Gagasi 99.5 (Durban) and Heart 104.9 (Cape Town) and an economic stake in Kaya FM (Johannesburg).)
Omar Essack, CEO of Kagiso Broadcasting and executive director of Kagiso Media, believesr in digital convergence, and the medium of radio. Back in 2008, he says, Kagiso made the decision to “bring in digital teams comprising people who had been brought up on the internet”.
That team, his “digital natives”, manage Kagiso’s online radio presence. Their brief was twofold: to take a deep look at the space where social media and radio meet, and to then identify the strategic elements that would allow them develop a strategy that would “grow the value chain”.
“Content has to be the driving force,” he says. “We had to grow our listeners into a community. To integrate new media into our offering.”
Essack says the radio stations have moved from being “single channel operators” to “multi platform content providers”. This, he says, means they are “not only occupying more of our listeners’ head space through expanding our content offering on to multiple platforms, but also how we are turning this into sustainable revenue streams”.
He says this is by no means a static process. “We have a lot to learn every day. We’re nowhere close to being where we want to be in term of digital integration.”
Kagiso’s annual report says they’re on the right track, though. “The online industry is anticipating solid sustained growth as advertisers are shifting their media spend online, broadband access costs are declining and audience growth rates remain high. The mobile segment is showing the strongest growth in internet penetration, which together with social media, is a key focus of the division.
“The fastest growing segment of the South African online community is the black market. New media is catering to this market as demonstrated by the audience analysis of howzit.msn, which reﬂected a 46% representation by black, Indian and coloured communities, which continue to grow,” it says.
MSN, says Essack, has been a “huge” success. It has SA’s largest online audience and with a move into East Africa, there are even more opportunities for growth. The radio sites attached to Kagiso stations are doing well, he says, but they are “trying to evolve more opportunities there as we have the skills AND the resources.
“Our radio concepts must incorporate online elements,” he says. “Facebook has shown huge growth.” Jacaranda 94.2 has 9 391 fans and ECR a whopping 29 474.
One of Kagiso’s more experimental offerings is the online Afrikaans station, Ja.fm. “It’s doing well in terms of audience,” says Essack. “It is a conceptual success. But it’s not easy to monetise. And the niche audience is a barrier to entry.”
Essack’s meteoric career was forged from a solid background in radio. He became East Coast Radio’s programme director back in 1996, just after the advent of democracy. It had just over 300 000 listeners. Mostly white. Two years later, when he was appointed CEO of the station, they were on 900 000, and had become a station with a diverse profile of listeners. By the time he headed up the Kagiso group’s broadcasting division in 2003, ECR was reaching 1.8 million listeners.
Essack also believes in event-driven radio. “By creating leisure activities and using radio to drive them, we build our communities. ECR’s Big Walk had over 25 000 entries last year. Fun, sun and sea – Funsuzi we call it. Nature. Listeners embraced the concept.”
Jacaranda 94.2 is known for its corporate social investment, in rallying its listeners around a cause. Its work in helping prevent rhino poaching has been extraordinarily successful. And its Sisters with Blisters walk is popular with Pretoria audiences.
“By owning these events, we get our listeners involved. And it means we give meaning to our mandate to be a social business. They are fundraisers,” Essack says.
Of course, Kagiso Broadcasting/Media is a subsidiary of the Kagiso Trust, which “roots it ﬁrmly in philanthropy and social transformation”.
The Kagiso Trust was created in 1985 to channel funds to promote the struggle against apartheid as well as uplift and empower communities deprived by the system. “On the eve of the democratic elections Kagiso Trust Investments (KTI) was set up to provide ongoing income to support core Trust programmes,” it says on its website. Which, by the way, makes for fascinating reading on how and NGO became an investment vehicle and media owner.
So of course it is vital that its broadcast interests do well, so it can continue doing good.