Last year, Bloomberg TV on DStv was facing the chop. As The Media Online (TMO) reported in July 2013, MultiChoice had decided to discontinue the channel because of the small size of the business audience in South Africa. But Summit TV felt the channel was too good to lose, so a deal was done to merge the two channels, with Summit rebranding as Business Day TVthe (BDTV).
The two channels seemed perfectly complementary. Bloomberg, market-driven and internationally–focused, would bolster BDTV’s weak morning offering, leaving BDTV to focus on what the channel felt was its strength – providing local content and analysis of the day’s business news – in the afternoon and evening.
But, as TMO reported, just three weeks into the partnership, MultiChoice discovered the country’s business broadcast audience, while it may be small, is also “influential and vociferous”. Viewers demanded that Bloomberg get its own channel again, saying they needed a dedicated 24-hour television channel for international business news. The channel was reinstated.
For broadcasters it was a lesson in who the consumers are and what they want from content on radio or TV. Says BDTV head of programming Semeyi Zake, “Really, the problem [with the partnership with Bloomberg] was that there are two distinct audiences wanting two different sets of information. The Bloomberg audience tends to be brokers. They are looking for real-time information, which is what Bloomberg is good at… And then there are those who want the local picture. Bloomberg just wasn’t relevant to most of our viewers.”
BDTV’s audience is fairly sophisticated but also broad, says Zake, including as it does CEOs and other decision-makers in the corporate world. “You can see this in our programming, which also has a lifestyle element; these are people with holiday homes. Just more than 50% of them are based in Gauteng.”
What this audience is really looking for is a wrap of the day’s business news. “If you watch BDTV in the evening, you’ll have a good idea of what happened that day on the markets, in the news. That’s what we do really well,” says Zake.
But it’s not just business leaders and traders who consume business content. BDTV content also addresses personal finance and small business management, particularly during the day. In radio, similar content is popular, says Stevie B, who presents Kaya FM’s business show, Kaya Bizz. He says his most popular show is the Wednesday broadcast, “as we have entrepreneurs on the move. People like to be inspired by winners”.
Storytelling is important. Listeners will tune out if there are too many numbers and cold facts, and prefer to get figures from print or online sources, he believes. “Listeners love stories that concern their lives and daily dealings,” says Stevie B.
Talk Radio 702’s business show has had a similar experience. Money Show producer Cecile Basson says her team has been surprised at how many of its listeners own businesses. “Stories about small business success are very popular. Not only advice for small businesses, but the stories that show the little guy as the hero – like the Frankie’s battle with Woolworths, or the Mantelli’s biscuits airlines story – tend to get a huge response,” says Basson. Frankie’s Olde Soft Drink Company won a battle with the retailer, which had stolen its idea for lemonade packaging. Mantelli’s is embroiled in a battle with South African Airways caterer Air Chefs over a tender.
Kaya’s research department found that South Africans have a high interest in entrepreneurship and South Africans open a lot of businesses – though most of them don’t last longer than five years. This suggests that there is very little education or understanding on how to sustain businesses and make them successful, so any radio show that covers this or aspects of it will resonate with Kaya’s audience.
In public broadcasting, the market for business content is actually lower down the LSMs than was previously assumed. For Hilton Tarrant, Moneyweb Radio anchor, it’s all about balancing the needs of sophisticated investors with the mass market, which forms the core of their audience.
Moneyweb Radio is presented across three SABC stations – the Afrikaans Radio Sonder Grense (RSG), KwaZulu-Natal’s Lotus FM and SAfm. Content ranges from a half-hour evening business show, which is a well-established format in the market, to live market reports throughout the day, to personal finance content, says Tarrant.
Moneyweb Radio’s audience is broad-based and “the balance is very tricky. We don’t want to alienate our more sophisticated listener. We are trying to straddle the mass market and still have one foot in the sophisticated market,” says Tarrant.
“For the last six to nine months – since I took over the portfolio – our real focus has been understanding the segments of our audience and using these, rather than producing generic content.
“We have made the mistake in the past of assuming that our online audience and the SAfm audience are congruent. We now understand that our broadcast audience is from the middle market and is national. It’s easy to fall into the trap of producing content for Gauteng. Up here we get very excited about Gautrain stories, but a listener in Butterworth has absolutely no interest. So we are trying to expand our topics in order to reach the broadest base possible.”
Tarrant and his team re-use content across platforms in ways that are pitched appropriately for their respective audiences. For example, if the financial results for Shoprite are being released, “we send a journalist to the presentation and they generate a piece for online. For radio, we do a 10-minute interview with the CEO, structuring it so there’s the sophisticated stuff that the online audience likes. But what gets played out on air is far less abstract and sophisticated. It might be topics like food prices, how electricity costs are affecting the cost of living. It’s very accessible. It’s not about being patronising or simplistic – it’s about relevance.”
Credibility is crucial in business broadcasting. BDTV has an advantage in this regard, says Zake, because the channel leverages the Times Media Group’s already trusted journalistic resources.
“We rebranded from Summit TV in June 2013. There has always been a synergy with BDFM, but the renaming really drove the point home. We are aiming for more integration and synergy between the newsrooms. This is really one of our main advantages: we have that newsroom feel, that access to journalists and that deeper analysis.”
Business content can also fill an important educational role, particularly when it comes to the public broadcaster, says Tarrant. “I read a statistic the other day: less than half of South Africans understand the concept of interest. Recently one of the platinum producers declared force majeure and we got a lot emails asking what this meant. So we will do a show where we explain this concept and why companies would want to use it.”
There is definitely a demand, says Tarrant, with the SABC’s stations “desperate for the kind of content we produce”. “We are scaling up our presence to a number of other stations. We are going to produce quick, snackable content with a strong push towards education and jargon-busting.”
Says Zake, “I think the key is providing relevant information to decision-makers and investors. We don’t spoonfeed our viewers; we want them to make up their own minds. We give them the entertaining, engaging content they need.”
This story was first published in the June 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
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