The media sector in the Eastern Cape is highly competitive with new players about to enter the ring – and they’re all after the valuable black middle class. Glenda Nevill reports.
While readership of most newspapers in South Africa took a dive in 2014, some titles in the Eastern Cape showed growth. And despite this province being one of the poorest and least developed in South Africa, it has a highly competitive media environment.
Good, old-fashioned reporting with journalists covering beats, a strong community bent and a great new design were some of the “interventions” at The Herald that have resulted in an upswing in sales.
The Port Elizabeth daily, touted as the ‘Voice of Mandela Bay’, is owned by the Times Media Group and edited by Heather Robertson who says the plan to revive its fortunes started four years ago. “We had to find out what the PE public wanted,” she says. “Our designer, John Tsatsi, came down from Joburg and embedded himself in the city, walking the streets, talking to people.”
Robertson says the paper’s readership has now changed from being white suburban pensioners to 60% black with an average age of 40.
The black middle class is hugely valuable to the province’s media businesses. They are the growth area, the surety that newspapers and broadcasters will not only survive the tough times but also grow.
Dave Tiltmann, managing director of independent commercial station Algoa FM, says their target audience is affluent individuals in the LSM 7–10 market between the ages of 25 and 49. “The listenership breakdown by race currently is 50% black, 25% coloured and 25% white. Our listeners are active, family orientated, caring, love the beach, proud and hard-working and community driven,” he says.
“With a saturated white market, growth for Algoa FM will continue to come from the ever-growing black middle market in the Eastern Cape,” he says.
It’s also the market targeted by newcomer Given Mkhari, the former Metro FM presenter turned media mogul who owns Capricorn FM in Limpopo and POWER FM in Johannesburg. His company, MSG Afrika, via Histoprox, was awarded a licence from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to launch a new commercial station in the Eastern Cape. Mkhari is unwilling to divulge any details on his plans. Shortly after receiving the news that Histoprox had won the Eastern Cape licence, Mkhari tweeted, “Thanks to our brothers @PutcoMafani and @DicksyNgqula we will collectively bring much needed diversity to the Eastern Cape.”
When contacted by The Media, Mkhari would only say that the “key thing” for him was that “the black middle class needs a station that talks their development and provides them with entertainment. They require a station that understands and can address their needs”.
Mkhari said he would unveil his strategy for the station – dubbed Rhythm FM now, but that could change – in February 2015. The launch could follow shortly after that.
It’s not going to easy, if Tiltmann is to be believed. “We operate in the third most-competitive area in the country with 20 radio stations having more than 100 000 listeners,” he says. “Community radio is alive and well in our market, with healthy competition also coming from SABC giants like Umhlobo Wenene and Metro FM. Algoa FM is currently ranked second in terms of listenership in the PE/Uitenhage market and fourth in East London, close behind Metro FM and Tru FM. While Umhlobo Wenene dominates the audiences in the two metros, we dominate the ad spend in the province due to the quality of our listeners.”
Robertson says newspapers and broadcasters battle for the same ad spend. “It’s a very sensitive market. There are lots of newspapers: Die Burger, Die Son, the Daily Sun (all Media24 titles). Algoa FM, Umhlobo Wenene – and we’re all after the same advertising.”
Media24’s newly appointed general manager of newspapers, Ishmet Davidson, declined to comment on plans for the company’s Eastern Cape titles, saying to do so would disclose “confidential information”. But insiders say there could be a shake-up on the cards.
There could be another new newspaper to contend with too. Independent Media, in a press release, included an intriguing line: “Unathi Kondile as the editor of the Group’s vernacular publication in the Eastern Cape”. When approached to elaborate, the group’s chief of staff, Zenariah Barends, would only say, “Unathi Kondile has been appointed to head up the expansion of our vernacular title strategy into the Eastern Cape. This is planned for 2015. At this stage Independent will not be commenting further, but will do so when the time is right.”
The third quarter (2014) Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures showed growth of several titles. The Herald grew from 21 446 in the previous corresponding period to 21 972. Its Saturday sister paper, the Weekend Post, wasn’t as lucky, dropping from
20 928 to 19 963.
The Daily Dispatch and Saturday Dispatch continued their upward trajectory with the daily 26 684 from 26 501 the previous corresponding period and the Saturday paper moving from 19 561 to 21 241. Die Burger took a bit of a knock, from 10 234 to 9 464. The Saturday edition dropped from 10 993 to 10 242.
Robertson says despite the energy of the newsroom and increased circulation, the paper isn’t making money. She has had to retrench staff and, in January, increased the cover price. She said decline in the Weekend Post’s numbers is “very strange”.
“It’s a different market. More white and suburban. We’re battling to penetrate the black market. We need to straddle the white, coloured and black markets.”
Tiltmann says growth and new business remain the biggest challenges. “The market is not growing, and in some areas is losing ground. The region needs good management and more investment. We must protect and develop our assets around tourism (and) manufacturing, and develop sustainable job creation initiatives. We are not a team that sits back and accepts we will not grow. Over the years, we have opened new markets and grown our advertiser base. It’s all about being in the right spaces. There are good stories to tell,” he says.
The Eastern Cape has a big community media sector, but it is battling to sustain itself, says Wits University Media Studies journalism senior lecturer Dr Glenda Daniels. The university’s State of the Newsroom Report researched all the newspapers and radio stations in the province.
“Eastern Cape community newspapers struggle to sustain themselves like all other community papers but perhaps more so because it is poorer than other provinces. We also found anti-competitive behaviour from commercial newspapers,” she says.
“Many people rely on just community papers and radio for news. Most news comes from local community dwellers rather than a rehash of commercial papers. This was an optimistic finding. Likewise most news has local voices rather than national voices. We did the research during women’s month, August, and yet did not find too many women’s voices on issues of violence against women. This was a pessimistic finding,” she said.
Daniels says the proliferation of community newspapers make a valuable contribution to diversity. She adds that it was a “pity they often don’t have enough financial backing and generally, but not always, seem to live a hand-to-mouth existence”.
“I also found during the State of the Newsroom research that there was a lot of idealism involved in why people start and work in community papers. They really do want to serve the community in which they live and they do want to make a difference,” Daniels said.
Tiltmann said, overall, the Eastern Cape is challenging, and not just from an economic perspective.
“The Eastern Cape is a blue-collar-driven economy, with the motor industry being the biggest influencer. Local advertising is very focused on SMMEs (small, medium and micro enterprises),” he said. “The challenge is availability, affordability and results, notwithstanding the pressure of these SMMEs trading in a region where utility costs are the most expensive in the country. The region is not showing growth, which does mean all media is fighting for a slice of the same pie.”
This post was first published in the February 2015 issue of The Media magazine.
IMAGE: Heather Robertson at her desk in the open-plan offices. Pic by Fredlin Adriaan
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