The demographic of South Africa’s radio audiences is changing, and bringing a new dimension to what people want to listen to. Glenda Nevill reports.
Eugene Zwane, general manager of radio sales for the SABC, says the broadcaster needs to be “on top of this shift” as the way in which audiences, particularly those listening to African language stations (ALS) are relating differently to media and brands.
“From our perspective, on-going research will enable us to be on the cutting edge of this shift,” Zwane said. “Their consumption habits are changing. They are more educated and discerning, embracing technology and accessing information quickly and more easily.”
Zwane said while the majority of these listeners come from Gauteng, but that the shift is happening all over South Africa.
It also impacts on what the broadcaster requires of its presenters. They need to engage with listeners on social media, respond to them via the various platforms. They need to read widely, and know what’s happening in people’s lives. Zwane says the SABC looks for talent, but that talent is also expected to continue developing and growing too. “If they don’t, it’s very competitive out there,” he says.
Zwane said another trend the SABC had noted is that radio audiences are listening for longer “largely because they’re accessing media on mobiles”. In previous years, for example, commuters would have to listen to whatever the taxi driver was playing en route to their destinations. “Now they’re wearing headphones and tuning in to radio on their cellphones,” he says. “They’re listening in cars and in the office.”
Another trend to watch, he says, is the impact of DTT on the scope of radio stations available to listeners. “It’s going to revolutionise radio,” Zwane says. “People will have more choice regardless of their geographic location. DTT is going to be huge; it’s going to open up the airwaves significantly.”
Zwane says despite predictions that public service radio would be a thing of the past as digital expanded the airwaves, the opposite is true. “We’re looking at hybrid stations,” he says. “There’s no longer a line between commercial and public radio. We have to mix and match in order to compete, and do what the listeners want.”
Radio drama, for example, is finding a whole new audience. “It never went away,” he says. “As a child we’d all tune in to the drama at 8pm. Now kids are picking up on this again. Stories have never had so much relevance. I recently went to Mpumalanga, to a mall near Ermelo. It was 11am in the morning, and the mall was dead quiet. I walked to the nearest shop, and everyone was inside listening to the drama. The shop owners know shoppers want to listen, so they make the programme available in the shops!”
Of course, this has given some brands a fantastic platform to sponsor radio drama, working in a story line that underpins their messaging. Standard Bank is one such brand and another is Omo. “It’s our oldest content co-creation partner,” says Zwane. “The Omo Mailbag has been going since 1993.”
“For us content co-creation is a growth area. Listeners don’t see it as advertising. Standard Bank’s messaging is empowering. They internalise the information. That’s why it works.”
Zwane says the SABC’s new studio that will produce advertising in the vernacular for clients, an idea that will elevate mother tongue advertising, will hopefully eliminate the language barriers many brands find difficult to overcome. “If agencies struggle with copywriting they throw their hands in the air and don’t persist. This means they’re losing an opportunity to engage with listeners. Translation becomes too risky, or cumbersome. We hope this studio will eliminate the challenge,” he says.
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