Known for its rolling hills, beautiful beaches and the stronghold of the mighty Zulu kingdom, KwaZulu-Natal has a lot to offer. But are the province’s media players currently as attractive and strong? Michael Bratt investigated the trends and the challenges.
Hilary Lindsay, managing partner of the Durban office of Initiative Media, says, “KZN media is driven by radio and newspapers, with not much OOH representation – as it’s usually part of a broader national network – and few magazines which target geographic or cultural communities.” What’s clear is that all the experts agree on certain factors about the KZN media. Firstly, that the space is largely underdeveloped in terms of the number of players in it, but they suspect this will soon change.
Secondly, that the potential in the space, not only for media houses and their products, but also for advertisers, has been overlooked. Radio in particular does not have that many major players. Each station is therefore able to find its niche audience, offering something unique from its competitors. Thirdly, that despite this, media offerings (such as East Coast Radio (ECR) and Ilanga newspaper) are rapidly evolving to gain ground with new audiences.
Sustaining listeners and ad revenue
In the radio space, Lotus FM caters for the very niche, Indian, higher LSM market. “Lotus is facing the same challenges as other radio stations in South Africa,” says station manager, Alvin Pillay. “These include keeping a listener tuned into a station (it’s just so easy to switch to another) as well as providing new platforms where people can engage with content. Multi-digital platforms are important for complimenting radio broadcast. They also assist in providing information for audiences that they can consume anytime and anywhere. We need to keep our listener locked-on by providing innovative, informative and educational content.” He refers to keeping advertising revenue as a key focus – advertisers have a choice of stations to choose from to punt their products or services.
Over the past year, Lotus’ listenership has been stable with slight changes. The latest RAMS data puts total past seven days listenership at 352 000. One of the ways Lotus is trying to sustain and grow listenership, and it’s an idea shared by most media organisations in KZN, is through charitable community engagement programmes. These include Warm Hearts, a telethon to raise funds for school shoes for underprivileged kids, religious broadcasts, Full House Broadcasts, where a listener can win a broadcast from their home, and other community event partnerships.
Similarly, East Coast Radio (ECR) cites its community projects as major successes over the past year. The station, which claims to have the most visited radio station website in South Africa, has been shifting focus, making inroads into new previously untapped segments of the market. “This gain is testament to the fact that the overall brand evolution is in positioning on-air content in a way that’s synonymous with a lifestyle that resonates with potential new listeners,” a spokesperson for ECR says. ECR believes that the way to succeed in getting not only the most listeners, but also the biggest slice of the advertising pie, is to truly understand what KZN radio listeners want.
Another station that’s remained stable in their market share is Gagasi FM. Even though it did lose a small percentage of listeners over the past two recorded periods, so did other stations, with some of them performing even worse. “The competitiveness in KZN radio is in the phase the Gauteng market was in a few years ago, with an emerging appreciation for black middle class audiences,” says Gagasi FM managing director, Vukile Zondi. The KZN, urban, black middle class is not only growing fast, but is also a large and diverse segment. Zondi adds, “It’s about time media owners took notice of them!”
Lindsay confirms that none of the large radio stations in the province have grown in the last year. One standout has been the smaller station Vuma, which has actually grown by 70% in the last year. Despite being the third largest station, ECR has 50% of the radio advertising investment in the province, while Gagasi only manages to garner 10% and Ukhozi around 35%.
Zondi admits that Gagasi has struggled with advertisers, particularly in the local space, with many remaining unconvinced of the value of the KZN market. But Zondi says that in 2016 Gagasi will, like its competitors, strengthen its offering, “Especially digital, so much so, that KZN radio, and overall media in the region needs to be watched in the next couple of years. We’re set to make a lot of good noise.”
Initiative Media views ECR as one of the more innovative radio stations, as illustrated by its strategy above. Lindsay reckons, “There’s no doubt that ECR is expensive and Ukhozi potentially undervalued but it indicates that advertisers are still willing to pay a lot more for the top end of the market.”
Evolution but not enough credit
The two biggest developments KZN radio will see, Pillay believes, is the emergence of more community stations as well as listeners becoming content creators through social media. ECR does predict some instability with RAMS numbers as the study is moving to a new service provider.
One of the problems with RAMS in KZN is that most of the province consists of rural areas, where gathering listening data can be troublesome. But ECR is very positive about next year saying “KZN is South Africa’s second biggest contributor to GDP and ECR will continue to work in promoting this to advertisers and agencies.”
Mediamark confirms that advertisers, particularly in radio, often overlook the province. “KZN is still perceived to be a P3 province with less buying power. When the market contracts, media spend gets allocated to national radio stations or Gauteng as the first choice.”
However, Mediamark foresees that more commercial FM licences may be allocated to KZN, so increasing competitive activity. They agree with ECR saying, “Despite working hard on the province’s positioning, as it has the second highest GDP in South Africa, this is not reflected through media budget allocation.” There is hope however. If this perception can be changed, money might soon flood into KZN media.
Lindsay adds, “Ad-spend in the province was up by 8% year on year compared with 10% nationally.” The commercial and PBS radio stations largely drove the increase.
isiZulu print titles thrive
Ilanga newspaper has shifted its strategy (like ECR) to appeal to a “younger, funkier and more switched-on” readership. This is in response to the paper being perceived as conservative and catering for only elderly people. Younger writers have been brought in with a new focus on lifestyle and content deemed as different that offers unique and exclusive stories. However, despite this approach, the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures show the paper’s readership dropping by just under 12% from the immediate previous period. This could definitely be owing to the overall challenging environment that KZN newspapers are facing.
Several titles have been forced to close down or merge with each other, including UmAfrika and Ukhasi. Thobile Nxumalo, newly appointed editor in chief of Ilanga newspaper says, “This may have happened because those titles missed the opportunity to revisit their business model and grow or change and instead realised very late that Ilanga and Isolezwe were miles ahead. By then their sales had nose-dived terribly.”
But there’s also been the emergence of new players on the block including Bayede newspaper and Inkazimulo. Nxumalo suggests, “isiZulu papers find the ground fertile in KZN while the English newspapers like the Daily News, Mercury and Daily Sun are struggling with sales growth.” All media platforms including newspapers are being forced to embrace the digital age and it is a daunting process. Yet, Nxumalo says, “Ilanga is fully embracing integrating online with print content.”
Lindsay reveals however, that none of the newspapers are particularly excelling in this area, which is in line with the general decline in newspaper circulations nationally. Isolezwe, the province’s biggest paper, is one of the few that is growing, recording a 4% rise year on year, which seems to be at the expense of Ilanga.
The success of Isolezwe
Service delivery protests, the rising cost of food, electricity and travel and xenophobic attacks are all cited as challenges impacting the newspaper landscape in KZN.
A paper whose circulation has remained steady over the last five years is Isolezwe. The paper recorded a 0.4% increase (from 108,138 in Q2 April – June 2011 to 108 629 in Q2 April – June 2015) while Ilanga’s circulation fell by 41% (from 138 288 to 82 034) in the same period.
But, Isolezwe has also suffered its share of challenges. In a response sent by Independent Media’s marketing and communication division (the parent company of Isolezwe) it was mentioned that the Durban metropolitan area has been problematic for all newspapers, including Isolezwe, which recorded a loss in readership from that particular sector.
The statement also said that in the coming year, Isolezwe wants to make further inroads into the literate Zulu population of KZN, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.
Just like other media platforms in the province, Isolezwe is utilising its digital presence and striving to find new paths to engage with the ever-changing KZN newspaper landscape. The paper is also imminently launching Khuluma Nathi, (translated as ‘Talk to us’), a Zulu language online / mobi survey. This will offer readers of Isolezwe the chance to participate in various surveys crucial for the paper to gain a deeper understanding of their needs and how they feel about the current offering.
Media publications and groups in KZN have surely had their ups and downs. But, the future is looking very bright, with lots of potential advantages for both publications and advertisers/marketers. The various KZN media platforms are certainly up for the challenge of innovating and re-strategising to find new ways to reach their target markets as well as advertisers.
Not only is media set for a huge push but also KZN tourism will continue to grow, with large crowds flocking to the coast every holiday season. The Zulu nation is also home to a budding film sector and recently won the right to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Ignore this mover and shaker province at your own peril!
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