The South African radio industry has proved in the last 20 months that it is robust, agile, and adaptable. Audiences and advertisers turned to radio stations for information, companionship, and mutual connection. The power of the radio industry is highlighted in the latest BRC RAMS data and it shows that appetite for radio remains strong.
Many radio brands across the country have cultivated a deep layer of trust with their audiences using their FM and digital platforms. This relationship has become increasingly important, as the reliance for their primary source of news, entertainment and information grows. The rise of fake news and calculated disinformation is combated by a reliable service, and radio has proven its worth in this regard.
As a result of Covid-19 separating people socially, radio has managed to bridge the gap by practicing inclusivity. Radio listeners are now made to feel part of communities and groups through storytelling, content, virtual activations, and compelling engagement.
Radio audiences are constantly evolving, with connectivity and choice being the determining factors. Recent developments between mobile operators and ICASA regarding spectrum, is driven by the accelerated need of consumers for more and faster internet connectivity. The advancement of work environments and consumer trends have catapulted people into the throws of 4IR, enabling radio to create new opportunities for listeners in the digital space.
I have previously spoken about the benefits of a blended approach to new technology and the power of our existing platforms. This statement remains true as we extend traditional and digital opportunities to our audiences. The internet remains a key component for new audio offerings and niched content, on-line radio is about more than replicating FM services to audiences using the internet. Perhaps as a point of departure, why is online radio such a great opportunity for existing broadcasters?
Audio value chain
The South African radio industry spent years growing and refining radio brands that resonate with audiences. By understanding the power of broadcasting and narrowcasting, successful industry-players have created an audio value chain advertisers and audiences heavily rely on.
Specialised programmes and presenters have always created interesting additions to line-ups that have traditionally tried to attract the biggest possible audience. Niche programming adds nuance and flavour to the sound of a station. On-line radio is an opportunity to focus on niche audiences, music, and content. On-line extends these pockets to fully fledged services.
Music streaming services and podcasts are sited as major competitors for online radio. Through market research, we have found that radio is the perfect counterpart for a variety of other media offerings. Radio is a meeting ground for services and audiences. Online radio has an opportunity to promote and leverage on-demand audio like podcasts, online radio creates opportunities to play and promote parts of, or full podcast series. This medium still has the opportunity for live engagement and human connection in real time and can integrate other audio content into the online listening experience.
Music streaming services are an opportunity for radio to expand its offering. Since online radio has the benefit of the power of personality and character, this medium organically creates a curated music experience that can add emotion to a playlist. These can be extended into streaming playlists that can be accessed as part of an integrated online radio experience. As good as algorithms are, they don’t deliver the warmth of a personal experience.
Online radio stations can be clustered under a single brand or can be an extension of a traditional FM station. As a result, one brand can offer many opportunities for listeners depending on their mood or situational need. Online radio is available at the swipe of a screen, across a varied range of formats such as live sport, talk of the day and relaxed hits.
As traditional practitioners we understand the technology behind delivering radio. Online is a new space with a slightly different rule book where brands can deliver high end audio offerings that don’t require huge budgets. On-line radio is cost effective and reliable as we already have robust environments and technical infrastructure. We have experienced staff that have carved out optimal on-line listening experiences using years of trial and error in FM environments. We have the tech know-how to deliver to a variety of distribution platforms.
Furthermore, online radio creates a huge opportunity for media practitioners, from presenters to journalists to content creators. Since geography is not an issue and whilst technical barriers of entry are low, the industry is able to procure the best minds and skills available. We are also able to share our resources on several on-line stations creating brand synergy and loyalty with talent that resonates with audiences. On-line radio creates flexibility which leads to more opportunity for all those involved.
Tech developments and the more effective use of streaming bandwidth is making the end user listening experience better. The use of modern codecs also significantly improves audio quality from the point of broadcast. The cost of streaming an online radio station has also always been seen as a barrier to entry, local provider IONO is able to deliver an hour of streaming audio for as little as 20m/b which certainly dispels the notion that online radio is bandwidth intensive.
A colleague recently drove from Johannesburg to Cape Town listening to a local radio station, online. Despite one notable break in data transmission, the bulk of the journey was spent in the company of on-line radio that seamlessly streamed via Bluetooth on the car radio.
African Media Entertainment (AME) is excited in the opportunity that lies in the online radio space. AME’s radio stations (Algoa FM and OFM) have already extended their FM offerings. OFM, covering the central South African regions, run a very successful second online radio station that caters to a local music need. Across our radio platforms we have highly skilled practitioners who are enthusiastic about connecting with existing and new audiences as we expand our footprint.
Dave Tiltmann is group chief executive officer of African Media Entertainment.
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