Africa’s media landscape has experienced substantial seismic shifts in the space of a very short time. At the Digital Media Africa 2018 conference we found that publishers who have ignored change in thee search for paid content have done so at their peril.
African media producers gathered at the conference in Johannesburg in November to review best practices in revenue generation.
frayintermedia Managing Director Paula Fray said finding sustainable business models was critical as this had a direct impact on plurality and ultimately media freedom.
"We want to study African and international case studies, best practices, lessons learned, and to be able to engage on those within our unique challenges. Amongst the issues we want to look at is how we get to paid content by looking at various economics models being used," Fray said.
Fray said these considerations were important because good journalism cost money: "If you want want to be producing good journalism then you need to have very strong revenue models. Being able to find good and sustainable revenue models is very critical for a continent such as ours where we want to sustain media freedom."
Managing Director of frayintermedia Paula Fray welcomes guests to Digital Media Africa 2018
Reuters Africa Journal editor Serena Chaudhry noted that since 2000 at least five of the world's growing economies have been in Africa. Estimates are that by 2020 the continent's combined consumer and business spending is going to equal $6,7 trillion.
"That means there's a huge market, there is a lot of potential. It means there is a a lot of people who will be consuming all kinds of news," Chaudhry said.
She said smartphone internet traffic was forecast to grow 12 times over the next five years and the demand for compelling content was only going to grow.
Chaudhry also noted that the Reuters Digital News Report 2018 had found that the use of native video formats had positioned social media as the biggest online news destination.
Some of these factors influenced Reuters' repackaging of Africa Journal from a legacy product into a mobile-first video service. This was in response to growing demand for short and engaging mobile video content that requires creative capturing.
"One of the key strategies, particularly on the African continent, has been that the demand is for more online short videos. So we've tailored and changed some of our content to cater for that. For Africa journal the demand was to have a ready-to-publish package.
"Clients came to us and said they don't have the capability to spend time to repackage a video and want something that is short and quick that they can publish on many platforms," said Chaudhry.
Following the changing nature of audience preferences has become much easier with the introduction of tools like Machine Learning. These help digital media move overcome data deficits and take advantage of analytics that profile audiences in depth.
There is so much to find out about consumers. Leading subscriptions and digital marketing consultant Jocelyn Cripps said this meant publishers needed to be granular in finding out what audiences wanted.
"It's about making sure that you are aware about where people are converging and coalescing. It's also making sure you are capturing those customer insights and bringing information from your customer service teams, evaluating and fixing it. Often organisations forget about these sources of consumer insight," Cripps said.
Consumer insights make it easier to put customers at the centre of strategies how content will drive revenue generation. Ted Kudinoff, the Head of Editorial Aftonbladet Plus, said looking at the Netflix and model and how they were taking a huge chunk of the audience was an eye-opener.
"Netflix took the people in Sweden and they were saying "Oh they have a crime series". I thought that is quite good, I want to see this series all the time. I don't want to wait for the next day or for one week like in print where you have to wait until the next Saturday," Kudinoff said. (See: Aftonbladet’s Digital Media Journey to Innovation)
Some interesting developments are also taking place across the continent. While the conference's main aim was to mull over how content pays for itself, Kwesé Head of Digital Media Carl Jordan described how with some of their offerings were swimming against the tide.
"What we've found over the last 18 months of trading is that there is a cap in terms of the revenue opportunities around pay-TV. The market in terms of how the sub-Saharan region is structured shows that there is a clear opportunity for free to air. This is where the majority of the scale and volume is in terms of consumers, and by extension brands and advertising dollars," Jordan said.
Jordan also described how demographics can complicate revenue generating strategies. While free-to-air is where revenue mainly is for Kwesé, the platform cannot reach all audiences.
"The 18-24 year-old segment... they don't have television sets. If a product is for free-to-air or pay-TV, it doesn't exist, they can't afford it. The primary device for consumption is their mobile device. That product must be specifically designed with that in mind to be able to target and communicate with those audiences," he said
It would have been remiss of the delegates at the conference not touch on the internet economy of the future - how it will shape the format of content appearing on different platforms.
This was a key discussion point in the conversation between Viacom Executive Vice President Alex Okosi and consultant Gary Alfonso.
According to Okosi, because at Viacom they deal with funder-support content their goal is to utilise every imaginable platform.
"We don't think of our business as a broadcast platform, of course we have channels that broadcast content. For us as we move forward we are really trying to have our content across all our product platforms, not only through our linear channels, but in every single territory or market that matters to our consumers.
"Whether it's YouTube or other over the top platforms. Our business is geared towards partnering with those platforms," Okosi explained.
There are some industry-wide approaches that can assist the digital sector with revenue sustainability amid the multi-faceted digital disruption publishers are facing.
Bilal Randeree, Africa Director at the Media Development Investment Fund, said collaboration has brought some success to 12 media startups they are supporting.
"The result is that you are not fighting for pieces of the same pie but the pie is getting bigger. You are learning from each other's mistakes but you are also sharing each other's successes and positive ideas."
Digital Media Africa was hosted by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, and was organised by frayintermedia.