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African broadcast innovation using apps and social media to engage audiences

Originally posted on balancing act.

Africa’s broadcasters are facing a legion of challenges and need to find new ways to connect with their audiences to build loyalty. In a world awash with mobile internet and social media they need to be able find new ways of working that will change things. Russell Southwood looks at two African innovations – Fabrik and Volume News – that might help breed a better-connected broadcast media.

Africa’s TV channels do not have the reach of radio or mobile, although it is probably the latter that poses the greater threat. Africans can sit on buses in the traffic listening to FM radio or watching online content. They can check their phones during the day for breaking news and watch clips recommended by their friends on their lunch break.

The speed of social media often means that news is often no longer on the hour but seems to happen in real time. Furthermore the discussion about news and issues of the day – particularly for the young – happens more often than not on social media. These discussions also start trending extremely quickly and often even those with live phone-ins seem to get left behind.

In this issue I’m going to focus on two innovations: one is a media platform that helps create social engagement with your audiences and is not as its creator South African Anice Hassim, Immedia puts it:”Fabrik is not just about management and workflows.”

For example, it enables a radio station to have a digital presence that can do four things: it has personality; it eliminates time-lag in getting information out; it enhances ways of telling the story; and provides a shared context.

Talk radio audiences were social media before social media existed but they were not easily able to track what their most engaged users felt. So whereas analog audiences are “spray and pray”, the platform allows you (through analysing all your social media through an app) to spot sub-sets of people interested in particular issues or topics. Indeed through the app, viewers or listeners can choose to get alerts on particular topics.

A regular caller to a talk show can become a contributor:”The audience’s voice begins to blend with the station’s voice.” Audiences can either engage directly through the station’s app or through social media that the app allows the station to see all in one place.

Furthermore, the TV or radio station can use it to quantify their online reach:”There are revenue opportunities in the platform. Stations can put their online reach on the rate card and get a share of that revenue. The higher the engagement, the more they can monetise.” I shall return in a future issue to look in greater detail at the Fabrik platform.

The second media innovation comes out of the JAMLAB is a programme of Wits Journalism and the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering in partnership with Ryerson University, Toronto and Journalists for Human Rights. The project aims to support more and better innovation in journalism and media on the continent. It is based in one of Africa’s newest innovation hubs, Tshimologong in a downtown area of Johannesburg called Braamfontein.

Volume News was one of six start-ups making its first pitch before an invited audience on Wednesday. Its stated goal is to create a new mobile-first news wire service that links community radio journalists with mainstream news outlets to breakthrough the existing metropolitan filter bubble of South African news coverage.

It calculates that there are 9 million people who are not getting local news. It wants to do this by creating local stories in local languages. It wants to create local stories that will be broadcast through trusted local community news stations in South Africa. Currently only 14% of the news these stations broadcast despite their rationale being one of addressing local audiences.

It wants to create a team of local journalists throughout the country that they will submit using an app and it will supply an app to radio stations (that will also use a simple Raspberry Pi device) that will allow them to easily use the stories generated in an MP3 format. These local journalists become known as the person to go to if you want to get something on air.

It is currently generating stories that are reaching 200,000 people but its medium term ambition is to reach 1.5 million listeners through 85 stations. The service potentially has a direct impact on the financial fortunes of community radio stations.

Volume News said that community radio stations get 25% of audiences but only 2% of advertising spend. This is partly because the brands and NGOs that might use them have no idea whether their information or ad is transmitted. The station tool it has built allows this to be tracked.

Neither of these two ideas are the complete answer to all of the woes of Africa’s radio and TV stations but both contain ideas that might allow channel owners to compete more effectively and build audience loyalty using modern methods.


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