Wed, 01 Jun 2022 / Published in AME, LATEST NEWS

As South Africans we are a people with a love for music. Music lives within us and forms part of the way we socialise, engage, reminisce, and connect. We are fierce karaoke singers, air guitarists and back-up singers. When lyrics fail us, we make up our own and we’re not afraid to turn up the volume on our favourite songs!

Radio and Music

Radio has long served as the main source of South African’s musical fix, with more than 60% of adult population tuning into radio on a weekly basis. As a medium, radio has built and developed trust relationships with audiences and has become a mirror for the mood of the communities served and forms part of the collective voice of the people.

Radio has been an influential tastemaker in the music landscape, and it continues to be one the main reasons people engage actively with the platform. Despite an ongoing affinity with radio brands, who still form a considerable part of listening habits in South Africa, people have increasingly started experimenting with online audio consumption over the last few years. The latest research findings from the second Infinite Dial study in South Africa, indicates 61% of the local metropolitan population now actively listens to online audio, an increase by a staggering 22% since 2019.

As an agile medium, these changes in consumption habits and the rapid shifts in technology, has meant that radio has needed to shift to cater to the needs of audiences.

Audio and Innovation

African Media Entertainment (AME) has a deep history with radio and the business of radio. From our two radio stations, OFM in Central South Africa and Algoa FM in the Eastern Cape and Garden Route, United Stations as a specialist radio sales house, MediaHeads 360 as a specialist agency with a strong audio influence and Moneyweb, AME is a business that understands the power and value of audio.

Our radio teams have intimate knowledge in catering to audiences, understanding the nuance of seasons, times of the day and what makes the music we play so popular. We’ve spent years catering to, and receiving feedback from, our audiences, sculpting playlists that have become the soundtracks to their days and lives! It is with this intimate knowledge of music and audio that we are excited to introduce our newest online audio addition.

Simply Smooth

Conceptualised with a deep love of music and understanding the evolving audio landscape, AME is pleased to invite you to push play on Simply Smooth.

With a successful history in serving audiences through crafted music products, I drove the vision of building a local offering, of the internationally acclaimed Smooth Radio format. With added expertise in music and lifestyle programming by Neil Johnson and Peter de Nobrega this popular music format is set to create a unique sound that matches the relaxed South African way inspired by music and lifestyle.

As audiences embrace technology and actively engaging with audio content online, radio has evolved into being more than the box you used to listen to your favourite music on. Radio is now the all-encompassing art and science of conceptualising, creating, distributing, and engaging with audio.

Simply Smooth harnesses the power of music and the role it plays in peoples’ lives whilst acknowledging the need to be on multiple devices, embracing the power of digital. Music consumption is now not only powered by radio, but by digital audio platforms too. This is a unique place to be in as audiences can sculpt and choose their own selections based on what they feel like and their current mood. The beauty of providing a digital stream with elements of traditional radio nuance, means that we can still take the listener on a journey and provide them with an experience an algorithm is unable to provide. Streaming audio removes the guess work and provides a service that digital music services don’t offer. Coupled with this, it comes at no additional cost to the listener.

Audio and Technology

Based on bandwidth availability and the device used, the listener can control the quality of the audio stream. If the Simply Smooth stream is being accessed in a fibre rich environment on a hi-fidelity system, the user can opt for a high-quality audio stream while a lower connection could be used if one were listening on the move through your mobile phone.

The space where digital and audio meets hold infinite possibilities as one considers that rapid changes in the tech landscape in the last few years. The beauty of Simply Smooth is that it uses technology as a tool to enable communication but the power of radio to make the listening experience real and personal. In time, the listening experience and journey will become more engaged and enriched as the audience will be able to directly interact with their favourite audio stream.

AME has always looked to bridge the divide between technology and audiences. Simply Smooth is a perfect example of how the company has embraced the digital world, providing a platform to connect with audiences through the universal power of music.

The Simply Smooth Sound

In a world of digital options and clutter it could be easy to be get lost in the noise.

Simply Smooth understands the challenges of going digital as much as we understand our audience. We’ve harnessed the years of knowledge gained from our media platforms at AME and combined it with our acute sense of the on-line and on-demand digital world to create Simply Smooth.

With a focus on digital metro dwellers with urban lifestyle choices and influences, Simply Smooth will deliver a uniquely local influence in music. The station will still deliver the best smooth options from around the globe with hit after hit after hit: all the songs you love with their cherished memories you cherish and the songs that have influenced your life. At the same time, Simply Smooth will make sure you’re still creating new memories with the latest contemporary hits, streamed to you 24/7, with no additional cost.

From classics to contemporary hits. Nostalgia to new influences. Sing along and Soul. Rhythmic and Reggae and all the years that made music memories in the 70, 80’s, 90’s and beyond. Simply Smooth is the on-line music home for those who enjoy sophisticated sounds and a lifestyle driven by music hits.

Simply Smooth will become the first choice when considering an on-line music option to suit a discerning music taste in a modern listening environment. Simply Smooth is for music lovers and those who love to listen to music.

Tune In and Become Simply Smooth

Simply Smooth is an always on music companion and available on www.simplysmooth.co.za, no subscription necessary.

Click, listen, and enjoy all the music you love in one place. You’ll hear local icons who’ve influenced the global stage from Johnny Clegg and Zahara, to global icons who’ve played on our local stages like Michael Bublé and Michael Jackson.

We look forward to your drum solo with Phil Collins, your duet with Adele, your sold-out concerts with Robbie Williams, your cabaret sessions with Lira and Sting, and your world tour with John Legend.

Start your Simply Smooth journey with us; just push play.

Written by Dave Tiltmann, CEO of African Media Entertainment (AME).

Wed, 21 Jul 2021 / Published in AME, LATEST NEWS

In July of last year, Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams published a policy direction asking ICASA to fast track the licensing of digital radio broadcasting services in South Africa. Radio insiders were encouraged to see DAB+ mentioned specifically as an integral component of her digital radio standards plan.

A year on, the question of whether DAB+ is a viable opportunity in a country like ours — where radio is a huge medium for people to consume information, news, and entertainment every day — still lingers. One thing remains clear; although internet connectivity is improving around the country, there simply isn’t enough access or bandwidth for everyone to move from FM onto streaming. We need something else and DAB+ is a viable candidate that shows great promise. But what kind of impact could DAB+ have on the South African radio broadcasting landscape as a whole?

DAB+: A digital radio technology standard

Back in the late 1980’s, a digital radio technology standard was defined as part of a European research project. It laid the foundations for the creation of what we now know as DAB+ (digital audio broadcasting plus), a global radio standard that sets out to be a viable digital alternative to traditional AM/FM broadcasting. DAB+ is topical in South Africa because it was recently advertised in the Government Gazette — an encouraging sign that suggests forward motion and a goal to make it widely available to everyone in the long run.

Global integration

In the same way that the country has been slow on the uptake of digital terrestrial TV, there is an argument that DAB+ is nearly two decades late in South Africa. This is more evident when you consider that over 470 million people around the world can already receive DAB broadcasts.

Even though DAB is widely available elsewhere, widespread integration has been a challenge. Norway is one of the rare countries where DAB+ has been totally integrated and is the only choice for people to listen to alongside online streaming. Ireland is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The country switched off all DAB services in March of this year, citing cost effectiveness and low market penetration as some of the reasons for abandonment.

Access to receivers and the cost barrier

The examples of challenges elsewhere might indicate possible integration challenges in South Africa too. A key problem faced in many markets is that existing FM units are not able to pick up DAB+. They can’t even receive transmissions from DAB, its predecessor. Even radios that can receive DAB won’t be able to receive DAB+. Only DAB+ sets are backwards compatible, so all citizens will need these to gain access transmissions to begin with.

Because access to physical receivers is so limited, there would need to be conversations with companies who are able to manufacture and distribute these at low cost. With a base cost of roughly R300 for a bottom end DAB+ receiver there is a lot of ground to be covered before it becomes as popular as FM.   More advanced receivers that show pictures and streaming text are vastly more expensive. Although some new vehicles and cellphones have DAB+ capability built in, there is a long way to go to get mass coverage.

How DAB+ could change the face of radio in South Africa

If there was widespread access to receivers, and the cost barrier was removed, DAB+ could be a real game changer in South Africa. On a traditional transmitter, where you have one FM frequency, you have access to a single radio station. On a DAB mux (or multiplex), one “frequency” has around twenty different options to listen to, depending on the quality the broadcaster decides to stream. This gives broadcasters the opportunity to access multiple channels, to reach more audiences, and there is a major knock-on effect from there.

DAB+ would potentially create an additional layer of audio opportunity for radio stations in new markets that they wouldn’t have been able to reach through traditional AM or FM stations. Take Gqeberha based Algoa FM, for example. They could apply for a DAB frequency because they want to provide a service to audiences in Cape Town and Durban alongside their existing FM listener base. It would turn them into a national radio station overnight, without the worry of having to migrate shows to a streaming environment that won’t be able to handle the bandwidth load presented by their audience.  A group of established streaming stations could also apply for a DAB+ mux together and offer their existing on-line music and content services to a bigger audience.

An opportunity to serve the underserved

DAB+ could also allow stations like these to reach places that were truly unreachable before for the first time. It creates an opportunity for underserved (rural) communities to have access to broadcasts where traditional FM frequencies struggle to, can’t or haven’t been legally licensed to reach previously underserved communities. This creates a variety of engagement opportunities based on geography, religion, sport and even education. Consider an educational radio station with several DAB+ frequencies, broadcasting simultaneously across the entire country. It could target high school students during exam time, quite literally becoming the “William Smith” of radio and reaching millions of scholars in the process.

Opening a door to new brand synergies

The amplified broadcasting opportunities would also naturally open new opportunities for innovative brand synergies as well. Radio groups like the National Community Radio Forum or some of the existing commercial radio players could create DAB muxes where they have blended programming from several of their stations in territories where there aren’t FM receivers.

This is an advertiser’s dream, granting brands access to new markets through a vehicle that they know well and trust already. Consider campaigns that target people who speak a certain language but have never been able to listen to a station on traditional radio due to geographical constraints and the language barrier. With multiple streaming avenues and targeted campaigns, stations and brands could finally begin to reach similar audiences in their native tongue for the very first time.

The DAB+ content opportunity

We can’t talk about the potential of DAB+ without mentioning the content creation opportunity. Whereas the content presented on traditional radio has an audience ceiling (and is limited to the amount of FM frequencies available), DAB+ is essentially an unlimited opportunity. As more channels become available, the content opportunity grows, and more people (jobs) will be needed to populate that content. As has been seen in the upswing of podcasting, this allows brands to invest in people who are creating interesting, topical, and engaging content. DAB+ essentially becomes the new home of exciting, high quality content that is widely available for listeners to consume, purely based on their own personal interests and preferences.

An optimistic outlook for DAB+

Despite that it has taken a long time — as well as technical challenges and a cost barrier that will need to be dealt with — DAB+ shows real promise and opportunity in South Africa.

It has the potential to create an additional layer for broadcasters to work with, it exposes audiences previously kept in the dark to existing and niche programming, and it gives brands the opportunity to amplify their efforts while speaking directly to their target market in the process. Content creators will also have additional platforms and scope to create and express themselves on.

A blended approach seems the most logical approach as we look for ways to utilise (and monetise) the DAB+ spectrum. At AME we have always loved audio and the connection it makes with people. Our two radio stations (OFM and Algoa FM) are well positioned to create new listening opportunities for audiences outside their traditional FM reach. Our Team at the Central Media Group hold an ENCS license as our first step to leveraging the DAB+. Additional platforms and technology are good for the entire broadcast business from platform owners, technical suppliers, content creators and ultimately the audience. It is however in our hands as the industry to drive the process.