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. Finland 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.

Mon, 28 Jun 2021 / Published in LATEST NEWS, Podcasting

Written by Chris Borain ( Head of Digital: United Stations)

AUDIO STREAM – the live stream of radio station programming via the station’s website, iono.fm or other streaming platforms

In 2019, The Infinite Dial report measured online digital audio listening and found that 44% of South Africans listened to radio on a non-radio device*.

In other words, 44% of South Africans streamed their favourite radio station at home as opposed to listening on a traditional terrestrial radio. With the high (88%) smart phone penetration in South Africa, it’s no wonder the mobile phone is the device of choice when it comes to audio streaming. The digital audio audience is also diverse, with a 50/50 gender split and 71% under the age of 54.

Significant is that this research was done before the world turned upside down with the Covid19 pandemic.

2020 proved to be a watershed year for audio streaming in South Africa, with no signs that the trend is slowing down in 2021. United Stations saw its available streaming audience grow by 100% to 1million streams per month across its network of radio stations and websites since the start of the pandemic.

In line with the growth seen in local digital audio, United Stations bolstered its offering by concluding an agreement to be the exclusive local commercial partner for Wondery – the world’s largest independent podcast producer. Wondery’s expertise in maximizing ROI and innovation in digital audio along with the breadth of their South African audience, added another dimension to the US network.

In traditional radio, marketers can only roll out blanket campaigns – with limited ability to target specific demographics. With online streaming however, marketers can now measure and target ads in the audio domain. Combined with a DMP (Data Management Platform), proprietary first party data is used to build a targeted digital audio campaign. To be blunt, for the first time a traditional 30 second radio spot can now be used to target the right audience, at the right time, in the right place.

The obvious benefits advertisers get with the inclusion of digital audio ads in their strategies are stunning engagement and listen-through rates.

Because linear digital audio ads are not easily skippable – digital audio is not subject to the “five second skip” phase of digital video ads –  the brand enjoys the full attention of the audience. Nielsen Media Lab claims audio ads have a 24% higher recall rate than traditional display ads.

In spite of the pandemic, digital advertising grew by 18% in 2020, as opposed to a 27% reduction in the total advertising market. (IAB-SA Internet Advertising Report 2020)

Now is the ideal time to use your brands digital budget to bolster the performance of your traditional radio campaign with a targeted digital campaign.

The best opportunities in targeted digital audio.

United Stations mix of local podcasts, live audio streams and our catch-up radio offering, are now boosted with podcasts from Wondery, the world’s largest independent podcast producer

Our comprehensive network delivers cost-effective, targeted solutions to increase the ROI of any radio advertising campaign.

Mon, 15 Mar 2021 / Published in LATEST NEWS, OFM

 While it is hard to absorb any learnings from the year that was 2020, any chance to learn something should be met with an open mind if we are to unlock any opportunity for the future. While 2020 was simply dubbed ‘stifling’, there was a silver lining amidst the dark cloud of COVID-19 for media and, most especially, for radio. 

So, what did we learn? 

We learned that while everything was falling apart and credible news was hard to come by, among its audience, OFM was one of the few brands that could be relied upon for accurate and credible information related to the Coronavirus. 

We learned that, in general, radio listening was up by 30% (Kantar) by May 2020 and that 71% of Central South Africans listened to more radio than usual, during the then lockdown, across all of OFM’s available platforms – radio, mobile and desktop apps. 

 The absence the BRC (Broadcast Research Council of South Africa) RAMS (Radio Audience Measure) meant that OFM had to further inform itself about its audience and media consumption habits. The last reading pinned OFM’s 7-day cume at 315 000 listeners. BrandMapp (who independently track economically active South African’s online activity) pinned OFM’s listenership at 479 000. Thus, while the pandemic had a limiting effect overall, this forced the brand’s hand to be more insights-driven than ever before. These independent research studies and insights paved the way for more agile products that met a demand that otherwise would have not necessarily have been discovered, such as OFM LIVE LINK and BrandMAX. 

But radio is more than an extended aerial with a tuner and speaker. The modern age has given radio the opportunity to expand and meet its audience in cyberspace. 

OFM spent much of the last three years aggressively investing in and developing adjacent offerings, like various digital platforms, including social media, desktop and mobile apps, as well as a revamped website and streaming service, OFM Stasie2. OFM’s online users have increased almost 2% year on year to 1.745-million online users by December 2020 and a further 260 000 unique online streams. All of the above excludes the ambitious podcasting planned for 2021, which includes an association with leading podcast publisher – Wondery. 

What does this all mean? 

OFM is creating an ecosystem. A place where the brand and listeners can find and access each other across various and different platforms. Discoveries fast-tracked by the Coronavirus. 

So, what do we know now? 

We know that in 2021, OFM listeners indicated that they are likely to listen to more radio, and streamed audio services, than they did in 2020. Of the little over 1 100 respondents: 

  • 54% of OFM listeners indicated that they are likely to consume more radio;
  • 65% indicated that they already listen to more radio between 06:00 and 09:00 and that many kept their radio tuned onto OFM from 6am, in the car, at home and at work. An insight, revealed time and time again from the BRC RAMs, is that OFM has one of the highest instances of time spent listening over 7 days – 20.97 hours;
  • and 16% indicated that they are likely to consume more streamed audio offerings. 

“The study indicates the absolute strength of radio and audio consumption, listener engagement, and the loyalty OFM listeners have toward OFM. In 2021, OFM turn 35 years young and the station can be proud that radio and audio consumption is getting stronger,” – Nick Efstathiou, CEO of the Central Media Group, holding company of OFM. 

This translates to the absolute value of audio. Where there is engagement, there is a prospective solution, and radio sits at the table of this digital revolution. Audio remains inescapable and OFM intends to build on the legacy of its last 35 years in audio. 

For more info, please contact Lindiwe Mtwentula on 051 5050 900, 082 416 1665, or lindiwe@ofm.co.za.