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Digitalization and Mobile Innovation: Challenges and Opportunities for the Radio Landscape

Joburg Radio Days 2014

From the challenges through new technology to radio apps as future revenue possibilities for radio stations to digital broadcasting: The fifth edition of the Joburg Radio Days had a wide range of topics on the menu. The main focus of the three-day conference was on the future of radio and how the ever growing new technologies affect not only producers but also users, listeners and advertisers. With excellent speakers from all corners of Africa and Europe Joburg Radio Days sure made an impact on how radio will develop on the African continent.

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The first day of conference started with a panel discussion on Radio as being a Brave New World. Technology is creating a brave new world for all media nowadays and in this panel discussion experts gave their opinion on how radio can grow in that new environment. Encouraging words came from Franz Krüger, director of Wits Radio Academy and host of the Radio Days: “Digitalization does not change the space radio has in our lives. Radio is destined to cover up with social media better than print because people always got involved easily with radio.” Just as much Larry Rosin, president of Edison Research in the US, claimed that the future of radio will lie in it is unique content. He showed figures of his research investigations that showed clearly that people are more and more turning to internet radio players, apps and music streaming services like Spotify and Pandora if they want to listen to music. Radio can only score if it takes advantage of its personal and emotional connection with the listener via content. “The range of possibilities is huge, but there is still place for good radio”, was the conclusion of Larry Rosin. A role-model for the intelligent use of new technologies and social media and how to grow alongside them gave Katy Katopodis, Editor-in-Chief of Eyewitness News. This radio station came up with a brand-new multimedia platform covering only the trial of Oscar Pistorius. Additional to regular radio coverage, they filled up Twitter, audio streamed the trial and partnered with DSTV’s Oscar Pistorius channel. “How do you get your audience to consume your news? That is the big challenge nowadays. Serve the story rightly and capture them with great content which they don’t get elsewhere”, said Katy Katopodis. Similar remarks were made by Matt Deegan and James Cridland - both worked for the BBC - in terms of digitalization and the resulting opportunities for radio broadcasters. With radio becoming digital there is also the chance to grow and to expand your successful brand with new frequencies and a greater range. Especially in South Africa where DAB is about to be launched their presentations gave a great insight about what can be done in the future.

The second day of conference focused on public and community radios. It started off with a controversial discussion about the public radio in South Africa. Prof. Anton Harber of Wits University claimed that SABC has done a lot in the last twenty past years to enhance democracy. But he also warned them not to stop and create an environment for journalists that is free of repression and full of creative chances. Hlaudi Motsoneng, SABC’s acting COO, defended himself and his broadcasting company eagerly against alleged corruption and politically influenced reporting as claimed by the other panellists and from the panel floor. He even claimed for more media regulation and licenses being handed out to journalists. Prof. Anton Harber commented that “if I hear the COO of SABC talking about regulation, it worries me a lot.” This discussion showed that public broadcasters are always under civil surveillance and need to be in the future.

A vibrant example of how innovative and still significant a public broadcaster can be in times of constant media change gave Cilla Benkö, head of Swedish public radio. She explained how she got her staff trained on networks like Facebook and Twitter to become the leading voice in Swedish Radio. Furthermore she showed how the Sverige Radio cooperated with the streaming service Spotify in order to become a trendsetter in music and reach a whole new audience. One of the most important targets is to use audience networks in order to get the content on air that listeners really care about. But she also made a clear statement of what the tasks of public media stations are: “We have to play a vital role for democracy.” The second day closed by African station managers giving an insight of their work and how they struggle in an ever repressive environment. Zenzele Ndebele of Radio Dialogue in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, spoke about his challenges to set up and run a radio station in country with no freedom of expression. He told about police raids, the struggle with getting licences for their stations and the corruption of the state-owned media sector.

The third and last day of conference concentrated on radio and youth. The question raised was if radio is getting the youth wrong. Jan-Philippe Schlüter, ARD correspondent for Southern Africa and ex-editor-in-Chief at the youth station DasDing, asked if radio is getting the youth at all and explained due to his experience from broadcasting youth radio what they did to keep in touch with the youth such as keeping their staff young, creating a Youtube channel and eagerly involving social media. The challenge for youth radio in all countries is to serve the younger ones content they can relate to. Lerato Makate of campus radio VoW FM claimed that young people are willing to listen to talk radio as well as just music. But the content has to interest them. In an ever growing environment of digital change and a million opportunities to listen to, radio has to create content that is worth listening otherwise people – not just young ones – will tune out.

The Joburg Radio Days as well praised radio as well as it shed light on the challenges it will have to face in the future. But all attendants agreed on the motto that radio will have a bright future if it goes on staying in touch with people and serving them content they cannot get elsewhere.

Eva Limmer

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Christoph Plate

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Director Media Programme Southeast Europe +359 2 942-4971 +359 2 94249-79


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