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Kenya’s Media Nation Group tackles changing landscape with a multi-platform strategy

The tectonic plates are shifting in Africa’s media landscape. Mobiles and the Internet are beginning to eat at the edges of traditional media. Additional channels are transforming broadcast TV programming and Pay-TV is making the competition for new content hot up. Thus far the reaction from most African media houses has been piecemeal : some talk about local content, a bit of web development and some SMS services. Russell Southwood talked to Ian Fernandes, Managing Director of the Nation Media Group’s Digital and Broadcasting Division about its multi-platform strategy.

Ian Fernandes’ career has come a full circle: he started in charge of the Nation Media Group’s Broadcasting, then went off to run its Digital Division and is now in charge of both the Broadcasting and Digital Division. Beyond a steady career progression, there’s an underlying logic to this progress.

He’s looking at dividing the company’s online strategy into three parts: news, entertainment (through things like VOD) and e-commerce. Although it’s early days, it’s clear that different media will feed into these areas rather than necessarily being distinct in their own right.

In the broadcast area, the company has now resolved past legal disputes and got ownership of a new analogue TV channel. It will use this to launch a new entertainment channel in the coming period. As with Kiss TV and Classic TV’s recent launches, this will mark a transition from channels that do everything (news, entertainment, sport, etc) to subject-themed channels.

Fernandes is also looking at offering a 12-14 channel Pay-TV bouquet that would reach the whole of East Africa. Satellite is currently the favourite as the delivery medium but given its investment in fibre, it is watching what happens with IP-TV very closely.

On the Internet front, the Nation’s web site currently gets 1.9 million page views, of which around 50% (950,000-1 million) are local. This level of use has been achieved in a market that has had slow and expensive bandwidth. The future can only see it expand with cheaper, faster bandwidth both increasing use levels and drawing in new users. Fernandes wants to be able to deliver customisation for users so that they get the content they want.

It has implemented VOD on its site with news clips from NTV delivered using You Tube:”Currently we can’t figure out where the money will come from. All clips are free”. It also has some content on mobile operator Safaricom’s site which people can download and watch on their mobile:”Safaricom just started in July with our downloads and the technical issues have now been ironed out. We have yet to get the true figures on a fully working service.” But Fernandes warns:”Mobile TV is not working.”

The clips can be anything from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. The Bullseye segment of its news programme gets tens of thousands of downloads but other clip downloads are currently in the thousands. It also offer SMS news alerts on mobile phones which as Fernandes notes, “everyone has now. Breaking News did not bring in as much revenue as last year but it had a bigger impact during things like the post-election violence. The users are mainly the younger people.”

But just as elsewhere, the advertisers, who in the main underwrite media, have not really caught up with the changes. Internet advertising in Kenya was less than 1% last year but has declined from even that low position this year. According to Fernandes, in a time of economic crisis, “many advertisers have been cutting costs and see Internet advertising as an experiment.”

The Nation has a daily circulation of 200,000 with the Sunday edition getting 300,000 readers, presumably the latter is the day when its readers are less able to borrow a copy. Its main competitor the Standard has an 80,000 circulation that has remained largely static. The Nation claims 8 readers per copy sold giving a total readership of 1.7 million. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see that the online edition is fast closing the gap on its paper brother: unique visits have increased 20% since September 2008.

Educated advertisers understand what online is all about and can get the statistics. But according to Fernandes:”The ad agencies are sold on it but the clients still think traditional. Bosses want to see a print or TV ads and there are still relatively few people advertising online.”

Fernandes would probably be the first person to admit that he does not have all the answers but he does have a multi-platform strategy that will help him understand and take advantage of the change in the media landscape that will accelerate over the next five years.

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