Online radio: all foam no beer?

Three years ago‚ Gareth Cliff left 5FM and announced he would be launching an online radio portal.

Online radio was certainly not new in South Africa‚ but Cliff‚ the first ‘big name’ to throw his prowess into the digital sphere‚ is considered the forefather of the Mzansi ‘unradio’ revolution. Two other contenders recently entered the ring in the form of Tbo Touch and DJ Sbu. But what does it all really mean for audiences and is the South African market ready for the leap?

“Traditional radio should be afraid. What was relevant in 99’ is not relevant today. If you look at the migration from terrestrial to digital‚ it’s inevitable because consumption of media on cellphones‚ tablets and any digital platform is growing immensely versus the conventional platforms‚” said Tbo Touch at the launch of his online portal Touch HD.

Initially launched in collaboration with Gareth Cliff’s CliffCentral‚ the radio jock said a business decision was made to separate the two platforms as “CliffCentral is talk radio” and “Touch HD is music.”

He admits that there was confusion over the branding (his project was initially called TouchCentral) and made the decision to break away from the CliffCentral brand.

Although Touch may be the newest member to the online radio game‚ he has certainly made a name for himself‚ with well-known personalities making deep dents on his impressive bedpost.

Tim Modise‚ Glen Lewis‚ Khabonina Qubeka and Thembisa Mdoda are just some of the personalities he has convinced to join his venture.

Tbo Touch welcomes another big star to Touch HD

Both Touch and Cliff have been the driving forces behind the #datamustfall campaign‚ probably the biggest single problem facing online radio stations.

Vodacom and MTN told TshisaLIVE the networks are “committed to reduce data costs for customers.”

“From a Vodacom perspective‚ the average price our customers paid for data has fallen by more than 60% over the past four years and by circa 15% in the past year alone‚” said Vodacom’s Londi Sibisi.

MTN also insists it is working to service the customer by offering free streaming on the network (CliffCentral/Touch HD).

“The TouchCentral partnership gives credence to the pledge the operators and the industry stakeholders have undertaken to work together to drive down the costs of data. As part of this partnership and as a commitment to this undertaking‚ MTN has zero-rated access to the platform by allowing customers to stream the station free when they have an active MTN data bundle‚” said MTN’s Mamello Raborifi.

The networks‚ however‚ have been accused of spewing PR babble with very little real effect on the average South African consumer.

While online radio battles the data war‚ the other frothy debate is that of advertising and where it gets its revenue.

“Advertisers are generally creatures of habit. Media planners in particular stick to what they know and the reason why they opt for safe choices as opposed to being early adopters of new tech / channels‚” said Retroviral’s Mike Sharman.

Sharman‚ the co-founder of Retroviral‚ an online communications agency says that advertisers are still hesitant to invite in digital as opposed to traditional radio.

“Mass-reach media attracts higher budgets. Media buyers can spend more on traditional channels; the safe options are things that people are au fait with. Media buying is largely commission based. These are a few reasons for hesitation‚” he explained.

At the same time‚ the beauty of online radio is the ability to reach a niche market and as more and more people make the digital leap‚ so too will the interest of those holding the purse strings.

So‚ is traditional radio worried?

Well‚ the SABC seems unfazed with spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago telling TshisaLIVE that it’s not up to the public broadcaster to decide if internet radio is a threat.

“There are specialists in their respective fields who do what they do‚ and as specialists in radio we do what we do. Radio has been around for many years and new mediums like internet radio did not start now. Over the years there’s been newspapers‚ social media‚ digital media and those mediums did not do damage to radio.”

Primedia‚ the media group which owns 947‚ Cape Talk‚ 702 and KFM says it is excited about the future of radio and it is always looking at new ways to evolve.

“As radio specialists we have the skills and talent to create compelling audio content – to tell stories. We are now always looking to find new and better ways of creating and sharing content that appeals to the right audience‚ on the right platforms. We’ve been podcasting and streaming our audio for many years‚ and have hosted pop-up internet radio stations around certain issues or campaigns‚” said Primedia’s Pippa Rowles.


The swords are raised but before any wounds can occur‚ the small issue of the online measuring system is still questioned by many.

“It’s been interesting to note a little conversation / debate has been aired in the public domain with regards to RAMS and the incorrect formulation of listener stats. Internet radio was crucified when stats were recorded as sessions instead of unique listeners. Radio and TV has always traded in hypotheticals of listenership and viewership and not black and white figures‚” said Sharman.

More froth than beer? For the moment‚ perhaps. But before long you’ll be enjoying an ice-cold Zamalek.

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