How is 24.com positioned in the market and how does it operate within Media24 as a whole?
The positioning for 24.com is focused on the consolidation of digital media assets within Media24. Centered on News24, we are dedicated to creating and sustaining uniquely African online and mobile communities. As South Africa’s largest digital publishing house, the network attracts more than six million local unique browsers monthly. Our media offerings stretch from news and finance through to parenting, travel and health – so we cover the full gamut – and what we do is leverage our position as the leading news provider in the market to introduce consumers to our lifestyle magazine content and our print and newspapers.
We know that Africa offers fantastic opportunity for mobile. South Africa is now among the top 25 countries for smartphone user growth, for example. How is 24.com taking advantage?
There are a couple of key insights to share, looking at South Africa first and then at our expansion into East and West Africa – because they are two very different markets. What has taken us a bit by surprise has been the rapid and rampant growth of Android as the operating system of choice in South Africa specifically, and how fast the transition from Android to Blackberry has taken place. Blackberry was very much the entry-level smartphone of choice, due to the way it was bundled with data, but people have moved across to Android at such a pace – and continue to do so. While our media properties are geared towards browser-based experiences – meaning they are tailored to a mobile-based or a desktop-based browser – the fast growth is happening on Android. So we have had to respond. The way we have done that is to retool our engineers. At around 60 people, we have one of the largest teams of media engineers in sub-Saharan Africa and they are now focused specifically on Android.
It’s quite different in East and West Africa however, where there is much greater fragmentation around use of devices. Devices in that region are far more diverse and we are seeing consumers operating on two, sometimes three, devices and connected to up to three networks. That’s obviously challenging for us. In addition, the application uptake is not as fast as in South Africa. Mobile browser uptake is much, much quicker. These issues mean we have to take a two-pronged approach to how we tackle the African continent as a whole.
What impact has the rapid growth of mobile had on the way you work as a business, the way you produce content and your strategy?
So here’s the thing. We try as far as we possibly can to be a technology-led business rather than a media-led business. We give a lot of emphasis to media products and services. If you think about a consumer going into an app store and all the choice they have there in front of them, we feel they will most often go for a product that gives them the best user experience over using a single brand for engagement. There are plenty of products that carry media but which are popular because they are a product people like using. The media is really secondary. So our focus is on making sure the experience is good – because we feel that just having great media brands will not be enough to succeed in the mobile space.
What are the further innovations you think we’ll see in Africa and what trends are you keeping an eye on?
Obviously we are closely monitoring trends around the adoption of smartphones. We also think there’s a lot to keep an eye on in terms of the rise of native applications and the rise of different payment methods. That will really have implications for media owners who generate revenue either through advertising or through subscriptions. The other thing we are looking at is the issue of media freedom. That’s something that I think gets glossed over a bit in this region. In many territories across Africa, the concept of media freedom or the idea that you can express yourself on a digital platform is not totally welcomed by the governing structures – so I think developments around that and how that pans out will be interesting and could have implications for the opportunities in the region.
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