South Africa's sleeping online media giants

Some media companies have embraced the online era and are now reaping the rewards. Others have been slow to wake up to the promise of online publishing. Here are four media companies, where we may see greater things:

Avusa (formerly Johncom): It’s probably wrong to call this media company a sleeping giant, as it has recently woken up. For a long time it’s been a laggard in the online space, despite having big media assets. Its archrivals, Independent in IOL and Media24 in, have stormed ahead of Avusa.

But we are seeing a turnaround. Avusa’s online strategy has seen an injection of energy and talent. The company is climbing up the local web rankings, hovering near the top five mark. Avusa has also solved a branding problem with their flagship brand, “The Sunday Times”. It’s a powerful brand, but the “Sunday” never worked in the dynamic web context.

The new umbrella online brand, “The Times Online”, has given us a glimpse of greater things to come. Their brave, new converged newspaper-web operation has an aggressive multimedia and blog strategy. They’ve also cleaned out one of the brightest Rhodes University new media classes, literally hiring an entire year’s worth of students to run with the new strategy. One gets the feeling there is more to come here, although there doesn’t appear to be a strong commercial model attached to their sites, which look like they are run more as cost centres than profitable entities. This is the poorest of the performers and the most disappointing if you consider the resources the public broadcaster has at its disposal. With the SABC’s extensive TV and radio assets, it is has some of the most powerful multimedia in the world. In the online context, it could easily be the “” of Africa.

But “” has a poor website and apparently not much of a strategy. The design is weak and the navigation clunky. If you consider that the internet is able to transcend boundaries in Africa and all over the world, it’s strange that the SABC has not taken it’s online publishing arm seriously.

The media conglomerate’s news site was ranked a mere 33 on the Online Publishers Association rankings, behind single magazine websites that have a fraction of the SABC’s reach in print terms. should be the leading news site not only in South Africa, but the continent. It should be a national asset that we are proud of. Perhaps the public broadcaster is too embroiled in politicking, to care about innovation? news: This is a giant that you would bet will soon awake., unlike the SABC, did not attempt a half-baked web strategy. It just stayed clear of this, until it could be done properly. Currently, its website is a basic collection of TV listings.

The company has a strong news brand and a culture of innovation. It has been dabbling with a mobile presence for some time and is now set for a 24-hour channel on Satellite TV. In many respects, is poised to own the multimedia online news space, especially as broadband takes hold.

Caxton: The company is a dark horse when it comes to online strategies. It has established a website for the Citizen newspaper, but the site was launched quietly and is largely incognito. Its rather sparse website shows potential, but there doesn’t seem to be significant investment in it. Given the company’s legendry fiscal tightness, it’s unknown whether the web will be a core part of Caxton’s future for a while. The web needs investment, and a company needs to weigh up the short term investment to benefit from the long term reward. Most experienced online media outlets are beyond this point, with their online media divisions already showing profits.

M-Net and DStv: While their online media properties are still to reach the big numbers, there are a number of advanced strategies in place by respected visionaries working at the company. Already, Multichoice is a world-wide pioneer in interactive or enhanced TV. They are pushing the mobile envelope with broadcasting to phones via DVB-H. On DStv, there is an enhanced, quasi-interactive, TV version of “”. Most M-Net programmes are accompanied by strong, interactive websites that add value, especially for “reality TV” series. The eventual arrival of cheap ubiquitous broadband will see these strategies rocket.

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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