The advent of Metro FM, SAfm, RSG, Good Hope FM, 5FM and Ukhozi FM fairly doing well albeit the SABC’s tarnished reputation is a sign that there are discrepancies between talent and powers that be. The aforementioned stations are excellent and very popular radio stations with huge and loyal audiences.
So, while the national broadcaster’s upper management may be challenged (to be kind), this is not impacting on the running of the SABC radio stations.
While this hasn’t impacted on the popularity of the various stations, the stigma of the SABC’s tarnished reputation has affected advertising, according to Eugene Zwane, general manager of SABC radio sales.
Zwane and his team have had to work exceptionally hard to overcome this when selling ad space on their stations.
“Our audience performances are consistent and we have a dedicated sales team,” says Zwane. In 2010, he says, there were problems with placing ads, billing and making money in sales. Then Anton Heunis was made commercial enterprises group executive and Zwane was appointed to his present position and things changed substantially.
“We brought in real leadership and sorted out our teams. That took a while and, in fact, we are still working on it to this day because of budget and talent issues,” says Zwane. “At the time the culture was toxic and we had to get rid of the bad eggs and bring in people to add value. We dealt with cultural problems and we energised the team. We brought in fresh ideas from outside and improved in terms of our service delivery.”
Since then, he says, radio has been doing fairly well. “We’ve been growing double digits annually ever since. This year, we’re looking good,” he says. They didn’t do quite as well (around nine percent growth) as over the last four years but, he says, “it has been a much tougher year”.
One of the strong points of SABC radio is having stations that reach every national language group in South Africa. But it is a challenge getting advertising in the various languages.
“The industry is reluctant to invest in languages. For me this is a major issue and that included Afrikaans. Some years ago, a decision was made that the television channels would accept advertising in English even if the rest of the content was in another language. There are visuals that can support the audio but for radio, that doesn’t work, not to mention the regulatory prescriptions that won’t allow it. The industry’s reluctance is a challenge, but we acknowledge that there aren’t sufficient vernacular creatives in our industry.”
So SABC has just launched its own creative agency that will focus on vernacular advertising. “We want to position ourselves as the best creative house for radio, and vernacular radio in particular,” says Zwane. “Our view is if we don’t do it, we can’t expect someone else to do it for us. This will work as a resource to the industry, not so much to make money but to assist this process and show how it can be done.”
And while the commercial radio owners spend a great deal of money and energy on innovation and making sure they are providing cutting edge media, the SABC hasn’t – until recently, that is. It has now created a position for a head of innovation in radio, who will be responsible for developing new and different ideas that can be implemented, says Zwane.
“From our research, we are aware that there is a perception that the SABC is boring and not funky. People think that about the national broadcaster but not really about the particular brands. Anyhow, we acknowledged the challenge and have acted on it.”
Zwane says the criticism that the SABC is old fashioned and unchanging is inaccurate. “The one thing that we do well that we seldom get credit for is that we understand the listener,” says Zwane. “We do extensive research on listenership and what people want to hear. That’s been one of our saving graces.”
He admitted that there are challenges in any environment constrained by leadership battles, budget problems and political issues. “You can’t move forward, so we haven’t moved with speed on the innovation front like our competitors but we hope that, going into the future, we can catch up in many areas and get ahead of the pack in the others.”
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