A Growing Audience but Little Money to Show; Why Digital Media Is Struggling in Kenya

Will traditional media cope with the rapid changes?

Ringier AG team from across different markets during the Ringier Management Conference (RMC) in Switzerland 2019.

The media world has experienced rapid changes over the years. From traditional media to digital media which involves creating content (text, audio, graphics and video) that can be transmitted over the internet .

The shift to digital borne outlets has been hailed as the future of journalism, especially with the changing readership patterns by audiences.

Most media houses have oriented their content towards millennials, who consume most content through mobile phones, they prefer simplified texts, with a lot of imagery and appealing to the eye.

Digital platforms in Kenya have picked up well going by the number of websites both that have been started by legacy media houses and new publishers in the market: Pulse Live Kenya, (won the most innovative in publishing 2018), Nairobinews and Nation.co.ke (Nation Media Group), Citizentv.co.ke and Edaily (Royal Media Services), Tuko.co.ke, Kenyans.co.ke, Zumi.co.ke, hivisasa.com, mpasho.co.ke, The Star, Kiss 100 and Classic 105, (the last four are owned by Radio Africa) among others.

The increase of these platforms is a good sign of how well digital media has been embraced by millennials.

However, while the buzz of excitement has been in the air over the new publishing formats, the elephant in the room has been monetization of content and selling the same.

Legacy media houses still make their money primarily from print advertising, radio and TV and often give digital ads as add-ons.

Monetization involves conversion of digital media products such as engagement, reach, interaction, pageviews, unique users and video views into revenues.

These fears have been amplified by the recent cost-cutting in media houses across the world, in Europe Huffington Post and Buzzfeed hailed as the future of media, announced they would fire hundreds of employees to increase profit margins.

In Kenya, Royal Media Services (RMS), owned by SK Macharia fired over 100 employees in 2016 while Nation Media Group (NMG) in the same year, fired an unknown number of employees and shut down two radio stations and one TV channel that included QFM, Nation FM and merged QTV with NTV. The latter has announced other layoffs over the last 3 years.

Despite the positive growth, the conundrum that remains is, "how to turn content to profit" how do publishers convert pageviews, unique users and sessions into money? How do we turn the reach, video views and engagement on social media platforms into Money?

I (Martin Wachira, Editor-in-Chief at Pulse Live) in 2018 had a friendly sit down with fellow publishers at DusitD2 as we engaged some representatives from Facebook, the cry was one, how do we monetize the reach on our platforms?

Sadly, this question never got a solution-oriented feedback but from the meeting we knew that media houses could not rely only on RPMs and Instant articles because the money was so little from Facebook.

Has the Kenyan market been receptive to the new forms of media? Do they understand execution of campaigns? I have engaged sales representatives in the digital era and picked up key points with the problem of selling digital media products.

1. Clients are still stuck in traditional media

While the country has seen immense growth and progress in digital media, most brands in Kenya still trust the traditional forms of advertising which include Billboards, Radio and TV.

Most corporates also have heads at the helm who still believe in legacy media and are not well versed with digital outlets. This means that they don’t comprehend the long term impact and some are unable to interpret the data report driven by digital.

"Having been in the digital space for more than 10 years, clients are still struggling to embrace the medium seeing as they do not know how to deduce the data that is derived from the medium and advise how it fits their marketing objective.

“There is a need for training for all the marketing/brand managers in understanding the medium then knowing how to interpret data so as to know how to mix the different facets that the medium has such as social, web, mobile, native - context and video," a sales representative with RADP tells this journalist.

While clients have expressed concern regarding data, we have excellent tools on digital platforms that can measure the success of a campaign ranging from Google Analytics, CrowdTangle, Data from Facebook pages, Impressions and Retweets from Twitter.

However, traditional media still remains the most popular medium. In 2018, a survey done by the Kenya Audience Research Foundation (KARF) indicated that Kenyans still trusted traditional media as their first source of information.

2. Clients are not familiar with Native Advertising

Native advertising is paid content by a client that will match the look and format of the media house and deliver the message as intended and accepted by the audience who don't want to be spammed by banners (hence adblocker extensions) but rather be entertained and informed

Native has become one of the recent innovative ways of advertising across markets because the audience enjoys the content while at the same time the brand's message is understood and is being beamed as the future of revenues for digital media.

Native blends in with content thus it has a higher click rate due to the acceptance. On top of that, through Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Keywords for the brands as well as campaigns can be optimized for search engines.

Top rankings, especially on the first page of Google, Bing or Yahoo increases brand awareness for people looking for that product. There is also a sense of trust if your brand appears on top of these platforms.

Over time, organic search for brands can grow especially if a brand is always appearing on the first pages of search engines and increase traffic for websites of that particular brand.

However, the challenge in Kenya has been that most clients have a mindset in which they advocate that brands should always shout or always appear to be at the front of the audience all the time with little regard to how the customers will perceive it.

"Advertising should be able to reflect what a brand represents , but most importantly also what customers want. Putting the needs of the customer first then the brand purpose next improves the way an ad is received by the customer," a digital market researcher mentions.

3. Budget for Digital Advertising

Brands allocate a meagre budget for digital advertising, this is informed by lack of proper understanding of it and not knowing how to interpret data generated by the platforms.

Coupled with less familiarity on digital matters and still trusting tradition media for advertisements, the process of approving such budgets for most corporates is hectic.

4. Quick returns mentality

This is another hurdle whereby clients expect quick returns from digital advertising for far less money than traditional media. A section of clients lack the patience to build a brand apart from setting Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

Clients need to understand that building a brand takes time and you require resources to attend to this pages with the right content strategy. Social media platforms need people who will handle the audience,engage them and this can only be achieved with the right strategies and approach.

5. Google and Facebook

While publishers have been earning from Facebook and Google, ecpm and rpm have been so low and can't sustain media houses globally. It now falls on the media houses to leverage on their followers and explore direct clients and social media management as part of generating more money.

Why Digital Advertising?

Digital media is here to stay and it’s the new way of engaging consumers, especially millenials, with a specific target audience (TA) in mind.

The best part about digital advertising in all its facets - video, social media, mobile, web, display, native - is that there are tools used to measure and give real time reports regarding views, impressions, reach and engagement. In addition, the brand understands the perception consumers have of the product effective immediately.

The tools used to generate accurate reports/data enables a marketer to know if a campaign is working or not and tweak it to fit the positive attributes of the campaign. Instant feedback and interaction is the new way of interacting with audiences.


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