Primedia on the road to growing digital revenues
As a company looking to grow its online business, Primedia Broadcasting’s Geraint Crwys-Williams says there may be room in the local market to create a pay-radio service but that issues of connectivity still hold broadcasters back from being able to effectively grow their digital revenues.
In an interview with Business Day, Crwys-Williams, who serves as Primedia Broadcasting’s chair and acting CEO, said he believes “consumers are prepared to pay for content if it’s premium content and if it’s unique content that’s relevant to their lives. With the proliferation of content, if there isn’t something unique for consumers, then I don’t think they’ll pay for it.”
Primedia’s broadcast portfolio includes Cape Talk, 947, Kfm, EWN and SA’s largest commercial talk radio station, 702. The group’s shareholders are the Mineworkers Investment Company, Ethos, FirstRand and Old Mutual. Outside SA, Primedia has a presence in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.
“If you look at the large streaming players like Spotify, they are all battling to be profitable,” he says.
Spotify is the largest music streaming service in the world with 286-million users in 2020, accounting for about 35% on the global market, according to data from, Statista. But even then, the Swedish company has taken a big bet on digital broadcasting, through its investments in podcasting.
Analysts say the rationale makes sense as it means Spotify can make higher margins and retain the intellectual property of the podcasts it produces vs its music model where billions are sent to record companies each year in the form of royalties.
But in SA the move to digital forms of broadcasting is still niche. “We’ve got the added difficulty that data is so expensive and isn’t ubiquitous,” Crwys-William says. “As data costs come down and data is more accessible in SA, then I think some of those models become more possible. Solve for connectivity first so that we can have more paid for online services,” he says, explaining how Primedia is thinking about growing its broadcast business beyond terrestrial radio.
Crwys-William says they have an appetite to open up more radio stations but due to regulations by the Independent Communications Authority of SA, “we’re prohibited from acquiring any new broadcasting licences in SA,” which is where digital comes in.
“From a digital streaming perspective, that is something we’re actively engaged in. You will see announcements from us relatively soon in terms of products that we will be taking to market from a streaming perspective. That will remain an area that we look to from a growth point of view,” he says.
The group already has a large presence online with 702’s The Money Show with Bruce Whitfield being one of the top shows on podcast platform, iono.fm, together with millions of views for 947’s YouTube videos.
As a private company, Primedia does not disclose its internal listenership figures or revenues.
After four decades in broadcast house, Primedia is going through a period of change, having recently shed staff, while working to rebrand SA’s largest talk radio station and grow its revenues from digital products.
In an effort to increase its listenership and perhaps help to clean some of the negative attention on the company recently, it has gone about a rebranding of its flagship commercial talk radio property, 702. The refresh comes with the introduction of a new tagline, “Let’s Walk The Talk”, along with a new logo for the station.
Crwys-Williams said the relaunch is in line with the station’s 40th anniversary and effort to “re-establish our community connection”.
To get to the bottom of 702’s sagging audience numbers, which in January had dropped to 410,000 daily from an earlier high of 500,000, the station sent out 4,000 detailed surveys to listeners. This feedback was then used to craft a new brand identity and profile for the station.
According to Broadcast Research Council of SA, 702 has 440,000 listeners in March, just before the lockdown came into effect. Its most popular property, 947, had 945,000 listeners at the time.
In recent months, Primedia, has not garnered the best sentiment as it underwent a retrenchment process. This saw 71 positions affected and 36 people losing their jobs at the company. Crwys-Williams said this action was necessary as the company’s structure was not “fit for purpose”.
The group received backlash from the public and former staff when veteran broadcaster Aki Anastasiou was let go in August as part of the process.
Operating mainly in Johannesburg and Cape Town, the next problem for Primedia to tackle is finding ways to monetise its online audience, which effectively allows its stations to have a national presence.
As things stand, the group’s revenues are driven by advertisers in Gauteng, Western Cape and those with national campaigns. Crwys-Williams said they have not yet been able to tap into advertisers from other parts of the country.
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