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Navigating technology, innovation and partnerships for the future of African Media

Sci & Tech

In the dynamic landscape of African media, the Africa Business Media Innovators (ABMI) Forum has emerged as a pivotal hub for shaping the industry's trajectory. From its inception in 2015, this gathering of influential minds has navigated the disruptive currents of technology, mobile innovation, and economic diversity.

In an exclusive interview, Bloomberg Media Chief Executive Officer Scott Havens delves into the evolving nuances, discussing the impact of new technologies, the convergence of mobile and media, and strategies for sustainable business models. This narrative encapsulates not only the challenges but also the palpable optimism propelling Africa's media into an innovative and impactful future.

 Scott Havens  - CEO Bloomberg Media. [Courtesy]

Over the years, the Africa Business Media Innovators (ABMI) Forum has obviously evolved. Can you discuss the major trends or changes you've observed since its inception in 2015 and how these trends reflect the evolving dynamics of the African media landscape?

Since its inception in 2015, ABMI has brought together hundreds of the most influential figures shaping the media industry across the continent. While the attendees may have changed over the years as we travelled to different counties on the continent, many of the topics discussed at the beginning still remain acutely relevant.

The impact of new technologies and platforms has disrupted the whole media ecosystem, presenting both opportunities for growth, but also challenges. For one, we’ve seen a shift in the way consumers are accessing news indirectly with a proliferation of sources and social media.

The rise of misinformation, unfortunately, has been expedited by these same new technologies and platforms. Alongside this trend, there are real opportunities as overall media consumption, driven by digital, continues to grow. Digital video consumption has grown significantly, led by the Middle East & Africa.

With the price of workflow tools dropping over the last 8 years, African news publishers can now more easily engage audiences across digital, video, audio, and newsletters. Of course, the rise of AI - and the fears and enthusiasm of how to understand and deploy the technology in newsrooms ill-equipped to handle it now - was often discussed.

As ABMI gathered in Cape Town this month, there was an overarching theme that emerged - regardless of publishing platform, innovation, or technology; the need for trusted and impartial news and information remains as vital as ever.

Africa is renowned for its innovative approach to mobile technology. How do you envision the convergence of mobile technology and media shaping the future of journalism in Africa, and what specific innovations or trends are you keeping an eye on in this regard?

Mobile connectivity will continue to drive growth across the continent impacting a range of areas from financial services to education and news and media. Cheap access to devices combined with investments in Cellular infrastructure, for the youngest and fastest-growing population of any world region will mean that publishers across the continent must think “small screen first.”

With increased competition for consumers’ attention alongside audiences' higher expectations of user experience, the way in which media brands create products and experiences to meet these demands will be critical.

Alongside this on the business side, the increased pressure on advertising revenues is leading to more innovation around how publishers diversify their revenue streams in particular towards subscriptions, membership and live events.

The African media landscape is diverse and encompasses varying economic conditions. Can you provide insights into the strategies you believe are key for building and sustaining media business models across the continent, especially in the face of the evolving digital and economic challenges?

As previously mentioned, Media businesses globally have in recent years been pivoting to new business models from subscription, to membership, to live events and ever wider revenue diversification. Diversified revenue streams are now “table stakes” in building a long-term sustainable media business model.

It’s clearly more difficult for African media to work in markets with more challenging economic conditions, however, partnerships can offer a way for media organisations to weather some of these factors and reach news audiences. It's also imperative for media companies to build lean and efficient teams; cost discipline is a differentiator.

As AI increasingly plays a pivotal role in news production, what ethical considerations do you think newsrooms in Africa and globally should prioritize to maintain trust, accuracy, and integrity in reporting? How should the media approach these ethical considerations when implementing AI technologies?

Human oversight for any newsroom is still key to upholding journalistic standards, however, it’s clear that AI has the potential to lead to operational efficiencies and new product growth. Newsrooms will need to be thoughtful about how they use AI, how they communicate to users when they are using AI and be very careful with quality control.

We’ve all heard about “AI hallucinations” and there’s no faster way to erode trust with your audiences, then by providing factually incorrect data and information.

Legacy media has built trust with audiences over the years through reliable and trusted journalism and the credibility engendered must be protected.

There has been a notable shift globally towards innovative storytelling formats, such as multimedia and interactive content. How can newsrooms in Africa leverage these formats to engage with their audience, and do you see these formats as integral to the future of media in Africa?

We’ve seen major shifts from linear TV and terrestrial radio to high audience engagement with digital video and audio platforms that impact both media in Africa and beyond.

Users have spoken and they are seeking news and entertainment on these new platforms - such as YouTube, Apple News, and TikTok - so it’s important to ensure newsrooms have the right skills in-house - and an appetite for innovation - and continually test new formats and products.

In addition, the commercial side of the house has to be thoughtful and creative on how to make money on platforms they may not fully control.

Digital subscription models have gained momentum in the media industry. The momentum is picking up in Kenya. What are your observations regarding the adoption of subscription-based content in African media, and do you see this as a viable revenue model for news organizations on the continent?

Subscription models allow publishers one of the biggest opportunities to make money, period. But it’s not easy; publishers have to ensure there is a clear and valuable value proposition, and the price point is reflective of that value.

In Africa, the market is still nascent, but I’m optimistic that as the younger generations become more accustomed to paywalls, and economic growth continues across the continent, substantial digital subscription revenue will be achievable.

Throughout the world, all publishers face similar challenges of acquisition, customer retention and increased competition for audiences…so ruthlessly focusing on how publishers can best serve their audiences - sometimes in completely new ways - is key to long-term success.

On-the-ground insights and knowledge combined with local knowledge gives many Africa media organizations a competitive advantage

The Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa (BMIA) has played a pivotal role in advancing journalism in Africa. Are there any notable success stories resulting from BMIA in Africa? What has been achieved, and how do these translate into strengthening the media across the continent?

This year we expanded BMIA’s Financial Journalism Training program to Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire. This expansion to Francophone countries, for the first time, follows the success of the program in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Zambia. Since 2014, more than 800 delegates have completed the program and it provides practical executive training to journalists across the continent.

This program plays a part in strengthening business journalism and gives all the delegates a detailed understanding of data analysis, capital markets, public policy and economics. We have alumni of the program working across the continent and it is an investment in robust business journalism, which I believe can contribute to transparency and good governance across the continent.

Closing thoughts?

Meeting media leaders from across the continent, including Kenya, it’s clear there are challenges and opportunities that are not widely different from the rest of the world. But I also see a wealth of talent, a rising young demographic, and a rise in innovation and creative ideas that leaves me optimistic about the future of media, both in Africa and the world. And, as Africa begins to take a more prominent role in the global economy, I see great things ahead for the African media industry.

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