Watch Your Back Radio, Times Are Changing
The latest Radio Audience Measurements (RAM) reveal that radio stations in South Africa experience a combined listenership of 36.3 million listeners every week. With music streaming services only breaking 7 million local users in 2018, it is evident that radio is the largest format for music consumption across the country. The SABC still dominates this market, operating eight of the top ten most listened-to radio stations in the country. Prevalent in these results, however, is the lack of consumer satisfaction with listener numbers fluctuating drastically among the most popular radio stations over the last five years - these fluctuations occurring mainly amongst listeners in metropolitan and urban residential areas. Despite the message behind these figures, little corrective action has visibly been taken. Rumours of payola scandals implicating top SABC radio playlist compilers consistently circulate within the music industry despite reports of multiple disciplinary hearings in 2017. This malfeasant system has given rise to the hustlers of the music game and has muted the talent that could perhaps have elevated the overall standard of this country's music. With the apparent dysfunction of A&R within radio, what is the future for developing artists in South Africa? A recent statistics report from the popular music distribution service TuneCore reveals that South Africa is the second fastest growing country for music streaming consumption in the world. Indeed, the number of legal music streaming consumers is projected to reach 8.3 million in South Africa by 2020. With the prominent medium for digital music streaming being the smartphone, the main hindrance behind this growth-rate is mobile data usage costs. This projection could therefore be substantially altered by the involvement of the country’s largest telecommunications companies. One notable example of this is MTN’s purchase of the streaming platform Simfy in 2018. The platform was rebranded into a service named MusicTime which is now exclusively offered to MTN users as a pay-for-play service free from data usage costs. Similarly Vodacom’s launch of the My Muze app, which offers a much smaller catalogue of music for data free streaming to its Android users, is a step in the same direction. Vodacom now also advertises a series of “Music Tickets” offering low data rates for streaming on Apple Music, Joox and Deezer apps.
Music streaming platforms, by and large, promote new music discovery through an algorithm tailored to the listening habits of each unique user. In the case of MusicTime and My Muze, this is centred around local content. With this predicted shift in music consumption modes from radio to online streaming, the current structure of the South African music industry could change entirely. Radio stations will be compelled to align with the trends set forth by these digital platforms and local music marketing will be reimagined giving power to the listener and opportunity to the talented.