African media companies find new revenue to combat changing media landscape

By Jessica Spiegel


Portland, Oregon, United States


Three presenters at INMA’s two-day Africa News Media Summit shared with attendees how each of their publications endeavours to serve their audiences, combat “news fatigue,” and still find ways to bring in new sources of revenue.

Lance Witten, editor-in-chief of South Africa’s Independent Online, focused on the innovative methods of monetisation that IOL has been using. Richardson Doe, general manager of technology at Ghana’s Multimedia Group, pushed back on the idea that “news fatigue” even exists in the way that it’s often defined. And Anthony Makokha, audio visual editor for Kenya’s Standard Group, shared how a digital transformation at The Standard Group included a physical transformation as well.

Independent Online

All three presenters acknowledged the challenges that come with a changing media landscape. As traditional revenue streams steadily decline and advertisers spend larger chunks of their ad budgets on things like social media, Witten said the question is: “How do we make money without compromising on the news experience for our audiences?”

Lance Witten, editor-in-chief of South Africa’s Independent Online, explained the media company's recent revenue success.
Lance Witten, editor-in-chief of South Africa’s Independent Online, explained the media company's recent revenue success.

IOL has increased its use of content marketing, affiliate marketing, and in-stream video, he said, all of which have been successful at bringing in new revenue.

Content marketing

These are akin to “advertorials” from print newspapers. Each of these is clearly labelled for readers as paid for by the brand.

  • “Sponsored” content is provided by the brand and it gets published as is.

  • “Partnered” content gets some editing attention and optimisation, as well as some promotion on social media by IOL.

  • “Native” content is produced in-house by the commercial content team but paid for by the brand. 

IOL also builds “content hubs” for commercial partners, Witten said. With a “content hub,” a brand “can purchase the entire hub, like a trending hashtag on the site, and we can put targeted, programmatic ad campaigns around content with that hashtag.”

Digital content marketing has the benefit of having a multi-platform impact, unlike advertisements in traditional print media that only live in one place.

Affiliate marketing

These are ad units from a third-party content provider who place ads in a targeted feed, which monetises the audience value while still giving them something that may interest them.

What’s more, the ads themselves are often interactive. Readers can swipe through different sale offers at a local retailer, for example, to find the deal that “speaks to their needs.”

In-stream video

Since “video is 92% more likely to be shared by users,” Witten said, “we decided in 2022 to invest heavily in our video products.” The results, he added, have been massive.

IOL has a publishing partner that provides editorial video from all over the world, populated by AI, as well as videos created or uploaded directly to the site from an in-house team. The company also has trained journalists on using the platform so that, when they’re writing an article, they can find videos about the same topic to add to the online story.

From the time IOL onboarded Oovvuu as their video partner in 2022, they’ve seen exponential growth in the number of streams per month as well as revenue. The latter has hit something of a ceiling at about R75,000 per month, Witten said with a chuckle, because “we’re creating so much inventory for advertising, we’ve run out of advertisers to fill that inventory.” As a result, he said they’ve now “taken on the in-stream video sales because our existing partners have been unable to fill the video inventory.”

Multimedia Group

For Multimedia Group, one of the biggest challenges has come not from so-called “news fatigue,” Doe said, but competitive radio and TV markets and government regulations on radio stations.

Legal regulations

A relatively new law in Ghana dictates radio stations must cap their reach at a 45 kilometre radius, down from the 100 kilometre it was prior to 2020. Naturally, this has severely impacted media’s ability to reach their audiences and generate revenue.

Richardson Doe, general manager of technology at Ghana’s Multimedia Group, shared the company's radio strategy.
Richardson Doe, general manager of technology at Ghana’s Multimedia Group, shared the company's radio strategy.

The question, then, is how to extend your reach without breaking that 45-kilometre radius. Multimedia Group has used digital platforms like social media sites to make their content available digitally online (and therefore accessible from anywhere), Doe said, noting there are also “digi-boxes” that connect to television sets in homes. These allow people to access digital content like radio stations through their TVs.

News fatigue doesn’t exist

Since everyone has various means through which they can consume news these days, including social media and video streaming, Doe doesn’t think it makes sense to look at (for instance) declining newspaper subscriptions as a sign of “news fatigue.” Whether it’s independent or citizen journalism, news is all over the platforms people spend increasing amounts of time on.

“The true economics of what we do, though,” Doe said, “is not measured by how much we produce but how much is consumed.”

Doe “would beg to differ that there is actually ‘news fatigue,’” observing “the news cycle, especially breaking news, is still highly consumed and relied on to inform people of what is happening.” He cited the audience numbers garnered by Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral and King Charles I’s coronation as evidence.

To Doe, only consuming news that adheres to one’s existing worldview or ideology is what produces “news fatigue,” so the antidote is opening up to diverse content.

“Diversity creates engagement and enjoyment,” he said.

Explanation and inspiration

Two of the tools Multimedia Group has used to help keep content fresh and diverse while also generating new sources of revenue are “explainer content” and “inspiring stories.”

Audiences visit their Web site because they know Multimedia Group is a “trusted and reliable news source, that they’re not getting video or audio that’s been manipulated or faked.” But they don’t necessarily have time to read a long article or watch a long video, Doe said, so they create “explainers” of shorter, bite-sized video or audio clips. He added that “YouTube Shorts have brought in more revenue for us than our long-form videos.”

Multimedia Group “has a successful track record of creating shows and inviting guests to inspire the masses” in topics like financial, personal, and spiritual matters, Doe said. They use cross-promotion between their brands and the guests to share these stories on social media, which “helps create viral moments where our videos and audio gets widely circulated.”

The Standard Group

Echoing his fellow presenters, Makokha said The Standard Group’s legacy platforms are seeing declining numbers in both audiences and revenue, although “print is still our bread and butter.” Prior to the pandemic, he said that the “digital disruption” was already a problem, but that things got dramatically worse with the global shutdowns of 2020.

Digital transformation and new revenue opportunities

With “no choice but to go digital,” Makokha said, they began their digital transformation journey in 2021. And a big part of that transformation involved a physical change in the newsroom.

The new “converged newsroom” structure centres around a “Super Desk,” the “central command of the newsroom.” There’s a desk for breaking news (Radar Desk), one for verifications (Check Point), and a funnel desk (Intake) through which all subject news desks (such as politics, economy, health, sports, etc.) pass on their way to the Super Desk. The “Output” desk is the conduit that channels news pieces to the various platforms.

Anthony Makokha, audio visual editor for Kenya’s Standard Group, explained the company's digital revenue strategy.
Anthony Makokha, audio visual editor for Kenya’s Standard Group, explained the company's digital revenue strategy.

Throughout the digital and physical transformation process, Makokha said, the objectives are:

  • Audience expansion.

  • Enhanced user experience.

  • New monetisation strategies.

  • Optimising digital advertising capabilities.

  • Data-driven insights.

Adapt or die: new emerging opportunities

News media publishers are businesses, Makokha said, but “we also have an obligation to inform the public.” So, although they have been exploring new and different ways to monetise, they still offer some content for free.

Some of The Standard Group’s traditional revenue streams have been successfully adapted for digital platforms, he said. Advertising, for instance, may no longer be a static image in a printed newspaper, but digital advertising can generate revenue in two ways. In addition to brands paying for ad placement, there’s the benefit of an ad-free option for subscribers who pay for greater access to content.

Other revenue opportunities are only possible on digital platforms, Makokha said. The e-newspaper is currently the largest piece of the revenue pie at 24.7%, but digital partnerships and YouTube are also relatively large pieces, at 20.6% and 16.5% respectively.

There’s also increased focus on attracting new, younger, and more diverse audiences.

For example, Kenya leads the world in TikTok usage, according to a 2023 survey, and 29% of them use TikTok for news consumption. To capitalise on that, Makokha The Standard Group has “experimenting with lives” as well as doing weekly news round-ups. They’ve also equipped journalists with mobile editing tools like CapCut, so they can “take video on their mobile phones, edit with CapCut, and get content on our digital platforms quickly.”

Another survey indicated that The Standard Group’s YouTube audiences skew overwhelmingly male, so Makokha said they’re making some modifications to appeal to more female viewers. From January 2022 to July 2023, they’ve increased female viewership from 19.7% to 24.7%, and he said they’re “committed to reach more of a balance.”

About Jessica Spiegel

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