media update's Adam Wakefield put his thinking cap on and picked four themes that could have a large impact on the South African media environment in 2018.

1. Publishers will look to subscriptions and other revenue streams to supplement advertising

With Google and Facebook taking the lion's share of digital advertising, publishers are seeing a decline in the revenue they receive from digital ad spend.

Publishers who have relied solely on digital advertising revenue will be looking for new revenue streams. Subscriptions are one such area, with the New York Times  quadrupling subscription revenue between 2011 and 2015, while advertising revenue fell 16% in the same period. The Washington Post also recently announced its second straight year of profitability, with rising subscsription levels a key part of this achievement.  

In South Africa, Netwerk24, the Mail & Guardian, and BusinessLive use subscriptions as a revenue stream. Tiso Blackstar Group, the owner of BusinessLive, has also moved into the eventing space. How to acquire subscribers boils down to a question of value, which publishers will need to answer.       

2. Community radio stations will flourish at a local level in urban areas

The music industry has gone digital, with streaming now becoming as important as physical sales. Podcasting is becoming increasingly popular, while Internet radio has been an online staple for years.

Amidst this change, the growth of community radio has gone under the radar. In September 2016, South African media intelligence company, Newsclip Media Monitoring, monitored 68 community radio stations. By November 2017, that number had risen to 88.  

Data from the Broadcast Research Council reveals that in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape, South Africa’s three most populous provinces, community radio listenership grew by 10.9%, 21.5%, and 5% year-on-year for the April-September 2016 to 2017 period.

Expect more community radio stations to surface, especially in densely urbanised areas, and leverage the Internet to spread their wings beyond their geographic location.

3. Expect to see AI and machine learning implemented more within company systems and investigations

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been on everyone’s lips in 2017. However, talking about AI, a broad term in itself, and implementing it to advance a business, are two different things. For example, Vodacom, one of South Africa’s most recognisable brands, spoke about where AI and machine learning specifically fits into their business earlier this year. Journalists will also increasingly rely on AI tools to do data mining and analysis when accessing vast quantities of data. The Panama Papers, where over 11.5 million financial and legal records "exposed a system that enables crime, corruption and wrongdoing", is such an example.  

Expect more companies, and not just in the technology or ICT sector, to speak about AI and, most importantly, actually implement it within their businesses to increase productivity and profitability. The proof is in the pudding.

4. Specialist titles will continue to succeed in a tough environment

Print has had a tough time over the last decade, but to suggest ‘print is dead’ would be an exaggeration. Circulation among local newspapers and magazines have generally dropped over the last five years, but areas of excellence prove the mantra: Print is dead. Long live print.  

The Audit Bureau of Circulation’s latest figures for July-September 2017 show there is potential for growth, particularly in niche sectors. Finweek showed a remarkable 58.3% rise in circulation from the same period in 2016, Forbes Africa grew by 8.5%, and the Financial Mail only felt a drop of 0.4%.

The motoring sector also showed how niche titles can succeed, with Bakkie & Car (1.3%), Bike SA (14.8%), Car (5.1%), Caravan and Outdoor Life (8%), and Leisure Wheels (7%) all showing growth from the same period in 2016.

Other niche magazines that have grown circulation include Getaway (1.8%), Runners World (10.2%), and SA Hunter/Jagter (9.1%).

If a publication understands its audience and produces a quality product, it can leverage that to grow.

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Paywalls have formed an important part of the revenue debate for online media, but what are they? Read more in our article, Paywalls 101: What you need to know.