The youth market is one of the most hotly contested chunks of media pie around the world. To understand why is simple. The vast majority of young people are stoopid! They'll buy anything as long as it's packaged right and their friends think it's cool. Seriaas! Yes, yes, put down that pitchfork. You may say I'm being patronising, showing my age and that they're not all like that, but if you watch crap like MTV's 'Sweet Sixteen', 'I want a Famous Face' or even our own 'Idols', if you listen to songs like 'Don't Cha' by the Pussycat Dolls, you'll have figured out that young people aged 15-25 aren't exactly a discerning audience. But despite, or perhaps because of, a lack of taste and a propensity for believing the hype, enough young people have enough cash to attract the attention and energies of some very big businesses. So much so, that the mouthpieces that communicate with the youth market tend to see content as a necessary evil, not a raison d'etre. And this poses a very serious problem if you believe that media has a higher purpose than simply to carry advertising. And so the great bun fight for the soul of youth culture continues.

It wasn't always like this. 70 years ago, kids didn't have opinions or buying power. They played sport outdoors, cleaned up after dinner and were beaten regularly. Youth orientated media was more a case of philanthropy or the artistic creation of dotty uncles with a penchant for telling tales about dwarves and dragons, often with Christian values underpinning the plot. Today da yoots can download porn on their cellphones in between wasting 10 bucks an SMS on ring tones that don't even sound like the new Kanye West song. They dance like strippers, wear their pants below their asses and can watch dedicated TV channels, read newspapers, page through magazines and listen to non-stop radio - all tailor made for them. The one thing most youth media has in common is the vast triviality of its content. It would appear that, as a global trend, the kids are just not that into substance. Substances are more popular.

And South Africa's buoyant economy has seen a wonderful algae bloom of new media products. One of the most exciting is Nova, For the first time ever, the 'late' or 'upper' youth market in Gauteng (ages 20-35) has a daily newspaper entirely dedicated to digging that niche and keen to deliver the kind of news young, upwardly mobile Gautengers want to read. In September 2005, Deon Du Plessis, Media 24's innovative publisher who launched the Daily Sun tabloid, launched Nova. And even though Nova has a positive 60% local, 40% international content split, don't be fooled into thinking that the newspaper will deliver well researched, thought provoking content to rival the Mail & Guardian, and drive youth culture back to intellectualism.

'The reason why [this market] was not buying newspapers was that they felt the information wasn't directly focussed at them.' Says Minette Ferreira, Nova's editor. 'Too much crime, too little sport, too little entertainment, too little lifestyle.'

No surprises there.

'At the moment we're a 32 pager and 16 pages are dedicated to Lifestyle and Entertainment. But we present it in such a manner that it's very short and to the point. Lifestyle and entertainment is stuff that people like to read. Our sports section is also quite comprehensive.' Confirms Ferreira.

'The core of our news coverage is that we try and keep a positive outlook. Our readers very much see the glass as half full. So we report in such a way that creates a positive response to negative stories. Or at least shows that some progress is being made.'

Perhaps 'news-lite' is what young South Africans want to read? It's too soon to tell if Nova will be successful. After the demise of the national daily This Day, media pundits will be keeping a beady eye on Nova. The newspaper is also likely to keep the youth magazines on their toes and perk up interest from other media houses and newspapers groups. It is widely perceived that Nova can attain success if it manages to woo Gauteng's emerging black middle class. If it does, we're likely to see a rush of copycat publications in areas like Durban and Cape Town.

'We've had the best response from Black readers.' Says Ferreira. 'When we initially launched we said we were looking at 1/3 white English, 1/3 white Afrikaans and 1/3 black. And I think from the response we've had in the first three months, we're probably more than half black.'

In youth magazines Seventeen is set to capitalise locally on the 'content sharing' deal its parent company has recently brokered with MTV. This added celebrity power might give the title the edge over local favourite, Salt Water Girl, Atoll Media's beach lifestyle girl's title. Although Salt Water Girl has dominated the teen girl's market recently and has increased it's market share by over 15% in their the most recent ABCs, reaching a circulation high of 40 329 (ABC Jan-Jun 2005). Y Magazine has consolidated it's efforts and now attracts a readership of 538 000 (AMPS 2004B) and advertising to the tune of almost R2 million from Jan - Sept 2005 (AIS/Adex 2005). Competitor SL magazine seems to be in a readership free fall, posting it's 5 th consecutive AMPS slump. Currently the magazine has a readership of 143 000 (AMPS 2004B), which is almost four times smaller than Y Mag. Yet SL still manages to pull twice as much advertising trade as Y Mag, with a cool R4 million in the same period. Either planners are getting lazy, or SL have some very gifted sales staff.

Considering that South African companies spent close to R78 000 000 (AIS/Adex 2004) in 2004 to advertise on youth orientated radio stations (5FM, YFM, Good Hope and Metro) talking to the youth is a good business to be in.

That said, YFM - the station that has so far embodied the rise of post apartheid South African youth, has had a tough time lately. The station was already wobbling before the sacking of station manager Greg Maloka and head of marketing Kim Thipe, last year. They lost ground from almost 2 million listeners at the end of 2003 to just over 1 344 000 sets of ears in their latest Rams diary (Rams 2005: Release 5). However marketers are finally starting to see the value of YFM's hold on Gauteng's youth, and their kwaito kingmaker status. The stations revenue is up more than double what they earned in 2004, pulling in a tidy R82 803 837 from Jan - Sept 2005 (AIS/Adex 2005).

5FM's new format seems to be old news. The station's rise has levelled off at around the same levels as YFM, clocking in 1 321 000 listeners in the latest Rams diary (Rams 2005: Release 5). Considering it's national footprint, it would be easy to label 5FM an underachiever. Before you do, take a look at their turnover. From Jan - Sept 2005 they pulled in just under 100 million Titos. By the end of 05 they looked set to do better than 2004's tally of R119 930 622 (AIS/Adex 2004). It's obvious that the station's delivery of dedicated, mainly white, upper LSM listeners is well appreciated by many advertisers.

And then we come to where the real money is. Television. The idiot box. However in South Africa, it's not all bad news. TV producers have by in large managed to deliver thoughtful, important television content that manages to inform young people, as well as attract enough of them to secure serious advertising investment. It's no coincidence that the most popular youth TV show involves an ex-gangster who is now a famous kwaito singer, who travels the country trying to make people's dreams come true. Zola 7 successfully captures the South African youth zeitgeist of empowerment and self-actualization. It also shows how central music is in determining youth culture. Zola 7's A/Rs are consistently well up into the 14s, which translates into roughly 1.4 million viewers per episode (week 49 28/11/05 - 04/12/05).

SABC1 currently seems to have a monopoly on this type of South African specific youth broadcasting, Apart from Zola 7, you can catch the educational magazine programme 'Walala Wasala', Lebo Matshile's travel show 'Latitude' and Rage Production's 'Street Journal'. All of which are 100% local, well-produced, informative shows that are as popular with young people as they are with their advertisers.

'Basically the 18h30 slot weekdays is youth orientated.' Says Kutloano Skosana, Black Rage Productions Director and Street Journal's producer.

'I think there is enough diversity amongst youth shows on SABC1. Latitude is travel, Walala Wasala is more educational with more of a political slant. Zola 7 is mass market youth culture and we're quite niched in comparison. We're all about modern entertainment, local urban culture.'

Young independent media house, Black Rage Productions has been at the cutting edge of representing the emerging South African youth culture and producing relevant local content for many years now. Due to the success of their show, 'Street Journal'...

'We've grown.' Says Skosana. We've got more of our own equipment, more of our own staff. It's a good deal.'

The company currently has a record label, an online magazine and produces several TV shows.

'We've been commissioned to do two documentaries for SABC3. And hopefully a renewal of Street Journal. In the near future, we'd like to try a drama.' Says Skosana.

With their continued, homegrown, success and obvious expertise there is speculation that they might be bought out by one of the larger media players.

'Now and again someone comes along and makes us an offer.' Skosana laughs. 'But we still have things we want to do. We'd like to stay independent.'

Saving the best for last, without doubt the biggest move in local youth culture television in 2005 was the pan-African launch of global youth culture uber-brand MTV's African channel, MTV Base.

'Quite frankly it's going really well.' Says Alex Okosi, Vice President and General Manager of MTV Networks Africa. 'We launched back in February, our whole intent was to provide a platform for our African artists to shine.'

The channel currently targets 'mass African youth in sub-Saharan Africa'. But how will they do that since it is only available on pay TV channels?

'Our plan has always been to be a pay TV channel as well as a terrestrial TV channel.' Explains OKosi. 'The idea being that we can always reach the mass youth audience. As you know pay TV across Africa is very limited. We've had success in launching terrestrial blocks. Every single day of the week, you see two hours of MTV Base in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana. And we're looking to do the same thing in Uganda and Tanzania as well. That's our way of enabling our brand to reach a mass audience, through terrestrial television partnerships.'

According to MTV Base's own research they are currently reaching 8 million Households in sub-Saharan Africa with roughly 40 million viewers. In South Africa alone MTV attracts about R12 million worth advertising a year (AIS/Adex 2005).

In terms of content, MTV Base is poised to provide a great international platform for local African artists. At the same time, Africa's audiences are massive, ripe and lucrative pickings for the established US hip hop, rap and R&B music industries.

Currently MTV Base has a self-imposed 30% quota of local African music.

'Well it's not a quota. I wouldn't want to position it as such.' Says Okosi. 'That's what we can put on air that is quality, not to patronise ourselves. We don't want to put videos out there that aren't high enough quality. We have no alliances with artists. We are just a promotional platform. That's our intent. But it's very important for the content to be broadcast quality if we are to distribute it across the world... The great part of MTV is that we have a global network. We have over 42 MTV channels alone. And at the end of the day the creative on all these channels are shared, so long as it's good. And that's the beauty of being part of this immense global network. We can distribute this content on all the other MTV channels.'

'I'd like to see our African music content much higher than 30%. So 30% is not our mandate, that's just where we are right now. We want to go as high as the market can bear. We want to have young people choosing to hear their stuff from Africa first. But at the same time we also want to deliver them the best stuff. But that said, you also don't just want to see music from your own backyard.'

At the same time, no one can deny the attraction MTV Base's audience will have on global business. Does the channel get pressure to open up these markets to Western music artists?

'No. It's not coming this way.' Okosi asserts. 'Our goal is to expose our African artists to the rest of Africa and the rest of the world. There is no pressure to expose international artists to Africa. Because it's an untapped frontier. The excitement is for other people to see what Africa can offer to the rest of the world.'

'We have to think about our continent. 50% of our population is under the age of 19. We have to provide these young people with hope and the idea that they can achieve success through art. Which is what music is. And that's been a great process for us.'

The press release sounds good. But how does the business reality look?

'Business is definitely looking positive. Having the different terrestrial blocks helps, because it allows advertisers to talk directly to specific markets. Product roll out is not the same in specific countries. While on our 24 hour feed you may not see an abundance of commercials, but in those terrestrial blocks, they're being sold out. Our strategy is to localise through territories. It's looking very promising.'

MTV Base's Pan African platform, with links to the global network is sure to change the local youth media landscape. For the first time, the continent now has a direct cultural highway to the West. This allows local content driven shows to diversify, incubate and develop local creativity to an international level. At the same time, traffic on the highway flows both ways. South African youth culture is now more susceptible to international and pan-African influence. Which can be a blessing and a curse. All things considered, it finally seems as if the stage is set for South African culture to break through the glass ceiling and onto the world stage. Now it's up to the youth to make the culture.


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