Audio delivers (de)light despite load shedding

Podcasts are “power cut proof”, so to speak, as these can be downloaded and offlined before load shedding and enjoyed during.

It’s safe to say that nobody considers load shedding to be “fun”. It may well end up in the South African slang dictionary as the antonym for fun.

One thing the experience has made us all is highly adaptable. In both a personal and professional capacity, it has built a kind of resilience that doesn’t excuse the crisis but does add some reprieve for how we view problems moving forward.

The disruptive nature of artificial intelligence (AI) is an added stressor that has been thrown into the mix. Consumer needs are shifting as a result and the audio industry once again has to shift gears, as it has done countless times before.

How the audio industry has changed gears

The audio industry has long had to be flexible to the changing nature of technology. The pandemic brought on an additional layer of change, which, when we look back, was a contributor to the landscape evolving in many ways.

One of the most prominent ways it has done so is through the monumental rise of podcasting. A format that’s felt like it has long been in its infancy in South Africa is starting to walk.

Astonishingly, podcasting celebrated its 20th ‘birthday’ in July. Lower barriers to entry (most notably, streaming audio data accessibility and affordability) have meant that South African listeners have really been able to sink their teeth into it in recent years.

The masses are starting to hit their stride with the medium and there are no signs of things slowing down. So much so that the AME team is prioritising building new audio properties as part of a broader digital strategy.

The proof is in the pudding: we recently launched a new rugby podcast featuring veteran journalists Liam del Carme and Brenden Nel, with more in the pipeline.

The industry is starting to create platforms for the best creators too. As things stand, there are over 15 global podcast award ceremonies for them to submit their work every year.

The emphasis here isn’t on the ceremonies themselves, but rather that their existence signals that the industry has indeed found itself and is starting to settle in.

Industry noise aside, radio holds firm

The rise of podcasting doesn’t mean that radio has to be left in the lurch. Despite all the noise brought on by AI, radio has a firm foothold in the South African context especially. The latest BRC RAMS show that millions of people are still turning to it for their daily fix.

For the time being the “old faithful” is still flying the flag when it comes to providing millions of people with entertainment every day. Other developing technologies will continue to be disruptive, but the resilience brought on by 2020 should make it simple for everyone to pivot (again and again, if need be).

Tech changes, but why people listen doesn’t

As generative AI technologies continue to change the global landscape, the audio industry should expect disruption to continue. Perhaps even for longer than load shedding has been a part of our lives.

What won’t change is the reason why people consume audio. Irrespective of how things shift and where we end up, consumers are always going to be keen to experiment and will arguably be even more keen to find great entertainment in an uncertain world.

Whether the robots end up taking over or not, audio remains one of the most intimate mediums to turn to for human connection.

Practically speaking, a medium that doesn’t induce eye strain is probably one we should preserve feverishly, considering how long the average person stares at a screen at home and work every day.

Where load shedding and audio say ‘I do’

As we continue to fluctuate between stage 4 and stage 6 — and everything in between — audio marries itself to the power crisis in homes all over South Africa. Curious exploration aside, it’s a great time killer over the two to four-hour disruptions.

Podcasts are “power cut proof”, so to speak, as these can be downloaded and offlined before load shedding and enjoyed during.

Audio also offers brain food. It can stimulate the minds of listeners by presenting them with different worldviews and perspectives.

We can all learn from each other, after all. Given the tech advancements and increased access to the medium, discovering new voices can be done without having to stray too far from the candle next to the bed.

A continued process of discovery

Discovery should extend beyond stumbling onto a podcast or getting a recommendation from a friend. It should also be so much more than what a European algorithm feeds to us on a streaming platform.

It would be great for a South African content aggregator to step in and take the reins. Especially one that understands two important things: local context and nuance.

This creates an elevated opportunity for South Africans to engage with audio moving forward. The IT infrastructure is there, but the platforms aren’t. We need more of these to make it easier to curate not only audio content, but other types too.

The goal should be a truly personalised, engaging experience for both listeners who already love the medium, as well as those who are starting to get attached.

The future looks bright

Just like South Africans have shown themselves more than capable during an extended power crisis, audio has demonstrated resilience through a series of interesting phases.

From hyper-expensive data to poor internet infrastructure, a global pandemic and the advent of artificial intelligence, there remains an abundance of audio opportunities for consumers to choose from and creators to plug into.

These are only going to get better with the right content aggregators and additional new technologies that are still in the works.

While load shedding will eventually be a problem of the past, audio is forever. Good audio, even more so. In the meantime, it continues to be a healthy escape in periods of uncertainty, especially when the lights go off every day.

By Dave Tiltmann is group chief executive officer of African Media Entertainment.

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