The population of the African continent is 1 billion people, but only one registered URL exists for every 10,000 Internet users. What this means is that there are relatively few locally owned Internet sites, compared to more developed countries.
Umuntu Media was launched in September 2010 to address this gap. Johan Nel, CEO of the media company, said that inspiration came from his travels across Africa. “The big gap I saw was local content. Elsewhere, in more developed areas, we take this for granted,” Nel said. “There is no one place where you can find proper international and local news, apply for jobs online, buy and sell goods, rent or buy properties, or just look at restaurant reviews.”
Umuntu Media currently has active news sites at iNamibia, iZambia, iBotswana, and iZimbabwe. The goal of the Umuntu Media news portals is to provide locals in each country a space for online or mobile news, services, and entertainment.
Where does content come from?
A central news hub is located in Cape Town, South Africa, where the Internet tends to be faster and power more reliable than other locations on the continent. The Umuntu hub purchases international news content from wire services and local feeds from in-country content publishers in Africa. It complements this coverage with hyper-local reports from freelance journalists who are paid a monthly retainer to supply content.
Content is published in the language of the leading newspaper in the country. Right now, sites are in English and Portuguese. But, Umuntu uses social media to engage in additional, local languages. With the iNamibia site, for example, the local freelance journalists are employed to control social media engagement and do so in Afrikaans, German, English, and Oshiwambo.
Umuntu also employs sales teams in each country to help drive revenue.
Citizen reports are welcome, mobile content is lacking
All the Umuntu sites have an iNews section where citizens can contribute reports, including text, audio, or video content. Before it is published, this citizen-generated content is run by the editorial team to check for blatant mistakes. On average, the iNamibia site receives about 30 citizen submissions per week, Nel said.
Mobile content submissions seem to be lagging, for the time being. Nel finds that citizens are not using mobiles as much to create and submit content, but rather people are working from Internet cafes to log into the Umuntu sites and submit written stories.
“I wish we could move faster into this environment, but it’s just not happening as fast as we’d like it to,” Nel said. He suggests that mobile reporting is still new and the adoption cycle takes time. Data costs may also be a contributing factor to slow uptake, as users are worried about sending video and photo content from the prepaid phones, Nel said.
Umuntu publishes as a web-first news site, but also is optimized for mobile viewing. A new mobile version is to be released this week. When they last launched mobile components to the site, it saw a 200% growth in traffic.
Nel has noticed a spike in mobile consumption of the site during times when people are in transit to office jobs, then again when they commute home. During the day, when many readers are at work, online consumption is high.
Challenges and next steps
In January, Umuntu Media plans to launch iAngola and iMozambique, in Portuguese. In February, it also plans to launch news sites in Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria.
“It’s a massive, ambitious project to publish in 11 African countries, from Cape Town,” Nel said. Other challenges include managing people locally, and scooping local newspapers that have existed for decades. Umuntu attempts to offer services and coverage that a typical print newspaper can not, and it attempts to do this remotely, from the hub in South Africa.
A strong social media presence helps. iNamibia eaches 25% of the online audience in the country, and within 6 months of it’s launch, the site has become the largest Facebook page for any media organization or brand in the country, Nel said.
Umuntu Media will soon be launching Mimiboard, a social media tool “designed in Africa by Africans for Africa,” Nel said. The mobile platform will be launched in alpha version in January 2012.