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Mixed reviews for online launch of news brand eNCA

Date posted: April 22, 2013

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by Herman Manson (@marklives) eNCA, the South African based satellite news channel, recently launched a beta version of their website promising “an immersive experience for users”.

eNCA should be a much bigger news brand in the South African media market than it is. Its reach is limited to subscribers to MultiChoice’s DStv platform (and more recently the SKY digital satellite platform in the United Kingdom) although it also syndicates news content to free-to-air channel e.tv. The rebranding from eNews to eNCA in late 2012 means the brand is also still new to consumers.

While it dominates satellite news and its viewership figures is nothing to sneeze at, as a news brand it can and should be much stronger. A multi-channel approach is required to build any media brand today, and with revenue under pressure, the stakes for this business could not be higher.

Remgro, which owns a substantial stake in the eNCA holding company, Sabido, said in its unaudited results for the six months ended 31 December 2012 that advertising sales on e.tv and eNCA were “under pressure during the period under review but programming and operating costs remained stable.”

To address this, Remgro announced in a SENS statement that “the focus of the group for the forthcoming months is the ongoing development of a multi-channel strategy to enhance its competitiveness across a multiplicity of platforms and provide opportunities for new revenue streams. This includes the launch of e.tv Online and eNCA Online in the first half of 2013.”

There is obviously a lot at stake for the larger eNCA brand in pulling off the successful launch of eNCA.com

But reviews thus far have been mixed, at best. “Creating a new online home for eNews Channel Africa could have presented the news brand with a great opportunity to differentiate itself from the public broadcaster, but unfortunately an outdated look and cluttered execution just makes it look like more of the same,” says journalist and media commentator Mandy de Waal. “Fonts aside, the SABC and ENCA news sites are much of a muchness.”

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CNN site – big headlines for a major story

“It’s a pity because given the travails at the public broadcaster, there’s much that ENCA could be doing to set itself apart from the SABC, and to carry favour with television viewers and people online looking for a news alternative,” says de Waal. Dishing up content through banner ads, as eNCA.com does for its weather section, is a pretty old fashioned way of dishing up content notes de Waal.

“The site’s very bitty and all over the show, the fonts used are small and there’s no real news hierarchy, so there’s nothing that really draws ones attention. The social media integration is also quite clunky and takes up a lot of unnecessary space. Personally it is not a site I’d spend a lot of time on, unless I was researching a story,” de Waal concluded.

Gill Moodie, the editor of media industry news site Grubstreet, quite likes the ‘busy-ness’ of the site, which she says flies against current  news-portal design trends, “but I think it suits the 24/7busy feel of a TV broadcaster.”

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CNN live streaming its Boston coverage

Moodie really appreciated the weather maps, which to be honest, is pretty impressive, and possibly the strongest feature on the site.  The maps, integrated Twitter feed from presenter Derek Van Dam and latest video forecasts all seem pretty slick. I do think not fully integrating the weather report video offering on the sections landing page is a mistake (you have to go look for it). In fact, at a time when natural disasters like floods and super storms often dominate the news, it’s unfortunate that ‘weather’ still sits in a silo outside the newsroom proper. CNN especially had been doing tremendous work on making their weather forecasters part and parcel of their coverage of natural disasters.

As I’m writing this story, eNCA is reporting on floods in Soweto, with a screen grab from Google maps to illustrate. But why a screen grab? Its strength lies in video, yet no video was filed with this story. Why not use Van Dam to zoom in and out of affected areas using Google Maps and explain to the residents of Soweto which parts of the city is worst affected and to be avoided. Useful, different and sure to generate interest on social media – for now three opportunities missed.

The big news last week was the Boston marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt. All the TV news brands were pushing huge resources into the story and interest was global. For most of Friday, during which the US government effectively closed down one of its major cities, eNCA.com had nary video footage in sight, and wire copy so dull it would put you to sleep mid-lockdown.

Of course, TV news brands operate at a distinct disadvantage to newspaper news brands here. Newspapers news brands are spending their money on investigative journalism, one of the few media differentiators still available to them, and in-depth reporting. I don’t really expect strong copy from eNCA.com – but I do expect news. As it breaks.

TV news is all go, go, go. And they’ve got video, a medium gaining tremendous traction online the world over. Just use it.

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Sky News ran a video time line on the events in Boston

The site misses a couple of other beats. The blue background is awful and it screams Sky News (which, to its credit, ran a very smart video timeline of the Boston lock down). The monster eNCA logo of Africa takes up much too much space on TV screens, and online it contributes to making the site feel clunky.

If you are going to run house ads, don’t run them for tech.report on the day Boston is put under siege. Make it about Boston under siege – it’s the obvious news story visitors will be looking for (even the state broadcaster’s website got that one right). Video is the primary differentiator for eNCA.com – why does it sit at the bottom of the site? CNN was live streaming its Boston coverage!

Business news gets no break on the eNCA front page. Its flagship shows, like The Justice Factor and 3rd Degree, gets pages that feels like listings rather than something that engages. Same for the news teams. Like senior anchor Andrew Barnes? I promise you you won’t find any insight on the man at eNCA.com. You won’t even find his Twitter feed, which makes the sites’ trumpeting of its social media integration fall flat.

The site also doesn’t tap the opportunity represented by citizen journalism, unlike CNN and its iReport service, which de Waal notes could make eNCA vulnerable to challenge as TV becomes more convergent, and ‘news everywhere’ eats into their market.

eNCA.com doesn’t feel slick, just busy, and ideally it should be both. It needs to up its video content and give it greater prominence. Really big stories don’t seem to be properly highlighted – no big headlines – no sense of drama accompanying breaking news. For a site that is light on text it feels text-heavy. Profiles for presenters and shows aren’t being built out. I’ll happily visit eNCA for its weather page, but as its stands, not much else.

At the moment I don’t see what differentiates for the site from rivals – although I see lots of potential. Here’s hoping to team gets it right by the time the site moves out of Beta. eNCA should be a default news brand in South Africa and other markets on the continent and eNCA.com will play a critical role in achieving this (or failing miserably).

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