IT’s a good time for journalists and other media people at the moment. CNBC Africa launches on June 1. It has apparently invested $20m and employed 130 people in SA, and has poached talent from the SABC and other media establishments, writes Anton Harber in Business Day.
The Times, the daily, subscription-only version of the Sunday Times, comes out on June 5. Editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya said some weeks ago that its staff complement would be 80 people, but it is not clear exactly how many have actually been hired so far.

Sondag, the new Media 24 tabloid which came out a few weeks ago, did its share of hiring and apparently sold 97000 in its first week — a healthy start, though it has inevitably dipped since then.

The imminent arrival of pay-TV licensing promises another boom, since a number of 24-hour news channels are promised as part of the process — from SABC, and Telkom Media, among others.

The latest ABC sales figures, which came out this week, showed that there were 72 new print titles registered in the first quarter of this year. Last year there were 120, and that was considered a lot, so it seems that “old media” still has a spring in its step.

Of the 72 new entries, 46 were free newspapers (reflecting a global boom in titles without a cover price), 23 were magazines and three were traditional papers of the sort people are still prepared to part with money for.

These figures showed a clear pattern: established titles are stagnating (with the notable exception of Mail & Guardian and City Press) and the new tabloids (such as the Daily Sun and Soccer Laduma) are booming.

Among magazines, cannibalism is rife as long-standing titles lose ground to the rash of new entrants.

This certainly means a dynamic and volatile media market, exciting for both journalists and audience. But all of it requires deep pockets and big balls, and some of it is not sustainable.

CNBC Africa is a franchise, not run directly by the global parent company, but under licence by a group of investors and entrepreneurs.

The Industrial Development Corporation is a 30% investor, motivated, I suspect, at least partly by the desire to see more and better coverage of African business by Africans.

It will be a costly venture, which will take time to find its place, but there can be little doubt that it is plugging a hole.

I have previously spoken highly of the concept of the Times. From what I hear, though, they are waking up to the huge cost involved of printing and distributing a newspaper to 130000 subscribers (estimates from those in the know range from R150m to R250m).

They will need a quick response from an advertising community, which is notoriously slow to support new ventures, and strong support from their shareholders to see this through.

It is common knowledge that one of the problems of the parent company, Johncom, is that there is no strong, lead shareholder with a long-term commitment to such ventures.

Let’s hope they see this one through. It would be worth it, I think.

Sondag is run by a company that is prepared to back winners, even at significant cost, but quick to dump losers.

It is the pay-TV arena that is likely to see the most blood on the floor and money in the drain. Despite an array of experts cheerfully saying that there is space for a few players, the global trend is one or perhaps two players in much larger markets.

It is an expensive business and I suspect that only Telkom has the cash (it has earmarked R7bn) and commitment to take on the powerful and well-established MultiChoice. Either way, it is hard to believe that our market can sustain more than one 24-hour news channel.

For many operations, the investment is about moving to new media.

The Times, for example, is dressing up its move to a daily paper as a driver for an offering of souped-up new multimedia platforms.

Three steps ahead, as usual, is Naspers, which is investing heavily in the next generation of potential channels, such as the DVB-H cellphone televisions.

This is heady stuff. Just keeping abreast of all of this is going to be a tough task.