January 20th 2018

Media / Watchdog

Once a behemoth, Nation Group is struggling in tight market

Closure of QTV and Nation FM is the latest sign of stress in a conglomerate unable to match the Kenyan audience’s demand for reliable news.

By Waithera Murugiswaithera@kenyafreepress.comThursday, 30 Jun 2016 19:03 EAT

(L-R) Nation CEO Linus Gitahi and chairman Wilfred Kiboro receive incoming CEO Joseph Muganda when Mr Muganda took over. (Photo: Courtesy/Nation website).

Are the Nation Media Group's best days in its past? This was the question on many a media watcher's lips when the giant company announced this afternoon that it would be making staff cuts following the “scaling down” of its radio stations and consolidation of its two television stations, NTV and QTV.

In a statement to the public, the NMG’s management said the rationalization measures would be effective immediately as it seeks to reposition itself in a rapidly changing media landscape. The group's Kiswahili television channel, QTV, will cease broadcasting while NTV, the English language station, will be transformed into a “multi-lingual television station.” Its radio stations Nation FM, QFM and Rwanda KFM will henceforth stream online.

“We are cognisant of the changing trends in which individuals are consuming our products. In line with this new reality, we are reorganizing ourselves with the objective of transforming the group into a modern twenty first century digital content company embracing a digital/mobile first business model,” the communication read.

To keen analysts, the news did not come as a surprise. Unlike in the past when the Nation Group commanded profits in the Kenyan media scene, the firm has been struggling for years owing to increased competition. The company’s revenues from television and radio have been falling due to declining prime time ratings for its brands. The radio stations being closed had among the lowest ratings in the industry. QTV too had lost the luster that marked its launching, when leading personalities like PLO Lumumba attended or conducted programmes there.

On the online segment where its radio stations somehow expect to do better in the coming years, the company is already playing catch up to such former laggards as the Standard Group, whose website is now number one in Kenya ahead of the Nation’s, and the Star, which, at number three, is furiously catching up on the Nation's online newssite.

The standing of the company, which has been in the Kenyan news business for close to six decades - having been founded by His Highness the Aga Khan in 1959 - took a big hit in January when it suspended, and eventually sacked, a top editor for penning an editorial the management deemed to be heavily critical of the government. The Nation knew beforehand that its decision would be pilloried by the public and consciously chose to obey its commercial rather than journalistic interests.

The priority of commercial over journalistic interests could not halt the depletion of a stock that was built on the back of elite patronage at a time when Kenyans are foraging for unconventional viewpoints from new media platforms. When digital broadcasting was introduced in 2015, NMG joined forces with Royal Media and The Standard Group, the other two large media companies, to warn that unless the migration was undertaken gradually, it would lead to a drastic drop in revenue and inevitable staff cuts.

Ironically, as the two rivals reaped big from digital migration – with RMS rolling out more television stations and the Standard Group introducing a dedicated news channel, KTN News – the Nation has been on a downsizing spree. Late 2015, it rationalized its news operations, and followed that by a convergence of business coverage still under simulation.

Waithera is a staff writer at the Kenya Free Press.

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