The journalism media landscape has changed over the years, with the growth of the internet and social media platforms. To keep up with these changes, news publications and media houses have introduced new business models.

In 2016, the Nation Media Group (NMG) changed its business model to a digital-first approach. We spoke to Max Okeyo, head of strategy and innovation at NMG about how they changed their business model. Okeyo is a media technology expert and a human-centred design and innovation strategist who has worked with Microsoft East Africa and NMG for 15 years cumulatively. He has an extensive understanding of the digital space including reader revenue, audience development and growth, data-driven decisions, and content strategy development and execution. NMG is the largest media house in East and Central Africa and as head of strategy and innovations, Okeyo is currently driving the digital transformation journey in leading audiences in the transition to new media and new monetisation opportunities, launching products that have won several reputed international media awards.

1. The Nation Media group changed its business model to a digital-first approach, why did the Nation Media Group make this change and when was it made?

The Group has been on a digital transformation journey for about 12 years, slowly but steadily but with the objective of scaling into a fully digital-first media enterprise. In 2016, we set out the organisation on a robust journey to set strong sustainable foundations for digital within the organisation. This was necessitated by the fact that the performance of the organisation was on a decline in both revenue and readers for our traditional (physical) newspapers. There was a need to identify opportunities in the digital spectrum to exponentially grow the audience and revenue opportunity to begin to cover the deficit we were experiencing in the traditional business. The audience had shifted and so was the advertiser. The traditional model sold eyeballs/audiences to the advertiser. The new model posed both the advertiser and audience as opportunities for revenue directly with NMG.

2. Before Nation Media made the decision to change, what was the process before introducing the change?

A couple of initiatives were taken in the journey towards rethinking the future of NMG and making the shift to a digital-first media house.

  • Researching the engagement of the customer (both advertiser and audience) to understand the changing media landscape, competitor landscape, audience trends, technology disruption and revenue opportunities.
  • Engagement of a strategy consultant to walk the change journey with us in implementing the strategy and shifting mindsets to ensure we have mentally re-engineered teams to drive performance along the new dispensation.
  • Engaging a change management consultant to work with the team to develop values that withstand the true test of time and enable us efficiently and effectively deliver on the overall business objective.
  • Putting together a strategy implementation task force that comprised employees across different levels of the organisation.
  • Developing a one-page canvas that pictorially delivered the message of the business strategy and objective.
  • Communicating the strategy to different functions in the organisation at every level to enable different teams to appreciate their contribution to the objective and to participate in that journey.

3. Besides having a digital-first approach, how would you categorise Nation Media’s business model?

The current business model is a hybrid of the old (traditional/ legacy media business – newspapers, linear TV and radio, and websites) and the new where we are currently creating ecosystems within our digital brands/assets to deliver new value to the audience. 

4. What are some of the emerging business models that you have seen?

The emerging business models, some of which we have already adopted include:

  • Reader revenue/ subscriptions
  • Marketplaces/referrals
  • Events
  • Monetisation
  • Advertising (native, branded, sponsored)
  • Data monetisation

5. What advice would you give to media publications who want to change their business model to a digital-first approach?

Incremental approaches to business model transformation are unlikely to keep pace with the rate of change, so bold and confident leadership becomes even more critical. To engage consumers in new experiences, we must not only focus on the highest levels of creativity but the deepest commitment to connecting the dots for the consumer through data and technology. Key advice for media houses going through the transformation:

  • Technology and innovation profoundly transformed communication, attention, and definitions of media, information and commerce.
  • New players focus on customer experience, driven by aggregation and invention and this is largely driven by big tech, for example Google and Facebook.
  • Build strategies for the digital ecosystem to keep audiences engaged. The new age audience/customer is more discerning and is seeking new value. Not just content!
  • Strategies should be based on data, not hope.
  • Adopt profound structural and organisational change (talent, workflows & processes, technology, culture).
  • Quality journalism remains at the core of the media business.
  • Investment in a multi-skilled team that is able to engage with audiences regardless of the platform.
  • The constant loop of change management best practices.
  • Anticipating the future – challenging the end game consistently!
  • Challenge old habits (status quo) and ways of doing things.
  • Cultivate a culture of innovation across the organisation.

6. For the future, what do you think business models for media publications will look like or will comprise?

  • Future media models will be largely driven by data – big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. There will be a lot more prominence on data-driven journalism, and story-telling through data visualisation, podcasts, video and graphics.
  • Content to audiences will be very highly personalised depending on preference by length, format, usability, etc
  • Mobile primacy – the future we are experiencing now will be highly driven by mobile devices.

Want to stay up to date with the latest journalism and media innovation news from the African continent? Subscribe to our newsletter.



Everything you need to know regarding journalism and media innovation in Africa – fortnightly in your inbox.