Crisis of Confidence

August 11, 2017

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , — gareth @ 10:06 am


Another exciting week in South Africa, right?

I know what you’re thinking and you’re wrong. We’re not the most messed up country on earth. Sure, we’re up there with the basket-cases, but we’re nowhere near as bad as Syria, North Korea, Afghanistan or even Kenya (and who thought Kenya would go backwards?). I’m not trying to compare us with the obviously bad only – Trump’s America is hardly serene and secure.

I had a crisis of confidence last week, exactly one week before parliament had to consider its confidence in the President. I went on the air and ranted about how I’ve had enough and how I just want to get away, go somewhere else and start again. I was frustrated, angry and probably a little bit depressed. I suspect I’m not the only one. With the benefit of a cooling-off period, I’m back to my stupidly optimistic, invulnerable self. Some people will say I’d be better served by my negativity and cynicism – they might be right, but that’s not me.

We’re embroiled in a lot of unconstructive conversations in South Africa. The DA want to dissolve parliament; the ANC is falling apart; there are race-baiters and slacktivists in every dark corner of the internet and society. We need to get back to basics, tip our baggage into the rubbish bin and start again, with respect. People who are stressed tend to look inward, not out. They tend to become self-absorbed, self-pitying and unpleasant. That’s where we’re headed unless we make a change. I’m not going from unconstructive to outright destructive; there’s only desolation and loneliness there. I want you to join me, and not in some fake patriotic, low-expectation, motivational speaker way – but in making a simple decision.

Ask yourself this: Do you want tomorrow to be better than yesterday? There’s really only one answer and all it requires is the application of the golden rule and energy. The golden rule, as we know from Buddha, Confucius and Jesus is that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In practice that means greeting people, being polite and friendly, making an effort to listen and opening up. It’s really not hard – just imagine everyone you meet is a first date you’d like to impress.

The second requirement, energy, is harder to muster – but it can be done. Everyone is different, but I suspect if you really want something, you’ll be able to power yourself up to get it done. The alternative is to let the negativity pull you down, and that would be utterly shit.

There’s an Afrikaans word that doesn’t really have an English equivalent, but it means ‘persevere’ – VASBYT. That’s what we need to do. I keep telling people who ask me about our political situation that things had to get a lot worse before they’d start getting better. That’s true for our country, but it’s also true for me – and for you!


In defence of sound:

July 31, 2017

Filed under: Blog — gareth @ 8:23 am


Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Of all the senses, this makes the auditory one special.

Humans have been processing important information received by sound for aeons. Without effort, we manage to distinguish the difference between background noise and sound that might imperil, inform or affect us. Listening intently is something that we need to focus to do. At, and more broadly in podcasting, we’re all about our listeners, not hearers. If you’re into what we do, you’re a listener.

Hearing is an ability, listening is a skill. I’ve had to learn (and I suppose many of us have) to be a better listener. The old adage of “you have two ears to listen and one mouth to speak” comes to mind – but what it means is that you don’t get smarter by talking and sharing what you know; you get smarter by paying attention to what other people know. The more carefully you listen, the more you pick up – and not just from the words and the meaning, but also from the tone, volume, pitch and control. It’s like a song. If you listen really, really carefully, you can hear the fingers on the guitar strings, and the faint movements around the microphones. Audiophiles (people who are obsessed with music and sound) will spend fortunes so that they can hear minute details on a recording.

Receipt vs Interpretation. By hearing something your ears just receive the audio waves. Listening means you do that and then interpret what is going on. That’s why when you’re lying in bed at night and you hear a sound, your fear or imagination kicks in and you picture someone breaking into the house or a monster coming up the stairs. Listening switches on imagination in a way pictures, smells, tastes and tactile feelings can’t compare with.

Physiological vs Psychological. Hearing is a neural process, listening is something you decide you’re going to do beforehand. Have you ever sat in a lecture or group discussion and felt yourself zoning out completely? You know, where you can’t remember a single thing that was said in half an hour? That means you haven’t been listening. In an age of text messages and Instagram images, just think of how a phone call or voice message cuts through the clutter. It’s still the only way to be sure someone has received your message.

We’re so used to movies, video clips and YouTube that we forget they aren’t just visual, they’re also auditory. Take away the sound and you might only get half the story. Next time you download a podcast or switch on the radio, remember that you’re not there to hear it. In order to get something valuable out of the experience you actually need to listen.



‘Hear’ and Now

June 29, 2017

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , — gareth @ 1:38 pm



Someone once said to me sarcastically that “anyone and their dog could start a podcast”. I thought that was a good observation, even if it came from an idiot. Just about everyone, including big brands, are doing their own podcasts now – and instead of making fun of them, I would suggest you jump on the bandwagon. Hell, even Alanis Morissette started her own podcast a few weeks ago.

In a story published this week by AdWeek, according to a new report from the IAB in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers US, podcast ad revenue has grown by 85% since last year and is on track to reach more than $220 million in 2017. Previously, ad revenues for podcasts jumped 73% from 2015 to 2016.

“That makes podcasting the fastest growing media platform in the world.” Gimlet co-founder, Matthew Lieber was excited to tell us on Twitter.

General Electric’s The MessageThe McKinsey Podcast and a number of other branded podcasts have even made it into the top 50 podcasts in the US in the last six months. In a world of narrowcasting and niche offerings, podcasting is the go-to choice for people with little time and a lot of discernment, and brands know they have to get in now or miss the wave.

A lot of naysayers and cynics will say that’s all good and well in the US, but here in Africa, things are a lot more slow, data prices are too high, people are used to radio, blah blah blah. I’ve heard it all before. These are exactly the people that marketers and advertisers should be wary of. Brands can, for the first time in a compelling audio format, reach out to audiences directly and produce high-quality content – but they shouldn’t do it alone. A solid understanding of the fundamentals of good storytelling, broadcasting techniques and the experience of those who have used audio to build terrestrial radio audiences will help you get there faster, and reach further. That’s what we’re doing for our clients at – clients like T-Systems and AutoTrader.

In South Africa, all the terrestrial radio stations have started doing what started doing three years ago, and to their credit, some do it pretty well. We’re already looking at the next frontier… and we have two powerful partners to help us get there – Muzi Kuzwayo and Phumi Mashigo of Ignitive. Between the two of them they have storytelling, advertising, production and commercial experience that will give us an edge and help us take things up a level.

In the next few weeks, I’ll tell you what we’ve learned and how we’re planning to change the game once more. Watch this space, and don’t get left behind…


The Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum – Bonn, 19 June 2017

June 20, 2017

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , , — gareth @ 7:09 am


It was a pertinent week for me to find myself in Bonn. For three days before I arrived at the Global Media Forum in Bonn, I was in Berlin – a city that practised in reality what the rest of the world preached in ideology, at the height of the Cold War. Communism, totalitarianism and authoritarianism pitted against capitalism, free expression and democracy. We knew who won that battle of ideas, and we have seen the costs for the losing side.
In a world of resurgent nationalism, Russian manipulation of the digital media, fear and loathing in Trump’s America and even the manufactured outrage and racism South Africa sees flaring up from time to time, it may sometimes feel like we’re entering a new era of ideological warfare. To make things even more difficult, the rise of fake news and the demise of traditional media leave many people confused, craving credibility and authenticity.

Bonn is the old capital of West Germany, and the room I sat in to hear the Plenary speeches was the same room in which reunification was debated under the old Bundestag. To begin the official proceedings, Deutche Welle’s Director General, Peter Limbourg paid homage to Helmut Kohl, the great architect of German reunification and first chancellor of a united Germany in 1989/1990. Kohl died this week, leaving a mixed legacy in a Europe unsure of union and a Germany dealing with identity, immigration and integration.

There will be many issues debated and discussed this week: Identity, diversity, free expression, censorship, social and digital media. Lawyers, politicians, think tanks and media businesses will bring their know-how and questions to the forum. I hope I find clear and thoughtful ideas that enhance the way we build a trailblazing platform in South Africa. It’s clear that our problems are not unique and our challenges are global in nature. We’re not alone.

The open, exciting world the Internet presents to us can be frightening, but like capitalism and democracy, it seems the best of the bad options, and the only one which can improve and evolve itself over time.

What Will Replace Reading?

April 18, 2017

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , — gareth @ 12:48 pm


For the last 100-500 years (depending on what part of the world you’re from), reading and writing have been upheld as the best means of communicating great ideas, confirming important agreements, recording our stories and sharing information with wide audiences. Before that, for tens of thousands of years, we listened and talked to each other.

The only reason that writing and reading became more hallowed and respected than the oral traditions was because it was easier to prove something if it was written down. There was no way to record the spoken word very accurately, and things like tone and delivery were nearly impossible to describe. Thanks to the world of mobile technology and sound and video recording, we can start communicating great ideas, confirming important agreements, recording our stories and sharing information with wide audiences the way we always wanted to.

As TechCrunch reported this week (, podcasting is replacing long-form journalism for smart, mobile, early adopters and is becoming the preferred method for information transfer for people too busy to read 10 000-word articles. As print media starts to lose its prominence and usefulness, so audio (more than video) content will steadily take its place. I say this with no love or joy – I take great delight in the written word, am a confirmed bibliophile and believe ardently that reading and writing will never die, but it will change. Radio survived the advent of television because of commuter traffic (you couldn’t watch TV or read a magazine while driving, but you could listen to radio while doing other things), and podcasting similarly, can be taken into environments where they don’t require your undivided attention. You could listen to a history podcast while cutting up vegetables for dinner, or hear a fascinating interview while you’re on the treadmill.

For many people, podcasts exist to improve their mind, widen their understanding of the world, or take them on journeys of discovery – meeting people and going to places that they’d never get to experience in the first person. They can also be entertaining, comforting, inspiring, empowering or useful. You can learn French, hear a philosophical debate, follow a gripping fiction or laugh at outrageous comedy and all of it can be a tremendously private experience. After almost 20 years as a broadcaster, it feels like we’re amplifying the best stuff and throwing away the stuff we didn’t need or like.

Podcasts will of course become increasingly niched, as will all content – essentially the individual will select and edit their own subscriptions independently – and that’s exactly how it should be. Just as people who believe in free expression wouldn’t want anyone censoring them, a listener can finally become their own content curator – and it has taken a few thousand years to reach this point.

To find out more about creating podcasts for your brand, contact

2017 – The Year of the Podcast

April 3, 2017

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , — gareth @ 8:07 am

South Africa isn’t “on the brink” of a digital revolution – and the tipping point isn’t some mystical moment – some exact date and time when consumers and listeners and discerning citizens will suddenly discover, en masse, that there’s content FOR AFRICA online. They’ve been doing it for a long time already and they’re coming for it in increasing numbers. If you’re not firmly placed in the digital media game by mid-2017, you’re going to be too late.


One day people will talk about podcasts like they talk about Facebook, because they’re talking about them now like they used to talk about Facebook. At, we knew we were breaking new ground. In America, are calling 2017 the YEAR OF THE PODCAST: “I predict this year is the tipping point for podcasting, with ‘Serial’ laying the groundwork two years ago for ‘Missing Richard Simmons’, as well as folks like Joe Rogan going supernova… podcasts which are taking the medium from the underground to the mainstream.”

In a world that moves as fast as it does now, the delay between what is happening in the US and what will happen in South Africa is much more protracted. With a stable of unassailable talent, creative ways of doing branded content and an unbridled authenticity, it’s possible for anyone to build a successful podcast. You could start one now, as long as you’re passionate, original and consistent.

When turns three in May 2017, we’ll have established ourselves as the biggest podcaster in Africa, and one that has produced almost 30 000 hours of original talk content. Our clients range from banks to food outlets and the stuff we can produce for them is as authentic as it gets. There may be fake news out there, but there’s nothing fake about podcasts.

Podcast fans, unlike the people who listen to whatever is dished up to them on terrestrial radio, are even willing to pay for their subscriptions – so when advertisers and sponsors are too meek to support them, their listeners will. Dave Rubin, whom I interviewed this month, went independent from ORA TV and asked his audience to contribute to his Patreon account so that he wouldn’t have to rely on advertisers. He more than covered his costs and now runs his show according to his own rules. His audience is happy, he’s happy and he can produce quality stuff without any conditions brought to bear by someone else’s money.

To build a great aggregator of podcast content and corner the market on audio content, you’d need to buy the Top 40 podcasts in South Africa, delivering between 1000 and 50000 listeners a week.
With some overlap, that’s a potential subscriber base of some 40 000 to 2-million people. To give you some idea of how good that is, look at these figures, as compiled by

New York Times: About 3 million (digital + print combined)
WSJ: 948,000 subscribers (digital only)
Pandora: 4.39 million (total)

The opportunities for brilliant content creators are wide open, but you’d need to act now to catch the wave.


For content creation opportunities to connect brands with our digitally engaged audience, contact


March 27, 2017

Filed under: Blog — gareth @ 1:54 pm

We live in such a fascinating country. Not one single person, if you take the trouble to get to know them, is one-dimensional. This morning I met a successful Afrikaans singer whose album has gone double-platinum and who plays towns like De Aar as well as massive shows like “Afrikaans is Groot”. His name is Refentse Morake. Yes, people who love Identity Politics, your head probably exploded.

Having spent a week in Austin Texas, I managed to take a deep breath and exorcise some of the hokey South African obsessions that keep cesspools like Twitter alive with anger, fury, outrage and consternation. Instead I found myself talking to visionary people, pragmatists and venture capitalists about things like Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Robotics. You know, the stuff that will take us forward as a species, instead of backwards into our fearful, tribal, primitive past. We all have that choice, you don’t need to leave South Africa to choose to move forward.

Two big stories have dominated the national dialogue (at least if you believe Twitter is a true reflection of the feelings and thoughts of most of our people – by the way, I don’t) over the last few days: Helen Zille defending colonialism and two rude assholes shouting at each other at Spur. Lurking somewhere in the background, Bathabile Dlamini’s dereliction of duty, SARS owing citizens some R19-billion in VAT and a suspicious burglary of the Chief Justice’s offices seems to bother only a few.

We’re so goddamn stupid.

No wonder we account for about half of one percent of the world’s GDP. We’re like one of those rural backwaters where the internecine battles of one family against another distract them from an invading horde who end up slaughtering them all. It’s deeply discouraging, and considering our unique qualities, geography and infrastructural advantages on the continent, we are more than disappointing.

If you want to be better, might I humbly suggest a few things? These aren’t based on any qualities I believe I have, but upon the qualities of those who have changed the world for better and whom (as a student of history and a communicator) I have observed:

1. Individuals who think of themselves as individuals first are truly free to self-actualise.
2. Blaming another person, the government, history or your parents may be valid, but it won’t help at all.
3. Your failures and successes are yours. Own them.
4. Nobody cares enough about you to conspire against you, except you.
5. If you want to be successful, help other people solve their problems.
6. There aren’t good and bad people, there are good and bad ideas. Some of those ideas are baked in early.
7. Collaborate to grow. Holding on to something and not sharing it will keep it small.
8. Think ten times as much about tomorrow as you do about what happened yesterday.



March 13, 2017

Filed under: Blog — gareth @ 1:57 pm

#sxsw speaker 🇺🇸

A post shared by Gareth Cliff ⚜ (@grcliff) on


It’s day three of the most interesting convention in the world and I’m sitting two rows away from supermodel Brooklyn Decker, listening to a discussion on women in executive positions in tech start-ups. It’s not something I’d normally have any interest in, but I just found out that a woman designed a bra long before any man did and had it stolen away from her (along with all the financial derivatives) by a man. That kind of story makes the subject fascinating – and that’s the point, SXSW is fascinating. From VR experiences about Philip Treacy hats to keynotes about the future of human genetic engineering, there’s enough brain food (as Stuff publisher, Toby Shapshak calls it) to keep anyone but the wilfully ignorant engaged.

I heard a story about where the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” came from: According to a cab driver there was a homeless alcoholic man called Leslie who used to prance around in a string bikini, using all his charms to persuade the people of Austin to part with their money so that he could spend it on booze. He used to tell them to keep Austin weird. Austin is the capital of Texas, but it’s more San Francisco than San Antonio. After a while, almost everyone in town got to know the homeless guy and he even ran for mayor. He didn’t win, but some tech billionaire bought him a house he refused to move into. That story is weird, but in this town just about everything is. Cycling cheater Lance Armstrong, legendary director Terrence Malick and computer billionaire Michael Dell live there, Twitter was launched there in 2007, and it’s as close to the centre of the digital universe as it’s possible to be (certainly after Silicon Valley).

In Austin, you might end up at a speakeasy chatting to Scarlett Johansson for an hour (this is supposed to have happened to someone two years ago) or eating lunch with the doctor building memory chips that could cure Alzheimer’s and boost human memory capacity to astronomical levels. Star Wars fanboys mix with venture capitalists and a hundred languages are spoken up and down every escalator. For thirteen days, the Interactive, Music and Film festivals of South By Southwest are a lodestone for people who are more interested in tomorrow than yesterday.

This year I got to host a panel with Brett Loubser of WeChat, addressing the opportunities the mobile economy might offer tech businesses, with a particular interest in the work we had both done in the foundation stages of People are interested in Africa, but they don’t know a lot about it, except for corrupt governments, wild animals and raw material exploitation. To expose people to the opportunities that a connected, increasingly tech-savvy burgeoning young population present is a great way to start conversations – conversations that might result in the next Thawt, Bitland, Giraffe or Elon Musk being found.



A post shared by Gareth Cliff ⚜ (@grcliff) on


On our first night out we found a hot sauce shop that sold some stuff that is so high on the Scoville heat scale that it comes with health advisories. I bought a bottle of Ass Reaper and Dr. Assburn (containing the terrifying Scorpion/Carolina chili pepper) that guarantees a heat of 1,5 million Scoville units. I can’t wait to see if they’re as potent as they’re advertised to be – or maybe I can. There’s a place on 6th Street – which is the main drag for pubs, bars, hidey-holes and drunkenness…

Hang on, some naked people just walked past in the rain under transparent umbrellas. I’m sorry, I got distracted. I’m typing this up at a Starbucks on the corner of 5th Street and I swear, there’s craziness happening in real-time. I don’t want you feeling left out.

As I was saying, 6th Street, just one street up from where I am now, is insane – there’s a place called Buffalo Billiards, where you play games like shuffleboard/air-hockey/dwarf curling (I really don’t know how else to describe it: You slide a heavy disk the size of a fried egg atop a long wooden table sprinkled with fine sand. The object is to get it as close to the far edge without it sliding off. The opposing team try to do the same or knock you off the table), while drinking malt liquor and attempting to chat up the local women – all of whom are wise to any advances. If you like food, you’ll eat like a rescue dog at any number of Mexican, barbecue and fine-dining establishments. The IronWorks will serve up such gigantic beef ribs that the unwary will end up with the meat sweats and pack on weight within minutes.


Snacks @sxsw #meaz

A post shared by Gareth Cliff ⚜ (@grcliff) on


After that you can learn about the latest non fin-tech Blockchain applications and then attend a workshop on how to build a vibrator – and nobody will think any the less of you for choosing either over a presentation by futurist Ray Kurzweil.

In some way, the smorgasbord of businesspeople, nerds, celebrities, thought leaders, scientists, billionaires and remorseless eaters of Austin represent the leading edge of humanity. They’re the people who will determine the way your future looks and sounds and feels, whether you like it or not. Jump on board baby, or you’ll be dragged along against your will anyway.


See more photos here.






January 27, 2017

Filed under: Blog — gareth @ 2:00 pm



This week saw the unwelcome (to Zizi Kodwa and company) revelation that the ANC’s “Paid Twitter” tried to influence and mislead people during the municipal elections in 2016, and possibly in other ways too.

To many people who aren’t among the 2-3 million active Twitter users in South Africa this won’t matter at all, but even if you don’t engage on social media, it is the new battleground for politics, social justice and ideas. A lot of the most skeptical people in society will tell you that if you believe everything you read, you deserve to be confused. It’s becoming a lot harder to ascertain what’s true and valuable in a 21st century world.

2016 was all about racial conflict and division, with political parties and leaders tearing each other apart. Race, gender and sexual orientation became everyone’s weapon of choice in the zero-sum game of destroying reputations and showing everyone else what a good person you are. Who knows, in the light of Paid Twitter, how much of it was true? Certainly there was no winner – in fact the ANC demonstrably lost.

The first time I suspected there was more to it than meets the eye was when I was axed from Idols in January last year as a result of the reactions on Twitter to my tweet: “People don’t understand free speech at all” during the Penny Sparrow debacle. The racist vitriol that was unleashed on me took a heavy toll and our young business was under serious threat. My manager did a thorough analysis and identified a group of antagonists that suggested a more coordinated approach – she even called it sinister. Turns out she was exactly right. There were a dozen or more of these agents, and we even had confirmation of something in the shadows some months later. As of this week, the whole rotten enterprise has been laid bare – and the chickens are coming home to roost.

While the year saw a lot of figurative online bloodshed, the Institute of Race Relations insist race relations are good, and that most people (85%) believe we need each other to succeed and prosper. The real challenge in 2017 is going to be figuring out who you can trust, what’s credible and what people really care about. Trending topics on Twitter come and go – what matters today is no longer important tomorrow, and that was true even before Twitter came along. But with the reality of cynical paid campaigns and bought influence, we must be careful not to be swept up in manufactured outrage and fake news.

When Shaka Sisulu says something now, we may side-eye him rather than retweet him. Even so, being reactive isn’t going to take you all the way. Unfortunately the buck stops with you: You need to be acutely aware of bias, open to ideas that don’t support your point of view and willing to read a lot more material than the 140 characters in a Tweet. If you aren’t prepared to do those things, get ready to be led down the garden path. The tendency to fall in with Group Think is also strong – and as we discussed on my show this week, people who lack self-confidence and desire to belong to a group will sacrifice their own rigorous intellectual conclusions to the opinion of a mob, if it means they can stay in the group.

First principles. Sources. Relevance. A while ago I said everyone is a broadcaster – now you also have to be your own editor. Mute the scurrilous agents, block the instigators and recognise the signs that you’re being played. While social media have in so many ways liberated us, they have exposed us personally and intimately to some very dangerous influences and influencers.



Fat Chance!

January 26, 2017

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , , , — gareth @ 8:16 am

This week I’m supposedly fat-shaming women. This is the meme I posted on Instagram.
Like bees around a honeypot, the online journalists buzz into the hint of a controversy and pollinate (or rather pollute) social media with their stories. It’s just another form of paid Twitter. And here’s what some of our “respectable” news outlets had to say about it:

Radio DJ, Gareth Cliff, has been accused of being “sexist” and fat shaming women.
Gareth Cliff Accused of Fat Shaming Women
Did Gareth Cliff Go Too Far?
Gareth Cliff Causes a Stir on Social Media
Gareth Cliff meme caused a social media frenzy

1. There was no social media frenzy. There was a news media frenzy amongst once respected publications who are dredging the bottom of the barrel for stories…or in the case of The Sunday Times in November last year, completely fabricating stories – like reporting that I admitted to spiking Marah Louw’s drink only to have to apologise and retract the following week.
2. This is a meme. I didn’t create it. In fact Republican Sen. Jack Sandlin of Indianapolis posted it first (the source is on the meme). It’s meant to be funny, and if it isn’t funny to you, then that’s all – it isn’t funny to you. Keep scrolling. Trolling social media comments and posing as the internet police is the laziest form of journalism possible.
3. If you’re going to call things a frenzy and they’re really not, you’re lying to your readers. The actual post on Instagram got a mere 500 likes and 90 comments (the vast majority of which came after your frenzy) and only four or five of which were critical. The rest (including numerous comments from self-proclaimed fat women) found it hilarious. So not even the smallest minority of direct responses (not even counting the ones who don’t care or are sick of made-up outrage) agree with these media publications.
4. News agencies – I know when I post stuff and someone gets upset, you can make a story out of it which helps to get clicks to your site, but you’re aiming low. You can’t make me stop laughing at things I find funny (like the video of the guy guiding a lady over a flooded pavement and she gets swept away in the flood, or the guy who gets his dick set on fire). You’re losing the support of people who come to you for real news and some fun. In the land of the offended, there is no fun. Eventually even they leave that land for a place of sunny skies and laughter. That’s where I’m going, you can argue amongst yourselves.
PS: If you haven’t read Cliffhanger yet, it gets to the heart of all the previous controversies and how consistently the facts are misreported. Today it’s called “Fake News”.


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