The Senior Vice-President and Managing Director of United States-based Viacom International Media Networks Africa (the parent company of MTV), Alex Okosi, speaks with OZIOMA UBABUKOH on the company’s investments in Nigeria, among other issues
The youth have taken advantage of the opportunities that MTV presents, so what have been the company’s investments in Nigeria in the last two years?
In the last two years in Nigeria, our investments have continued to be significant. From the very first time we launched the MTV Base channel, which in a lot of ways symbolises our back-up entry in Africa, it has always been our focus that Nigeria holds an important market for us. So, we have invested a lot in terms of the creative space. We have been able to create content that really relates with young people. We’ve done a lot of skill building workshops along the way, and we have been able to help the industry to be as good as it has now become.
In a lot of ways, we can say that MTV Base is a key catalyst to the great content that you see young Africans create today, especially in the music space. Before we launched, there was not much focus on the quality of our youth centric content. If you look at music, for instance, we launched with a mission to really showcase to the world the way we imagined Africa, which I think we have been able to accomplish. We were able to set up music video workshops, bringing great directors from across the world to Africa to work with our young directors and producers to set a benchmark for what quality should be like. I think that really helped the industry in a huge way.
According to findings from a research we conducted some years ago, young Africans were laughing at our content and music videos at the time because the quality was bad, so it didn’t really allow the artistes and their music videos to travel beyond regional and country borders. But since we got it right, the result has been that young Africans not only watch, but also see and experience the kind of pulse that is felt in the music scene in America and Europe. Nigerian artists are now being well received in Kenya, South Africa and other countries in Africa. I think MTV Base has ruled in terms of being the first platform to bring Africa together in that way to create a truly global quality content from our African talent. I think it has helped the industry to grow tremendously over time. Till today, we continue to invest.
Recently, we lost Shuga, our drama series, which has always been aimed at not only being able to entertain but ‘edutain’ our audience in a way that they understand how they need to conduct themselves and also tackle the social and health issues that they face every single day. The investment in Shuga is an example of some of the works that we have done but along the way, it has been a labour of love, passion and just really wanting to celebrate the best and making sure we shine the spotlight on Africa for the rest of the world to see the creative passion of the youth culture Africa has to offer.
From the consumer programming, content and talent point of view, what country is most important to Viacom and which country is it making its biggest investment in?
The reality is that Viacom is a global company. The company’s headquarters is in the United States, so I think that a lot of our channels emanate from the US brand perspective. Africa is one of the fastest growing regions for Viacom globally and we continue to find great growth in our business. The launch of MTV Base in Africa, as I mentioned earlier, was the start of our business but since then, we’ve launched nine other channels in the continent, including BET and Nickelodeon. Three other Nickelodeon channels have been launched and beyond the MTV Base channel, we have MTV channel and VH1 in the market. So, we have investments in the continent and have continued to invest. We have not only launched in MTV Base, but we have launched the nine other channels that cater for the genres and taste across Africa.
Is MTV making any conscious effort to streamline or censor programmes that tend to impact the youthnegatively?
From the very beginning, we’ve always been focused that we air and create content that reflects the taste and attitude of our audience and is respectful to the traditions and the cultures that we serve. So, that is the reason we do focus and put a big emphasis and energy on programme campaigns such as Shuga, the drama series that tackles the issues that young people face with the goal that it impacts their behaviour in a positive way. We are now in our 60s of Shuga, and we have great partners that help to support and fund the programme.
In every single year, we carry out a research to understand the impact of a campaign or programme like Shuga, and we find that it is incredibly impactful in terms of getting young people to make more responsible choices when it comes to their sexual health. We make sure that we reflect programming that the audience find respectful and connects with our consumers as well. Everybody has their different tastes, but we make sure to abide by the rules of the local market that we operate in.
Are Nigerians being given employment opportunities at MTV, or is the company simply taking advantage of the abundance of talents in the country?
We have Nigerians who run our Nigerian business. We have Nigerians who produce content in Nigeria. We have Nigerians who help to commercialise our content in Nigeria, and we have Nigerians who make editorial decisions related to our channels that are in Nigeria. For all long-term purposes, we have very much invested in Nigeria.
How much money has the company made from Nigeria and how much is it giving back to the people in terms of corporate social responsibility?
I think corporate social responsibility is evident in the work we do around Shuga. It is a multi-million-dollar investment in terms of being able to execute the campaign and programming around it. That’s an example of it and with that, we continue to execute initiatives like the youth campaign around each campaign where we get to pick leaders and engage with young people so that they can be able to understand better how to govern our countries. We organise programmes like the ‘MTV Base Meet’, where we get young people in a room with business leaders to understand how they became successful.
We’ve done it with the former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; and Aliko Dangote, among others. Our efforts are quite expensive when it comes to that. As I said, we do not only entertain but ‘edutain’ our consumers and audiencesacross all platforms that exist.
Are there investments for training and re-training of the company’s workforce in Nigeria?
Absolutely, there is no way the workers can deliver the quality that they do without first being great talents and secondly, receiving training to be able to better themselves and add value to the economy. We have always had an office since we launched our business in Nigeria, and that’s how serious we have taken our Nigeria outlet.
According the latest PricewaterhouseCoopers report, the Nigerian entertainment industry will hit $2.8bn by 2021, do you think this is something to cheer about? And going by your experience in other markets and what you know about Nigeria, is this the true worth of the Nigerian market?
I think our company has played a role in being able to be a catalyst in the growth of the industry in terms of the work we’ve done all this time. I think it’s exciting that the Nigerian entertainment industry is growing to that extent and there is still a lot more opportunities for the industry to grow, which I think will come from a whole bunch of players in the market; with new ones and established ones working together to make sure that we put things in place to grow the market.
If you investigate the media space, for instance, there is still a lot of opportunity to grow the space and the challenge is that we have no real measurement that gives you accurate information in terms of the value of content on what you see on the television. Oftentimes, it’s the word of mouth or diaries that are not effective in being able to measure the real performance of content. For instance, we are now moving into the digital migration space where our Digital Terrestrial Television platforms will be launched across the country and provide the opportunity for us to put real measurement into those set-up boxes as a way of finding out how content performs. When we do that, it’s going to spur a lot of growth because advertisers will really now have to invest money to make sure that the market is growing successfully.
The more money gets invested in TV and content platforms, the more it creates opportunities, and the more jobs for people in the creative space to help the space strive. That’s another opportunity in the entertainment space that hasn’t really been realised just because the infrastructure is not in place, but I think it is coming and it is an exciting time for Nigeria and Africa in the media space.
Nigeria has consistently failed to meet the deadline for digital migration, don’t you think that this has affected companies’ projected avenues, especially for advertising?
The reality is that the Federal Government has no valid reason to give on why it has not met the deadlines for digital migration. The government just launched in the East a terrestrial television. I think the progress is being made across the continent. South Africa and a few other countries across Africa have also been missing deadlines. I think it is imperative that we met those deadlines, but there is a whole bunch of factors that are also going to drive the success of that. To migrate to digital, if you do not have the quality content to drive the digitals, it is also going to be detrimental to business for everyone.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.