Interview: Alex Okosi

To what extent is local content important in terms of driving audience growth in Africa?

ALEX OKOSI: Localisation is becoming increasingly important. In 2003 research showed that, of the music being listened to by Nigerian youth, 80% was international. That has now flipped to 80% local and 20% international. There is now a much deeper appreciation for Nigerian music and a stronger desire among Nigerian artists to create better music videos to showcase themselves. In the past, music and entertainment were not widely respected career aspirations, but parents and young Africans increasingly view them as a path to self-actualisation, and a means to make a living. The appetite for local content and pride of ownership is greater than ever. We have also seen African artists emerging on the international stage: African artists are making waves in Europe. For example, Nigerian artists are selling out concerts to both African and European attendees. Broadcasters like us are also creating initiatives to showcase African talent beyond national and continental borders.

What lessons can be learned from the growth of the Nigerian film industry for the development of other African entertainment content?

OKOSI: Nollywood demonstrates the keen appetite for local content in Nigeria. The greatest aspect of Nollywood is that it taps into cultural sensibilities. The acting may be a bit dramatic for my taste at times, but to some extent it accurately depicts how passionate Nigerians can be when expressing themselves in their day-to-day lives. The storylines are sometimes predictable, but the authenticity of culture woven into them drives the appeal of the films globally. The industry’s rise was part of my business case that local content can drive deeper engagement.

The growth of Nollywood also demonstrates that Nigerian content can travel beyond its own borders. From Nigeria to London to New York, Nollywood films are watched not only by the African diaspora but also by other cultures. Nollywood in its early stages differs from other entertainment as it defies the idea of quality as a barrier to connecting with consumers.

However, on other content platforms, quality is increasing, partly due to competition in West Africa from telenovellas – which offer dramatic storylines and higher quality – and partly due to digital media. Multiple online platforms will lead to greater competition among filmmakers, which will filter out the lowest-quality films and raise the overall standard.

What are the biggest challenges in increasing the quality and calibre of local production?

OKOSI: The initial challenge was getting industry players to understand the concept of quality, to pay attention to the creative process and to focus on the detail. Money is not the issue, particularly in today’s industry, where the cost of production is significantly lower than it used to be. The key issue was essentially a lack of training and education. In music videos, particularly, we have surpassed that challenge. Today, the quality of Nigerian music and music videos has become so high that a broadcaster like MTV Base has too much content to choose from.

How do you expect mobile internet to impact media revenue and profit generation?

OKOSI: We see mobile internet as an opportunity. Television is still incredibly lucrative, particularly outside Africa. That said, the returns from television content can only be sustained if digital media is used to complement it. This is especially important in African markets, where the youth demographic is larger than in the rest of the world and they are increasingly consuming digital media content. The key is to ensure that metrics are in place to measure the impact of digital/social media so content producers and platforms can better monetise the space. At this stage, the sampling and research are not as refined as they should be. This presents an opportunity to provide a solution.