Kicking off the panels at DISCOP Johannesburg 2019 was a session with content buyers and sellers discussing the trends they’re witnessing across their transactions in such markets as South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia and Ivory Coast.
African content producer Rapid Blue has projects all over the continent, including Got Talent in East Africa, which founder and owner Duncan Irvine hopes will get picked up again for next year. In Lagos, Nigeria, the company is working on a pair of dramas for an American client. “We’re casting in Ghana at the moment for Family Feud with Steve Harvey as the host,” says Irvine, adding that in South Africa Rapid Blue is working on a mobile-first project, creating 1000 hours of short-form content for mobile.
“Most if not all projects in Africa are ad-funded,” says Irvine. “We spend much longer putting funding together than making the show. Making the show is the fun part, the end of the equation. A lot of what we get done in the rest of Africa is trying to match what the broadcasters would like to have on-air and what advertisers would like to be attached to and trying to find that sweet spot.”
Andrew Hanlon, CEO of TVC Communications in Lagos, is also looking to find that sweet spot. The goal is “finding the sweet spot between production link-ups and hookups. If we can find those opportunities, we’re delighted to do them.” A free broadcaster, TVC has two stations—the entertainment channel TVC and the 24-hour news channel TVC News—that together attract 6 million viewers per day. “We’re the biggest commercial broadcaster in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria,” says Hanlon. “Commercially funded, privately owned. Everything we do revolves around commercial negotiations, being out there fighting for advertising dollars.”
Hanlon points out that the Nigerian market is not the easiest for making broadcasting work at the moment, as the country has only recently come out of a recession. As TVC looks to exploit commercial opportunities, it’s focusing on attracting local audiences, with the vast amount of content it produces being produced locally. “If it’s local, it pulls in big audiences,” says Hanlon, who highlights local drama and an all-female chat show on TVC’s slate. “Telenovelas work but not as well as locally produced drama. News is very big as well; the 24-hour news channel feeds into the entertainment channel. We’re on the hunt to do deals with producers of drama, Nigerian drama, shiny floor as well.”
As for sports, TVC has found the cost prohibitively expensive. But with the big international rights having been freed up in Nigeria, meaning there’s no longer just one player in the market, opportunities could be opening up. “It’s about making the commercial model fit,” says Hanlon. “How do we make it work? It’s an expensive game, no pun intended.”
Mandy Roger, managing director of JJL Media, believes that producers in Africa need to concern themselves more with how their content will be exported and how it will appeal to international audiences instead of just focusing on genre and length.
“What producers need to be looking at before you even start production and secure funding and ads is to sit down and put a strategy together to allocate funds,” says Roger, who suggests that putting together time-coded scripts, music and effects tracks and marketing packages are essential costs. She believes that there is an appetite for African content, and not just for the Diaspora, but that it needs to be pitched correctly—and that includes not being pitched among hundreds of other titles.
“Don’t just throw your whole catalog at [buyers],” advises Roger. “Buyers get approached how many times a day with people trying to sell? You need to make an impact. Send them something short and sharp. Ask what they want, how many slots do they have, how many episodes.” Roger encourages producers to tailor promos and pitches to buyers’ specifications and have a promo for each title. “The ones who stand out are the ones who make the effort.”
At Kana TV, a free-to-air satellite television channel in Ethiopia, programming and research manager Rehima Awol has seen the success of Turkish series. “Turkish drama works for Kana very well because of the production quality, storylines, the cultural integrity,” says Awol. Kana TV has also introduced content from Brazil and Mexico and is creating some of its own TV series, with a fourth currently in the works.
As of yet, Kana TV has yet to pick up content from other African markets due to the different culture that exists in its market. The company “is looking to build content that is very original for Ethiopia; everyone is conservative in Ethiopia, whether Christian, Muslim, different ethnic groups. We need a story that relates to everyone,” says Awol, adding that Kana TV wants to “build a teenage drama so that we can introduce the values and common culture of Ethiopia.” The company is also looking to make a family drama with family values and a nationalist drama that centers the country’s nationalist feelings.
Awol advises African producers outside of Ethiopia to consider the differences of the Ethiopian audience—its language, its music, its culture—when trying to enter the market.
Sihle Hlophe, a producer and founder of Passion Seed Communications, sees Africa becoming smaller in how the continent’s people are able to interact with one another as well as in seeing many Africans emerging in mainstream American culture. The key to expanding the reach further is getting into the room, according to Hlophe. “What’s important for me as an African producer? You don’t often get the chance to go and see the lay of the land,” says Hlophe. “How many times do I get to go to Hot Docs before my project is really seen? And I can be on the floor and pitch? Those are some of the barriers.” She suggests producers look to the international funding bodies and lean into their distinct voices, as that is what can make a project stand out. And once you start getting opportunities, even if they don’t pan out, they are a way to establish relationships, according to Hlophe.
A licensing and contracts management executive at FilmOne, Ife Idowu touts the company as a leader in content production, financing and distribution for English-language content out of Nigeria and West Africa that works with the likes of Netflix. A co-producer of nine out of ten of the highest-grossing Nollywood films of all time, FilmOne has just launched the first MX4D movie theater screen in West Africa. “Acquiring from Nollywood producers and Nollywood studios, taking this content outside of Nigeria is one of the major goals for us— making sure these films are not only seen in Nigeria,” says Idowu, who adds that the company is able to take the Indigenous content to the U.S., Canada and Western Europe.
DISCOP Johannesburg is taking place at the Sandton Convention Centre through November 22.