During the DISCOP Johannesburg 2019 first-look presentation Creating Relevant Brands for African Audiences, WarnerMedia executives spoke about how the company’s international channels create a brand experience that serves a local African audience.
“WarnerMedia creates, distributes, curates on every single screen,” says Julien Borde, director of channels for France, French-speaking territories, Africa and Israel. “We target all people with content worldwide. We cover all genres, from news, sports, entertainment and kids.” Having entered Africa more than 20 years ago with CNN, the company now has six channels in three languages in 56 countries.
Leading in South Africa in the kids’ audience ratings, WarnerMedia’s Cartoon Network appeals to kids, young adults and families, according to Borde. “When you do kids’ TV, localization is a no-brainer,” he says. “It’s super important for kids to relate to the kids they see on the channel.”
Localization has not long played such an integral part in the strategies of international brands, as Guillermo Farre, head of GE channels for Iberia, France and Africa, points out. “We come from a time when international companies had one single brand and expected it to work worldwide,” says Farre. “For a long time, we had a brand created in the U.S., we had our fans, but it was a brand and an approach for how to show movies to the audiences in an American way of seeing things. Little by little, we transformed the brand, how things are made.”
Among the changes WarnerMedia made was taking TCM and turning it into TNT in Africa. The company worked with locals to create content that is more relevant to local audiences for the brand that launched in October of last year. Little more than a year since the rollout, the channel has grown nearly 200 percent in the ratings. It’s a result credited to “the audience understanding that a brand is made directly for them,” says Farre. “We continue doing American movies; that’s the core concept of the channel. But you can organize and show American movies to audiences in a very local way. There’s a way to do things than to just have a single brand that goes worldwide.”
Working with WarnerMedia, Cameron Naidoo, founder and creative partner of Guerilla JHB and CPT, sees possibility. “What we have to do is take Warner’s global view and look at it with an African lens [and create] digestible content for African communities,” Naidoo says. “Every African country is different, different audience. The biggest challenge is one size doesn’t fit all.”
Naidoo advises global entities that want to expand their footprint in Africa to offer localized content that provides a “slice of life” in the region so that viewers and consumers can relate to it. One way to ensure this happens is via collaboration. “We’re strategic partners and collaboration comes down to one key thing: trust,” says Naidoo. “That’s what makes successful campaigns. Local partners help with insights, communication of campaigns.”
In a follow-up discussion, Cartoon Network’s ambition to create animated content in Africa was front and center, as the channel unveiled the three winning shorts from its Cartoon Network Creative Lab initiative.
“Since a few years now, we’re producing local content,” explained Ariane Suveg, programming director and head of kids’ content for Turner Kids’ channels in Africa. “Making channels more welcoming to African audiences, more representative of the kids’ audience.” At first, the company looked only to launch live-action programs, including dance show Pop Up Party, as it was viewed as an easier way to provide an African background and have African children on air. “This local content has really changed how we communicate with our audience,” says Suveg.
At DISCOP, Suveg says, “We started meeting with some creators in animation and we have been really fascinated by the pitches, by the stories, the characters, the creative energy. It started from there, and we have now the conviction that definitely a boom is coming within the industry around animation. Africa is a whole continent and it has so many stories to tell the audiences, and animation is a fantastic way to tell these stories for kids.
“We’re very used to listening to pitches,” adds Suveg. “Here in Africa, it’s very different. I hear unique stories. It’s very refreshing for us. We want to invest in animation.”
WarnerMedia launched the Cartoon Network Creative Lab initiative in June of last year to discover African animation talent. “We wanted to create an easy point of entry for the creators to send us a project,” says Suveg. “It was a call for entries for short-form animated films in-line with our Cartoon Network promise. We were looking for comedy and very funny concepts.”
The three projects selected out of the 200 submissions were Garbage Boy and Trash Can from a Nigerian creator, Intergalactic Ice-Cream from a South African creator and Majitu from Mark Njoroge Kinuthia from Kenya.
“I wanted to come up with a story that would resonate within all of Africa as much as possible,” says Kinuthia about the story that follows two close friends who travel from village to village fighting monsters and fantastical problems. “One that would be able to move the characters to different parts [of the continent].” As for the process of working with the initiative, Kinuthia found the chance to collaborate exciting. “I’d never done a collaboration with another African country,” he says. “It was a unique experience to kind of figure out how we go about it, what it takes. Mostly, you get a worldview. We wanted to come up with a story that would resonate beyond Lagos. This collaboration allowed for that to happen.”
Nick Cloete, owner and managing director of Mind’s Eye Creative, found the experience equally exciting. “The most exciting—and challenging—thing was extracting the key ideas from each of these concepts,” Cloete said, adding that the process entailed letting the creatives lead while keeping the projects in-line with the Cartoon Network brand. It was “mainly about picking their brains and finding what they loved most about the projects.”
“It was quite a challenging experience, but we are all so excited,” says Suveg, who says that she’s looking at possible African animated projects to start producing and make into full series. “It’s what I meant before in that we feel this energy and passion. There are so few animated series out of Africa and the demand is high. It’s very exciting to do this.”