Our Nigeria Correspondent, Fredrick Mordi meets Wangi Mba-Uzoukwu, the regional director, M-Net West Africa. She talks about the changing TV landscape in Africa and how her company is nurturing and showcasing African film and TV talent on an unprecedented scale.
Conventional wisdom dictates that the pioneer in an industry, the ‘first-mover’ will have larger market share than latter entrants. It is also expected that such pioneers will continue to dominate the industry until a new player introduces an innovation that pulls the rug from under the market leader’s feet.
But despite the entry of innovative newcomers, the government-owned Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), established in 1959, which enjoyed a monopoly for a long time before the advent of private television stations in the country, appears to be waxing even stronger.
According to a report by GeoPoll Research, a mobile survey platform, NTA remains the most-watched television station in Nigeria, in spite of stiff competition from the numerous private players. The report on the top television stations in Nigeria used viewership as a basis. (See African Business October 2014 issue). But some of the private television operators are giving NTA a good fight.
The regional director, M-Net West Africa, Wangi Mba-Uzoukwu, who is responsible for defining and implementing the growth strategy for the Africa Magic brand and M-Net Channels in the sub-region, says the television viewing landscape in Nigeria is changing. Mba-Uzoukwu says: “NTA is a pioneer in this field and was the only TV network for a number of years. NTA has had a very good head start, seeing as the Nigerian broadcast industry was only liberalised in the 1990s.
“But the TV viewing landscape is changing fast with the advent of private television stations, pay-tv platforms and even online platforms. Our viewing choices have broadened and this plays out not just in the country and also across the continent. So, it will be very interesting to see the shape of things to come.”
According to the GeoPoll report, Africa Magic, an entertainment-focused channel from the M-Net stable, was the only channel that competed favourably with the long established NTA.
I asked Mba-Uzoukwu to try and pinpoint why Africa Magic has such a viewer appeal in Nigeria. She says Africa Magic is first and foremost entertainment for Africans, by Africans. The platform, she explains, was conceived to showcase the best of African talent and creativity to continental and global audiences, noting that 11 years after the launch of the first Africa Magic channel, the message and vision continues to resonate with its viewers.
She adds “A key driver for the growth and acceptance of Africa Magic is undoubtedly Nollywood, as the Nigerian entertainment industry is known.
“While many are quick to associate Nollywood solely with indigenous movies, there is actually a lot more to it. Entertainment magazine shows, soap operas, reality and talent shows and indigenous telenovelas continue to substantially drive viewership across the continent and these are areas where Africa Magic has excelled.”
Another highlight is the annual Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCAs), where it celebrates excellence in continental television. Apart from recognising the work people do behind and in front of the camera, the AMVCAs also give the viewers an opportunity to celebrate their favourite programmes, actors and producers.
The availability of viewing choices and pay-tv options in the Nigerian market appears to have impacted on viewership, going by the report.
Mba-Uzoukwu shares this view: “In any market, the benefits of choice or options for the customer cannot be over-emphasised. The same applies to television and viewers will always be better off when they are presented with a slew of options to choose from based on their viewing preferences, earning power and other determining factors.
“Africa Magic remains a leader in continental entertainment and our channels cut across the viewership gamut. The DStv and GOtv platforms on which Africa Magic sits ensure that viewers are spoilt for choice; furthermore, the Africa Magic channels were recently redefined and the seven of them – Africa Magic Showcase, Africa Magic Urban, Africa Magic Epic, Africa Magic Yoruba, Africa Magic Hausa, Africa Magic World and Africa Magic Family – speak directly to our different audiences depending on their preference.
Also, our well established relationship with the stakeholders in Nollywood and the various entertainment industries across the continent help ensure that our content remains fresh and relevant.”
The Nollywood phenomenon
Mba-Uzoukwu points out that the earning capacity of Nollywood, which is reportedly the third-biggest film industry (in terms of earnings) in the world, has often been underrated.
She bases her argument on the fact that when earnings from Nollywood were factored in Nigeria’s recently rebased GDP calculations, Africa’s largest nation by population also emerged as the continent’s biggest economy.
The inherent vast potential that still lies within the industry gives an inkling into how much more growth is still possible, she adds.
M-Net has helped improve the quality of the industry, she says, by increasing content output. The Africa Magic Original Movies (AMOF) project, which supports and lends expertise to the creation and showcasing of original African content produced under the AMOF umbrella, is one of the ways M-Net is contributing to the growth of the African film and television industry. What the industry now needs for more development is investment – both intellectual and financial, she explains.
Though NTA reportedly provided Nollywood, which turned 20 last year, the initial platform from which to operate, Mba-Uzoukwu says Africa Magic has raised the bar.
She says: “Africa Magic remains a major stakeholder in Nollywood and our investments in the industry are well documented. Of the current crop of industry talent, many can trace their professional breaks to the platform that we have provided.
“The easiest example of our support for Nollywood would be the Africa Magic channels. Since the launch of the first Africa Magic channel more than 10 years ago, we have witnessed an exponential rise in the number of Nigerian creative talent as well as their acceptance across the globe and this is in no small way due to the platform that we have provided.
“Nollywood actors are today continental and, indeed, global stars and icons because of the screening of their movies on Africa Magic. Furthermore, our support cuts across the entire industry – from up-and-coming actors, scriptwriters, producers, editors, voice-over artistes and cameramen, we invest significantly in talent and also give them a platform to showcase their works to the world.”
The Big Brother Africa platform, she adds, has seen participants progress to successful careers in acting, filmmaking and broadcasting, while Tinsel, M-Net’s flagship soap, has prominently positioned the careers of the actors, actresses and those working behind the scenes. She also said the AMVCAs contribute to the development of Nollywood as they celebrate the works of Nigerian and other African filmmakers.
But beyond Nollywood, Mba-Uzoukwu says the music industry is big and growing on a global scale, while the fashion and comedy industries are booming.
What the future holds
She adds: “There is no doubt room for further growth, which would provide an opportunity for more talented individuals to get involved and more entertainment platforms to emerge.
“There is also a strong demand from viewers not just for quality movies, but other high quality audiovisual content across all entertainment platforms. The quality of music videos, for instance, has consistently improved over the years and we can see more professional output in that area.”
Mba-Uzoukwu was earlier this year appointed regional director, M-Net West Africa, following the split of the organisation’s African operations into West and East Africa. The development is in recognition of the specific needs of each market.
She explains further: “The West African market is key for the business’s operations and my mandate is to head the drive for the development and showcasing of world-class African entertainment content to a pan-
African and global audience.
“I am focused on redefining the viewer experience as we continue to win new audiences. I am also emphasising the strengths and potential of indigenous entertainment content through the Africa Magic Platform.
“We are not resting on our oars, despite being market leaders in showcasing indigenous entertainment content. Our content lineup is constantly improving and increasing as guided by our viewers’ preferences, and we have recently added to our existing skill set by expanding the in-house management and talent team.
“These and other developments give an insight into how very well positioned we are for future growth.
“In the next five years, I see M-Net not only consolidating on its leadership in creating and showcasing world class continental entertainment content, but also supporting and creating new opportunities for African talent to rise and shine.”
Mba-Uzoukwu has extensive professional experience in business and media strategy spanning over 16 years. Prior to joining M-Net, she held senior management positions with other multinationals including British American Tobacco, Bharti Airtel and Coca Cola International. She is focused on defining the growth strategy for M-Net and shaping the local content agenda to ensure that Africa Magic retains and maintains its leadership position in Africa.