The convergence of media, technology and the Nigerian story 

Obi Asika PHOTO:  Kene Nwatu

Obi Asika PHOTO: Kene Nwatu

Introduction
The conventional platform, thus model, for broadcasting visual media content was the TV screen. Popularly referred to as the First Screen, TV revolutionised the ability of marketers to reach mass consumers in one-way communication. Yet, technology was not yet done, as the era of personal computer (PCs) was introduced, creating a second platform for broadcasting visual media content. However, as opposed to the mass connection that TVs achieved, PCs created an interactive connection between marketers and consumers. This Second Screen introduced a two-way communication that facilitated participatory marketing. Marketers were able to interact with consumers, and thus receive feedback and opinions from consumers because of the availability of data. The PC also became the primary work instrument for modern business while the TV was basically a broadcast platform which technically means one way communication.

With the advent of mobile telecommunication, particularly over the last decade, technology has once again introduced a revolution bigger than the TV and PC. In this new digital landscape, the Third Screen of mobile devices means that consumers are no longer tethered to a fixed location or time. This totally disruptive technology has created a huge opportunity for marketers by enabling them to find where their mobile consumers aggregate and enabling engagement.

The Nigerian Scene
While the above situation is generally applicable to developed markets, the Nigerian market in itself, as with similar developing markets (India comes to mind), is peculiar in that the Third Screen of mobile devices is in fact by far the dominant screen. With the hard infrastructure issues that are prevalent in Nigeria, the availability and frequency of use of TVs and PCs are very limited (due to electricity disruptions issues, affordability, etc). However, the Third Screen or smart mobile devices have grown exponentially in terms of adoption. Based on data collected from the NCC (Nigerian Communications Commission), there are close to 180 million devices active in Nigeria with over 150 million mobile subscriptions across the four major GSM operators.  While there are about 1.5 million PCs in Nigeria, there are less than 10m ipads & similar devices, so the numbers clearly show that mobile devices will never be caught in this market. If we agree that 30% of the mobile devices are smart phones giving us close to 60m smartphones then indeed, it is important to note that we already have a huge digital economy that continues to grow aggressively and has already developed significant core trends that bear watching. 

The reality is that the major telecommunication companies are busy learning how to transit to a new business model as distribution platforms, offering services and content to their subscribers. They are faced with the challenging of knowing how best to curate the content, which content wins for them and the market, and how to manage that transition from managing hardware and installations to winning the hearts and minds of the consumer with content enabled by their core products and services. This would explain why over the past five years, all the major telecommunication and FMCG companies have all been fighting over the much vaunted youth market in Nigeria, which represents about 43 percent of the nation’s total population. With a national population today of over 179 million, and a projected population of 400 million by the end of this century, the high youth population represents both the gift and the curse for Nigeria at many levels. If we do not do a better job of managing public resources, improving tertiary education and vocational education we will be left with chronic skill-gaps and this can lead to dysfunction, anarchy and turmoil.

However, if we are able to tap into our latent talents – the abundant and deep talent pool in terms of human resources – and rethink how we put our people to work, then the possibilities for us and the coming generations should be endless. We need to do much more to strengthen the private sector and create that enabling environment that allows people to work. To accomplish this, we need to build a knowledge economy that is based on intellectual capital. One where the Government is focused on creating the enabling environment for enterprise to grow and thrive. Only then can the real latent energies of all our peoples be fully released and can we begin to have the hope of achieving our much vaunted potential. If on the other hand, we do not work assiduously with this in mind as a strategic goal, we shall continue to post homilies about our potential, with nothing to show for it. In vernacular terms, ‘man no fit wack potential.

Media and Technology – The Gift & The Curse
The advent of technology and new media brought about a market disruption in Nigeria, creating significant opportunities for new players in the content & media industries such as Konga, Iroko, Paga, Jobberman Linda Ikeji, Nairaland, & more that have and still are producing Nigerian success stories. They have disrupted the status quo and have become the new benchmarks of today. However even these brands must be careful because in today’s age, the longevity of any product or service is almost only as viable as the platform through which it is developed. For instance, Blackberry in 2009 was the market leader and spent millions in marketing, dismissing the iPhone as an expensive toy. We have all seen what happened to blackberry and it is now clear that the companies saving grace is the cross platform functionality of its BBm, it led to the development of what’s app, wechat and countless other messaging platforms. In 2008, Kodak was still a major global corporation in 200 countries, with name recognition and a solid business. However, the advances in technology, smartphones, wireless internet and platforms such as Instagram have disrupted the status quo of these two brands, in fact Instagram could be called the Kodak Murderer in a sense.

In Nigeria as one surveys these new industries you must remember that there are already significant players playing in these spaces, backed with proper capital and a mid-long term view of the environment. These include brands such as Jumia, Rocket Internet and their many brands, MTN, Pulse, RIngier and a number of others, they are busy raising capital and making long term bets on the power of digital and mobile and what it means for the possibilities of commerce in Nigeria. There is significant activity in the space and for those who are watching Nigeria it is clear that disruption and new services are alive and well in Nigeria, as local players such as the CC Hub, Afrinolly and L5 Labs continue to pioneer with visionairies such as Tomi Davies continuing to advocate for more VC funds for African and Nigerian funds people must realise that one of the primary opportunities in Nigeria remains bringing services and solutions online but remembering to meet the consumer where he lives, and in Nigeria that is on the mobile device. In Nigeria one of the most impressive companies to my mind is Interswitch , with their brands quickteller and verve and their processing services for the cards and banks they provide a ubiquitous service, this is a home grown story that we should all celebrate more. Interswitch may yet become the first African Unicorn, the first Nigerian and African tech company to achieve a billion dollar valuation, and a company where the founder is still the Chief Executive, I am excited to see how their story will continue to unfold this year.

This speaks to the danger of ignoring the impact of technology. A country such as Nigeria must be proactive in exploiting the positive gains of technology only, and be weary of where technology could potentially eliminate jobs, protecting such industries where possible. In our own extant circumstances, our technology applications should be about convenience, about taking offline activities and products to online platforms, about availability and about data and information. All of these would serve as an additional service for existing industries, service providers, retailers and distributors as well as consumers. An example is mechanized large scale farming, an industry that would need high level technology but would also need high skilled man power and significant numbers in terms of manpower. This is an ideal situation for us and would be the type of thing we would want to see the Nigerian Governments, our Academic institutions and our private sector leaders and technology companies collaborating together. Thus, are there enough conversations going on at the right level between the right parties to make the correct strategy and plans for our collective benefit? Also if these conversations are happening, where are they? Why are they not in the public domain?  We cannot all afford to be spectators in this game of life, the implications are too serious to gloss over. It is definitely time for everybody to get involved.

Ready, Steady, Go!
For the best part of the last decade, I have been one of the strongest advocates for Nigerian Soft Power. Even before I had read what the Harvard Definition of soft power was, I was advocating it, based on the firm belief that we had a unique youth identity, a unique cultural view point and attitude. When this is converged with music, comedy, fashion, movies and entertainment, then it would be impossible not to pay attention. Today, we have found a way to connect to our people because we have produced talent and content that our people care about. That emotional connection is what has led to the explosion of the latent energies in the Nigerian creative industries, where so much of the talent is driven by intuition and disruption, where people are almost making things up as they go along but also making sense of their talent and environment.

I always liked to say that one of the names for the entertainment industry is Showbiz, and for the past decade we have been refining and validating the show, now we are focused on the biz as well, and this means, merchandising, licensing, talent management, promotion,PR for  TV, radio and social, event management, creative direction, show production, sponsorship management and even more. Everybody has to elevate their show from the vocational level to the business level, that means being professional, being on time, being reliable to clients. For those who have the discipline and humility to understand their talents and who have the right management, the opportunities are boundless and they will own the future.

Perhaps the single largest opportunity that these disruptions in technology have created is a levelling of the playing field in terms of access. The truth of the matter is that quality content costs money, and requires professional distribution and marketing to reach audiences. It also requires organised platforms that will enable creators to earn from their IP in terms of ticket and merchandise sales, distribution of royalties and the like. In Nigeria we are only just beginning to recognise the importance and power of ideas, the requirement of capital to support those ideas and the need for infrastructure to drive monetisation. New media and social media have enabled access to global markets and a few outliers have prospered in spite of their environment. Imagine if Africans and our corporates begin to invest into the new creators and storytellers, imagine a world where our narrative is finally shared and given life on global platforms? For years it has been clear to me that most origin mythologies of man lead to Africa, yet in Hollywood we are still victims of the big white saviour? It is long past due to stop complaining about how a movie like Gods of Egypt can be made in 2016, with a 100-million-dollar budget and no black people (representing an era when Egyptians were almost indisputably black by the way) and meanwhile the entire continent has not raised a fraction of that amount to tell our real stories. From the Rift Valley to the Bornu Empire, from the Maghreb to the Bini Empire, our legends are legion and social media and new media afford us the platforms to share them now, I pray we begin to do so and deepen the superficial narrative that has so far been our fare.

The truth of the matter is that the viral nature of the Nigerian when it comes to communication, coupled with our demographics and numbers, means that we are a huge presence on all existing social media platforms, all news platforms and all content platforms. The key for all players now is how to push the appropriate content to that global and viral digital audience, how to monetise it and more importantly how to make it sustainable. I strongly believe that the best solutions will come not only from the major brands such as MTN, Etisalat, MNet, Pepsi or new entrants such as Ntel, they will also come from people who are sitting in silos all over Nigeria, in Lagos, Enugu, PH, Abuja and more, building those new platforms, getting ready to unleash that convergence that speaks to all our people. The truth of the matter is the future is already here and if you are yet to acknowledge this, perhaps you should ponder on the medium via which this article was delivered to you. Did you read it online or from a link or did you get the hard copy? The answer will give you a strong guide to what is coming; I believe the phrase is Innovate or Die!

In this article:
Obi Asika
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