A paper delivered at the 5th Distinguished Annual Guest Lecture of the School of Communication, Lagos State University on Tuesday, November 5, 2019
Thank you very much for your invitation to speak to the subject ‘Exploring Entrepreneurial Potential in Nigeria’s Media entertainment Industry.’ This is a topic that is dear to my heart and it is a topic that I feel ought to be THE concern at the heart of all conversations in our media entertainment industry today. Let me quickly begin with an illustrative little story of innovation that some might be familiar with.
When the digital revolution began to take proper hold in America, the music labels at the time hadn’t figured out an effective distribution strategy that made it possible for people to buy the songs they wanted and listen to it on their computers and MP3 players. Well a solution to an inconvenient problem showed up in the form of a software called Limewire which basically pirated the music by offering a way to rip the cds and enjoy the music for free. Before long Limewire went viral and nearly everyone was using it. Naturally, this quickly brought the American music industry to a crisis. Most of the reaction from music label executives amounted no more than handwringing and bemoaning piracy as a crime. But a certain entrepreneur named Steve Jobs saw the opportunity in the crisis. He realized the consumer will find a way to connect to a desired experience and happily pay for it, if it was made accessible and affordable. He also realized that what Limewire was doing locally, could be globally exploited, and in that game of numbers it would therefore be more affordable such that it would make more sense and mean more access for every music lover and every music maker. He gathered the label executives together in a room and explained that the only way to beat piracy was to make it easier, and if possible, cheaper to buy the original. And so Apple’s iTunes store was born. And Limewire died a natural death.
Today nobody, anywhere in the world bothers with illegal downloads of music because it is simply much easier to stream it online and pay.
Steve Jobs also observed and understood the customer. The labels wanted to sell only albums, and thus one could only have a song on an album only if one had the whole album. To Steve Jobs, that was nuts because, unlike the music label executives, he was thinking about it from the customer’s point of view. And so he also designed a solution that made it possible for consumers to buy only singles – a song they liked instead of being forced to buy songs they did not want.
The insight of this story captures the essence of my paper summarily. Steve Jobs deployed a technology-based solution to create a global retail access to a desired experience that offered pricing value. It is that value-chain that has in turn delivered unprecedented prosperity to the music industry creating billionaires like Jay Z, Sean Combs (a.k.a. P.Diddy), Kanye West, Drake and others. More importantly, a non-musician’s entrepreneural insight simply saved the American music industry from collapse.
In the odd 30 years of my career in the entertainment and media sector in Nigeria, I have worked in broadcasting, in advertising, in content development for radio, television and cinema, and today I mentor young creatives as Academy Director for the MultiChoice Talent Factor (West Africa). I can say with some confidence that the quality and quantity of creative talent in Nigeria is simply awe-inspiring. Just go online and see the volume of artistic creations and storytelling expressed on our social media pages! Look at the ever growing population of filmmakers, writers, cinematographers, art directors and many more who create every day in Nollywood, Kannywood and every other ‘wood’ delighting audiences in Nigeria and the continent. Why is it that all these talents making al these creative works all still hover barely above the poverty line despite over two decades of the emergence of Nollywood as an industry? Why is it that almost everyone making real profit from the creativity of the film industry do not come from a strictly creative background? The point I am trying to make here is simply this: Talent is important but talent is simply not enough.
Creativity is about leveraging talent. Entrepreneurship on the other hand leverages opportunity. Prosperity occurs only when creativity and talent are trained to recognize opportunity and is able to learn the roadmap of a competitive business terrain. Talented people are very brilliant people who see what others do not see and can deploy imagination to stir our consciousness. There is therefore nothing about the business of business that should ordinarily confound their brilliant minds. Which is why I cannot understand those who connect poverty to creative culture or equate material lack with some cosmically deep creative talent. Talent and prosperity should go hand in hand. It does everywhere else in the world. The difference is not in our stars, it is in the knowledge gap. Creative entrepreneurship therefore must be the numero uno item on the agenda of our industry now, especially in spaces where we have opportunity to connect with young emerging creatives such as you.
The time is now to switch on the energy of the industry to the opportunities that lie in wait. The figures speak for themselves.
In 2016 alone, Nigeria’s Media and Entertainment industry, covering advertising, publishing, music, theatre, film, television, and radio generated over US $7 billion, contributing around 1.4% of our GDP. It’s a really big deal that a creative and entertainment industry with virtually no institutional or government support, and bedeviled with such monsters like piracy and poor distribution networks can generate this figure. As if this wasn’t enough, the industry has been projected to become the fastest growing of all the entertainment industries in the world, growing at a compound annual growth rate of an astounding 12%, 11 times higher Japan. The PwC report published 2018 states the following:
- Over the next five years, in Nigeria, Internet video will grow at an 11.6% CAGR, and music streaming at a 20.7% CAGR
- Nigeria with a 12.1% CAGR (albeit strongly influenced by surging spending on mobile Internet access), will be the world’s fastest-growing E&M market over the coming five years while the slowest-growing will be Japan, growing at a 1.7%
- Over the next five years, it is projected that the entertainment and media industry globally will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.2%
All that is good news. BUT the key is to note the word “projected.” The projections become actuals only if we understand opportunity and if we seize the moment. The bad news in the good news is that the revenues of our industry aren’t the direct result of conscious entrepreneurial activities. That revenue has grown year on year isn’t entirely because people are coming up with new ways to make money, which is really what entrepreneurship is all about. Don’t misunderstand me, there are people whose entrepreneurial drive have delivered great additions to the economy of the space, but they have been too few. Take the film industry for example, revenue has grown because more cinemas have been installed and films are bigger and promoted well and many can now be licensed to international or local SVOD platforms like Netflix, Showmax or IrokoTV. But films don’t only make their money from viewings. There are many ancillary products and services that many advanced markets use to grow more film revenue.
So how does a creative entrepreneur ride the wave of opportunities in the media and entertainment business? First thing is to focus on the consumer. What are the needs of the consumer, what does he/she want and in what package does the consumer desire the ‘experience?’ That was the first genius of Steve Jobs creation of the iTunes platform. He did not focus on the music creator or the label executives or what conventions existed previously in the music sales value-chain. He focused on the consumer. To get this we must first understand who the new consumers are, for they have changed a great deal. Over the years, mankind has automated life and society to make things easier and easier. Travel times have shortened; information no longer need to travel for weeks, months, or years in a letter; each family doesn’t have to grow its own food, etcetera. As a result of this change on a societal, psychological, and technological level the new consumer is nomadic, unwilling to put much effort into finding anything that is not easy to find or access. It’s the primary reason why Netflix rose to such prominence. Now the cinemas are having to innovate to lure the nomadic customer out of his house, and their strategy is to improve the quality of the cinematic experience, using technology as a tool. Right now, there are cinemas that have seats that vibrate, get warm, emit a kind of mist, and a host of other fantastic things. Essentially, the cinemas are now offering something that consumers can’t get sitting at home on their mobile phones. The main point here is that the new consumer wants things very easy, and everything you do should be anchored towards that. In truth, you have no choice, your creative company’s survival depends on it.
Another quality that illuminates who the new consumer is his ‘tribal-ity.’ Thanks to social media, more people than ever in the history of human existence have access to share their thoughts globally, including their views, likes, interests, etc. Everyone can have an opinion and anyone can aggregate followers, practically creating a tribe of your very own. Coupled with the breakdown of the traditional family systems we evolved from, this has resulted in people yearning for connections. Thanks to these two factors, humans, and by extension, consumers, have unknowingly reverted to the old ways of the tribe. Except now the tribes assemble not out of a shared culture but of shared passions and interests, and sometimes values. Thus, Arsenal or Manchester United or Chelsea fans are a tribe, and the glue that binds them together is their shared loyalty and love for the football club. We have Apple fans, Google fans, Wizkid fans, and many more than I could possibly mention. In short, it is the age of the fans, and this has large implications for all businesses, particularly those in the media and entertainment industry.
The new consumer is powerful. The world’s interconnectivity, which is increasing year on year, gives the new consumer the ability to make global impact. Thus a fan in Nigeria can connect your brand or product to a fan in India, who in turn connects it to a fan in China. If the work is as good as the first fan said, it won’t take long for more Indians and Chinese to hear about it. Consequently, if a work is bad, the odds are high that news of its inadequacy will travel further the work itself. So truly, we are in the age where content maybe king but the consumer is the kingmaker.
According to the global report published by PwC in 2018, the companies that are able to create the best experiences and connect to their customers will be the winners. I agree. As human beings, the one thing we crave the most are good experiences. What is happiness if not a period of pleasant experiences that are either stimulated internally by chemicals in the brain or by external experiences. What technology has done is to put the consumers at the center of the entertainment industry, and now everything revolves around their desires. As a result of this, tactics have changed towards giving the consumer the best experience possible. The term ‘best experience’ encompasses more than the creative product being consumed, but also the experience around that consumption. How easy is it to use your website? How easily can the consumer find what your work or your profile? How does interacting with your ‘brand’ make the consumer feel? It’s all about great experiences, and because the new consumer is spoilt for choice, if he isn’t getting the best, he’ll look elsewhere and you will struggle to get him back. The success of many brands in the creative space internationally is a direct result of their engagement with their audience. This is a particularly important point because the same factors that make this the best time for the economic exploitation of the creative sector also creates a great deal of competition. This competition should not be taken as a reason to back out because it means that the industry has many opportunities. Those who fear competition are those who do not know how to rise above competition and are unwilling to learn or try.
Thankfully, the task of talking directly with the consumer has been made easy by social media which has taken brands and entrepreneurs closer to their consumers than ever before.
A creative product can now develop a strong bond with its audience—essentially converting them into fans and, by default, repeat buyers— and thrive amid the myriad competition. What this point further means is that whether you are a book publisher, a production company, a record label, a show promoter, or an artist, the key to surviving in this climate is to get close to your audience and create a relationship with them. You can’t achieve this without creating great experiences for them, whether in books, films, tv shows, art pieces, stage plays, etc. This requires that you dedicate yourself to learning your craft with the intention of creating quality experiences. Mediocre is a much harder product to sell than excellence.
Just as the new consumer is at the center of everything, technology must be central to everything the creative entrepreneur does as well if he/she wishes to beat the competition. The path to building a new entrepreneurial culture in our entertainment and media space snakes through a viral understanding of the mindset and vision of the Steve Jobs of this world. In the story that I began with, the problem the music industry faced was piracy. Steve Jobs’ solution was technology. In 2019, that is the first real place to look for solutions. Jobs’ reasoning was that the consumer would be more willing to use the original if it was easy to access and cheap enough to afford, and he was proved right. It seems insurmountable to overcome the piracy behemoth in our country and so I find it prudent that while some brave entrepreneurs still try to break into that sub-sector and structure it, many more must focus their energies in thinking of technological solutions to that problem. The odds of success or solution to any challenge in this century is as high as our regard for the power of digital technology. The odds are always in favor of technology. Jumia the online store, indicated in its last year report that more than 112 million people had access to the internet in 2018. Also indicated in that report is the fact that were over 36 million smartphone users in the country. Another leading provider of market and consumer intelligence predicts that by 2025 there will be more than 140 millionsmartphone users in the country. When that happens, coupled with the inevitable fall of data costs, it would be easier to get people to watch films on their mobile phones on a fair subscription plan or some other new innovation that comes along.
The entrepreneurial opportunities lying in wait at that crossroad between content and smartphone technology is a vast array beyond just streaming platforms. In an ethnically diverse country like Nigeria, isnt there for instance a genius who could create a subtitling software that would instantly serve the needs of films made in indigenous languages and expand their distribution across the country? If it is true that at some point Sony, Canon, and other camera manufacturers were shipping huge sales to Nigeria because of the volume of production going on here, how come we are not designing a camera that is customized to our environment and lighting conditions or for that matter, the unique approaches to storytelling that has become our Nollywood trademark? If we can design aso-oke for owambe parties and produce them from China, surely we can design the equipments used in our creative processes and trademark our designs for profit. Is anyone creating a template of tested and true matrix that can help other countries replicate the efficiency that allows Nollywood films to be produced in the record time it delivers its projects? Technology exists beyond creating products but also in aiding the products being created run more efficiently. This is the biggest driver of economic change in any industry for if the technology fixes any real issues, the processes work better. When we marry processes to technology and continuously research new advances, we can truly create better experiences for our customers and consumers. Consumer behavioral data is a huge part of this. Thankfully, data is not hard to get. Analytics have become the holy grail in advertising, in fashion, in every aspect of content creation helping you to measure the impact of every creative decision. Gather your consumer data and let it inform you on what you should or shouldn’t do.
Of course half of the reason entrepreneurship has not found a strong footing in our entertainment industry is also because a lot of our practitioners are simply ignorant. Not willfully, since I do not know a single practitioner in our industry who wants to be poor. Or create for bare minimum profit. We just have a lot of folks who have passion, vigorously pursue their passions but lack either the inclination or education for entrepreneurship. Not much can be done about the former but surely we can do more to educate. And to be educated. The problem is a lot of our educational institutions who teach creativity of need to elevate and the study of skill that aid entrepreneurship. Our higher institutions need to to spend as much time teaching how to create business plans as much as we teach scriptwriting. Our students need to learn about the world of finance as much as they learn dance or acting or poetry. We need to know the details of marketing promotions and advertising as much as we learn art and music. It is not enough to know how to tell a story, we must learn how to sell a story too.
That is why the MultiChoice Talent Factory was formed. And that is why it has been a true priviledge for me to be entrusted with the opportunity to work with brilliant young creative minds who need guidance to bring power to their passion with a deeper immersive experience of how and why the most successful projects in our entertainment industry are produced. Much like Steve Jobs’ iTunes store was a reaction to a problem he encountered, the MTF initiative is a forward-leaning intervention that combines essential learnings in finance, marketing, distribution, presentation and pitching with a 9-months intensive hands-on training in storytelling. The MTF is structured to breed creative entrepreneurs who will build excellent institutions, corporate entities and brands. Sustainable excellence in process and product is the overarching goal of the programme. That sustainability comes from a rigorous process that is institutionalized. That is the difference between established film cultures like Hollywood in the USA and Bollywood in India. It is the holy grail for progress in our Nollywood and across all of Africa. We will have to attain that as an industry before we can truly soar, and it is the entrepreneurs who commit to this vision who will be worthy of the opportunities that lies ahead. Our educational institutions must not just teach technicalities but they must teach also possibilities.
One very important success factor we teach at the MTF that is worthy of mention to emerging entrepreneurs is the power of collaborations. A lot of talented but failing creatives cannot find success only because they work alone and have the benefit of only their own meagre experience and narrow views. Because they do not wish to share their success, they also cannot benefit from the lighter burden of shared risks. And given how multilayered and demanding the media and entertainment industry is, the successful entrepreneur must leverage the power of teams to his advantage. It may have been only one man that landed on the moon, but it took a whole country to take him there. Thus, wherever you choose to play in the industry, you must understand and structure collaborations that allow you to harness a variety of talents and competences. The most successful films recently made in Nollywood have been a result partnership between various production companies like Inkblot, Anakle, Ebonylife Films, Dioni Visions and others. When in doubt, always remember that nothing makes the dream work like teamwork. Of course the basis of all collaborative partnerships lies in legal instruments and contracts. It is to our shame in the entertainment industry in Nigeria that far too many business relationships are done with a trusting handshake and wink. So is it a surprise then that our best creative talents carry all by themselves the burden to fight the demon of piracy, the handicap of weak distribution, and the consequences of a legal misfire all at the same time. Sometimes legal counsel doesn’t cost money, sometimes it does. Either ways, you should always acquire it because it will save your neck in future. Further, many from the legal sector should see how they can connect themselves to the media and entertainment industry, and in so doing, infuse in it with their brand of professionalism. An industry’s worth is directly proportional to its level of copyright protection, and it is on this score that the importance of legal protection and advice can never be overemphasized. Whatever sector of the industry you wish to operate in, legal counsel is necessary.
In closing I return to the highlights of my ideas again. Never in the history of humanity has there been more opportunities for those who create to prosper from their products and their brands. The creative’s ability to tap into opportunities of this wonderful period go hand in hand with his/her understanding of business and his/her ability to leverage it in service of their art. The creative entrepreneur is distinctly different from the creative in that his primary drive isn’t only himself and what he would like to create, but also the economics of the ecosystem that makes that creation possible. Now don’t misunderstand, this doesn’t mean that the creative becomes a money-grabbing lunatic, abandoning the demands of his craft for the lure of profits. The creative entrepreneur is the balance between both extremes. The creative entrepreneur understands that his art isn’t intended solely for his amusement or his ego-aggrandizement, but that it must also be able to pay for itself and his existence. Thanks to the rapid advances in technology, the creative has the tools to become not just any entrepreneur, but a good one at that.
The creative entrepreneur doesn’t embark on a creative quest without due consideration to the economics of it, like who is the intended audience, how much would it cost to make, how can I fund it, how can I protect it, what other ways can I exploit it, what teams do I need to bring this to life? The creative entrepreneur, unlike the traditional creative, is not a lone ranger because he or she understands that nothing worthwhile is done solely alone. The creative entrepreneur doesn’t mind regarding his art as a business because he knows that life itself is business.
Time and fate have given this generation unimaginable tools and opportunities for success and prosperity. If we play our cards right—invest right, build the right products, solutions, and experiences—we will change not just the economic face of this country, but also the image of it. The future is stories, technology, and creative entrepreneurship.
-Femi Odugbemi is a former President of the Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria (ITPAN) and a Voting Member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is currently Academic Director of the MultiChoice Talent Factory (West Africa).