Senior Vice President / Managing Director, Viacom International Media Networks Africa, Alex Okosi, shares his insights on how to open new opportunities in the creative/entertainment industry in a Fidelity Bank SME radio programme, monitored by Sandra Alumona
You have been in the entertainment industry for almost two decades. What was your motivation for going into the industry?
I have always been passionate, from my childhood growing up in the Eastern part of Nigeria, about music and entertainment. I always enjoy music, whether it is our local music or international music, the passion has always been there. However, as most young people growing up, I had always wanted to be a football player. I played football at college in Nigeria before going to the United States. Football wasn’t popular in the US, so I started playing basketball which then became my passion. .
While I moved away from football to basketball, my avid interest in music remained the same. I was able to do very well at university and I had many great internship opportunities in the entertainment space which I was able to leverage to get my first role at MTV. The exposure that this opportunity gave me further fuelled my passion for the music business. This passion and my business development drive was what helped me to convince MTV to create the African business of MTV (MTV Base), which is part of how my journey started.
How has your coming back home transformed the entertainment landscape in Nigeria?
It would not be accurate to say I did this alone. We have worked very hard as a team of young and passionate people to create a re-imagined Africa through our platform – an Africa that encompasses a vibrant and creative youth culture. We took a lot of steps to make sure that we built the foundation that has enabled us to become a key catalyst for pushing African content, especially music and videos, and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with international channels. The first thing we did was to make sure that the quality of content was top notch. We started by creating a benchmark for the level of quality we wanted to have on the channel. We also made sure we were able to train musicians and music video directors on how to develop better music videos by setting up a network of representatives to work with them. For us, the journey would have been shorter if we just created music for Africa, but we wanted to create music that could travel across our continent and beyond. We also ensured we partnered with brands that wanted to add value. For instance, we partnered with Shell on intensive programmes to create music video workshops and brought international directors to work with our directors at these workshops. Through efforts like this in partnership with the artists, the quality of Nigerian videos improved tremendously which I believe is one of the reasons that Nigerian music is very popular all over the world today.
What would you say are required for entrepreneurs in the SME space in the entertainment sector to take their businesses to the next growth levels?
It is very important to develop a sound business plan that articulates how you are going to start the business and also to sustain the business. It is very difficult for most businesses to survive beyond the first three years, so a sound plan that is also flexible enough to adapt to the changing environment is essential. A lot of people borrow money from friends and families to start a business, with those friends and families expecting unrealistic returns. In order to raise money from sound institutions like banks, you must be able to demonstrate how you are going to sustain and grow your business. The success of our multi-platform brand today is based on the people that we have and their talents, being able to empower them and being able to have structured functions including Human Resources, Information Technology, Finance, Accounting, etc. Entrepreneurs who lead their business need to make sure that they are not making all the decisions across every function. I think this is one of the factors that contribute to the failure of small and medium size enterprises in this market. But the most important focus should be on the value proposition that you are bringing to the marketplace. What sort of value are you adding to the consumers’ life and experience through your products and/or services? Is it unique? Is it something that comes with great customer service? Can you evolve your products or services over time to adjust to any changes in the environment as well as consumer needs? These are some of the key points to have strategies for as you plan to take your business to the next growth level.
For an aspiring or emerging entrepreneur that wants to enter the space today, where do you see the biggest opportunities?
I think the biggest opportunity is still in content. There is a plethora of platforms that are emerging. Beyond the television screen, there are online opportunities for you to push your content as well as other media outlets. I think we are now really passionate about Nigerian content and Nigerians want to see and hear themselves now more than ever before. We love stories, which is why Nollywood exploded, so one can capture a lot of value by creating content that tells our stories. Being able to create and/or aggregate this content presents great opportunities. Beyond this, there is also optimism in terms of the infrastructure aspect of the entertainment business. Nigeria is going to go through digital migration on the television side and that is going to create opportunities for a lot more channels to come on-air. If you have a sound business plan and understand what it takes, there are lots of opportunities to look at.
SMEs complain that there is so much hype around the Nigerian entertainment industry and that we are becoming a red carpet nation where established companies must have celebrity endorsements or sponsor concerts to grow their brands before they can grow customer loyalty. Is it true?
I think this is something that we should celebrate in that entertainment, whether it is music or content, is a way to connect to consumers. How you do that seamlessly determines the power of how your message can resonate. I do believe that this sector has grown due to a lot of the brands that do support this sector. For me, I actually celebrate this, not because I am in this space, but because I don’t think the entertainment space would be where it is today without the sponsorship and support of the brands. This sort of collaboration is a viable way to grow the industry.
How can SMEs take advantage of this pull factor without spending millions?
The SME owner or the brand should attend the event themselves and walk the red carpet and leverage the content they get from there. Social media is a very powerful tool. I am not proposing that brands should be reliant on artists and endorsements, because there is a risk to that. If you endorse an artist and tomorrow the person does something wrong, it is obviously going to cause brand damage. There are ways to do all of this in a very seamless and systematic way. As an SME, I don’t believe you have to go for celebrity endorsement to get your brand out there. I think if you offer great service, if you leverage social media, amazing and powerful word of mouth advertising and great interface with your customer base or potential customers in terms of how you merchandise your product, you will penetrate the market quicker. This is actually more powerful than leveraging celebrity endorsement.
How do you think Nigerian artists can reposition their brands to attract the big FMCGs and luxury brands for the purpose of products inserts and endorsements?
I think this is already happening. For all artists, this is key to having a sustainable career. Nigerian artists need to look at themselves as businesses, which means that they must have a structure that is focused on seeking and securing endorsements. It is not sustainable for the artists to be the ones doing this by themselves. Artists who want big endorsements should also work very hard to reflect a positive persona and lifestyle. Major brands want ambassadors that will add value to their brand campaigns which also means that artists need to make sure they consistently work on improving their communication skills through media training. The most important factor for ensuring that an artist can attract big endorsements is their ability to stay relevant through time. This of course requires that they are very focused on consistently delivering hit songs, videos and performances that resonate with audiences.
I have noticed that a lot of young people find it difficult to find the right manager in the entertainment industry. What advice do you have for young people who are looking to delve into the industry?
I would advise them to practice as much as possible and perform at every opportunity they get. I started my learning about the business world through internship experiences in the US, which were unpaid. If you are looking to get into the industry, it is important that you are willing to work very hard. This may include performing for free to as many people who will give you the opportunity to showcase and hone your talent. Being able to package your content very well is also key to finding success in the industry. If you sing, you have to be able to record and present in a format that allows you to share it with as many people as possible. The great thing today is that with the number of smart phones available, you can actually record content on your phone. You should also be able to clearly articulate your target audience and position yourself with the right content that appeals to them.
There is a lot of fear and speculations about 2015. What do you think would happen in the entertainment industry in 2015, would it be affected by the downturn?
I am a believer in our country and Africa and I hope there will not be a huge downturn in the economy. I know we go through our challenges, but I believe and pray that the elections will come and go with Nigeria continuing to thrive. For us at MTV, we are having a roundtable discussion with young people to discuss the issues that the candidates for the presidential election need to address in order to make Nigeria a better country for our youth and all her citizens. I think that entertainment is something that uplifts people and I hope that it continues to be a positive force in our country.