Rekindling the Fire in Television Content


The Nigerian television industry has the potential to generate and celebrate home-made world-class content, says the President, Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria (ITPAN) Adeyinka Oduniyi in an interview session with Yinka Olatunbosun

With the proliferation of television channels on the global digital platforms, it is very convenient to ignore the reality that Nigerian television stations are starved of good content. The chunk of their content emanates from foreign soap operas as well as talk and reality shows, which mask the deficiency of local content. To see all the sides in content production for Nigerian television, a meeting was scheduled with the President, Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria (ITPAN), Adeyinka Oduniyi in Ikeja recently. My arrival at the studio environment unleashed a wave of nostalgia as well as scenes of make up, floodlights, cameras and the jolting voice of the director.

Cut to the part where Oduniyi sat in company of his colleagues in the industry. It was gratifying to sense the wind of change in the formation of a new set of executives for ITPAN, who are currently training young filmmakers some salient aspects of the art of movie production.

Having held the position for a year, Oduniyi is at the helm of affairs for one of the nation’s oldest professional associations wherein by default, members work behind the scenes and are mostly not seen. The membership of ITPAN covers students, corporate organisations and professionals. But it is not automatic. Anyone seeking membership is required to get two referees amongst existing members. This process becomes necessary to self regulate the industry in dire need of a proper structure for it to be accessible by foreign partner organisations.

One of the concerns of the federal government is that many television productions are done outside Nigeria, bringing financial benefits to the host countries and massive loss to Nigeria’s revenue. For ITPAN, the response to the trend is to train and organise conferences for stakeholders, many of whom still struggle to get paid by television stations for their content.

“We intervene in such instance,”Oduniyi began. “As an individual, you can’t fight the system. Collectively, we are in a better position to negotiate and twist the arms of the media owners. Secondly, training is one of the gaps in this industry. I can tell you that it is still a struggle to find very good cinematographers. It might sound strange but it is true and it is a big shame.”

Most filmmakers from Nigeria seek expertise in South Africa, to where they throng in droves. Oduniyi blamed this on lack of proper education for potential movie-makers in Nigeria.

“Nigerian universities don’t teach it but abroad it is taught in specialties,” he argued. “We practise apprenticeship in Nigeria. When the issue of going abroad for music video productions arose, I had a different mindset. There’s a science to television production. There are so many elements that come into it to make it work. It’s not what can be ‘apprenticed’, it must be learnt. When you hear, ‘give me a wide shot’, there’s a reason for it. It’s all about economics. I am happy that the government is getting to understand that.”

Meanwhile, reliable sources claim that one of Nigeria’s top telecommunications company has an annual budget for advertising pegged at 10 billion naira. The lion’s share ends up in the purse of other countries. In the United States, it is estimated that Hollywood commissions 350 multimillion dollar movie productions every year which are usually shot in South Africa due to availability of technical expertise and well, cheap labour, relative to what the US has to offer. This underpins the importance of building human capacity to a nation, a fact which Oduniyi later emphasised.

“We used to have television productions that had international standards. ‘New Masquerade’, ‘The Village Headmaster’, ‘Cockcrow at Dawn’ were all done locally. Then, NTA had one of the best training schools in the world. Back then, NTA invested a lot of money in sending their personnel to different places for training. In a year, you’d go for international training and so they were able to get the skill set and came back home to make world class programmes that are still unmatched till today.

“During the era of the military, they didn’t believe in television productions and so they cut down on budget and training. Education generally suffered in this country. It has been deemphasised and now the focus is on getting rich. Ask a typical Nigerian youth, they’ll tell you they just want to be rich.”

Panning away from training, Oduniyi also observed that there is so much mediocrity in many Nigerian television productions. Many of the celebrated movies and television series do not necessarily hit the benchmarks of acceptable standards of good storyline, interesting and witty dialogue, great casting that makes characterisations believable and more.

“There’s a lot of noise in the air and when you watch some of the movies, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed. Nigeria is the only country in the world where the same guy who produces a movie, pays for the crew, pays the television stations to air the content and still gather followership to secure sponsorship. The content producers in other climes get commissioned to produce content.”

The decline in the production of documentary movies in Nigeria has also been blamed on television stations that often demand for entertainment programmes. “They will say we want entertainment, shower hour, Wizkid. The platforms have reduced good content to dust,” he noted.

For most television audience who grew up in the 70s and 80s, Nigerian television has become a source of boredom. Many would seek a variety of rich content from the social media through talk shows, short videos that go viral on upload and comedy sketches. The question is: will social media replace television? Oduniyi provided a double-edged answer.

“Internet penetration in Nigeria is still very low. 85% of Nigerians rely on traditional media that is, television to access news and entertainment. Local channels are still more affordable than data. So, TV plays a large part as the cheapest visual medium for a mass market.”

To fix the mess left in the wake of the “hurricanes” that have hit rich Nigerian television content in the name of telenovelas and their identical yet predictable stories, Oduniyi thought the government has a crucial part to play to change the narrative.

“BET started to run a lot of documentaries because the government put a policy in place that they must have a minimum of 40% educational content. It is very critical because if we don’t create that kind of balance, we will have a generation who have no respect for information or learning. It is sad that we no longer study history in schools and now we hear that Geography too may be pulled out of the school curriculum. Government needs to put policies in place that mandate television stations to show educational programmes. That way, they will look for documentaries or commission producers to do them, otherwise our children will have nothing in their heads.”

He advised local television stations to prepare for the digital switch-over and stay ahead in content for social media has come to stay, and are currently competing for the content and sponsors that television stations depend on to survive.