Mr. Alex Okosi is the Senior Vice President & Managing Director of Viacom International Media Networks Africa. Okosi, who was responsible for developing and launching MTV Africa (MTV Base) in February 2005, is also the brain behind other localised Viacom brands in Africa encompassing Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. In this interview with Kunle Aderinokun, Okosi speaks about the mortality rate in media and entertainment and factors that could shoot up growth in the industry while also expressing his views on the economy, non-oil strategies and diversification
What are your views about the Nigerian economy in broader perspectives especially if you are to benchmark against countries with similar potential? And, what do you think about non-oil strategy of Nigeria?
I think clearly, everyone knows that the Nigerian economy has been tough over the last three years, of course, driven by the drop in oil prices. I think that in a lot of ways, there has been a lot of pressure on the economy. For a lot of investors, it has not been a great story because Nigeria had a period of great growth and everyone was incredibly optimistic about the country’s future. I think the downturn on the economy really dampen the prospects. But what I think is important to recognise are the factors that led to it and the factors I believe that are being corrected and will lead us to a better place. The drop in oil price affected a lot of economies globally. I think in Nigeria’s situation, it forces us to be a lot more creative and diversify our economy by looking at other sectors that could be beneficial to our growth.
I think that is the new reality that every Nigerian is now facing. I think the over-reliance on oil is a thing that we should really, really make sure that is a thing of the past, because the risk is that now that oil prices are starting to recover, we will go back to the same old habit of being over reliant.
I do think it is important for us to know that there are other areas in Nigerian economy that are also seeing some growth. There are much more growth that has been represented by the small and medium size enterprises in Nigeria that are contributing to the overall growth. That is a big talent factor in terms of the prospects of young Nigerians being able to find ways to earn a living for themselves and create avenues to employ other Nigerians, make sure that we can continue to lift the living standards of the country. But the reality is that we are still in “recession phase” and we are slowly getting out of it. With that said, we need to make sure that we have clear growth plan, economic plan for us to get to our full potentials.
What do you think of the non-oil strategies, especially as it relates to diversification?
I think the diversification is critical for our country. To be able to outline the diversification strategy and to earn from the diversification strategy, I think that is where there needs to be a lot of focus and thinking about the diversification strategies that are implementable in the short to medium term. This is because these strategies take a long time to be able to trickle all the way down and go all the way up to the people that are also beneficiaries of the economy in the country. So, I think it is great to have a diversification strategy, but I think it is also good to understand the focus in the short term, what area should we focus on that is going to give us the most benefit. It is not just laying out a strategy and thinking it will just come to life. For the strategies to work, government will need to show up to make sure that they are also serving as enabler for the areas to be able to thrive and flourishing
What are your suggestions that can help Nigeria to diversify in the short term?
I think in the short term, it is looking at other sectors that can help us gain, not just oil. We need to look at other resources that we have that are in demand globally, that can enable us get away from just oil. I think we have o be reinvesting into our education. It is really unfortunate that, if you look at some of the data, Nigeria has the largest number of young people that are out of school, and they have not even gained any form of education whatsoever. It is unfortunate that future generations will not have the education to be able to feed themselves and also to be able to add to the economy, which means that, overtime, the poverty rate will continue to be a huge challenge in the country.
What are the biggest challenges in increasing the quality and calibre of local production and how do you expect mobile internet to impact media revenue and profit generation?
I think content creation is getting better. In a lot of way, the work that we did also enabled that, especially in youth music, lifestyle, MTV Base. It has been 13 years since we launched MTV base in the marketplace and one of the things we focused on has been able to build capacity when it comes to content creation and having the quality. I think today, unlike 13 years ago, the industry has grown tremendously. There is a lot more capability especially in Nigeria for people creating really amazing contents and as a result, you see young Nigerians and Africans now thriving globally in terms of the kind of contents that we are able to create that other people are wanting to see because the quality is right. I think that is one of the things we did from the beginning that makes MTV base to be very successful. And I think it enables us to be a key catalyst to what you see that is amazing, which is thriving music videos space, music space where young Nigerians are sort of the best artistes across Africa and that is because we focused on making sure the quality was right. Before we started, Nigerian music videos were very poor, so when young people in Ghana are watching the videos, they will be laughing at the videos and not really listening to the songs. But now, because we have great quality content, it is really thriving and people can now see the creativity of the artiste. Overall, I think quality standards are growing and you see great movies being made from Nigeria. Nollywood is also thriving. You will also recognise that the output and quality from our films are rising and rising and becoming important, not only Nigeria, but Africa and globally for people to watch.
Different numbers get thrown around about the potential of Nigerian market yet, the mortality rate of media/entertainment companies remains high, What do you think could be responsible for this?
I actually believe that there has been incredible growth in this space, if you look at the number of television stations. For example, I think there has been 40 per cent increase in number of television stations today compared to 10 years ago. Of course, you are going to have those that are able to compete and survive in that space, you will have people that will evolve into other spaces and you will have people that don’t make it. That is what you really want in a thriving economy- that you are going to have that level of competition, because ultimately, what that means is that you have the best outlet out there. Globally as well, there has been an incredible consolidation of media across the board where big entities are getting into joint venture situations so that they can create more synergy and more leverage. That is effectively where the industry is going with much more consolidation of companies coming together. But for some of them that you think failed, some of them didn’t fail, they decided to go into other businesses as part of the evolution, some of them could not compete in the space. But if you look at the overall number, the industry is actually growing, there is much more money and there are less players in the space, but the players in the space are actually thriving and succeeding. There are big names that are no longer existing, but I don’t think the industry is not doing well. I think some of them are either evolving their models or not being able to compete.
What do you think can be done to increase the number of players in the space?
There are sectors of course that, just based on human behaviours, have not survived. So, print is a tough business now around the world. Even in developed markets of the world, particularly the U.S, you will see a lot of print outlets that have not survived and it is because we now have the digital devices that now allow us to access the news in much more timely manner and much more cheaper rates. That is what is happening in print space. Print space is not a great example of saying what is happening in the space. I think Nigeria is following the same trend. I think when it comes to radio and digital media, I think the number has been growing consistently. The advertising rates, for instance, in the media across Nigeria has been growing at about 10 to 15 per cent in the last five years. That is great news. That is high growth in a lot of European markets when it comes to that. However, the real challenge is that inflation is also growing.
I think that there is still a lot of opportunities in the Nigerian media and entertainment space for growth. For instance, I am a big believer and champion that, we really need to put accurate measurement, real time measurement into our television space where we actually measure the value of content because I still think relying on that really stunt the growth of the space. This is because advertisers are not really investing the kind of money they need to invest based on the fact that they are not shown the value of content they are investing into. That means the market is not growing as it should be growing. Once you put measurement into that space, I actually believe that the space is going to grow three folds overnight because advertisers will now have to have for what they enjoy. But up until now, people rely on word of mouth, which serves a purpose which is not accurate measure of the value which sort of stunt the growth in that kind of space. So, I think things like measurement coming into place, which I know will happen in two to three years, as we migrate from analogue to digital, is going to spread the growth of the sector.
Except for government owned companies, Nigeria cannot boast of any multinational business. What do we say the entrepreneurs in this market should be doing differently?
The reality is that not a lot of countries can boast of privately own multinational companies across the continent, but I do think that Nigeria has a great opportunity to develop one. I think the sector is still growing and young. I think now people are investing in media especially now that our content is becoming more valuable in the universe. I don’t think that it is because of lack of efforts, I just think that up until now, the space has not been lucrative. But again, what drives the media and entertainment space? Content ! We now more than ever want to see our own content, experience our own content, whether its music, movie or drama. That is what is going to also drive Nigerian companies to invest into the space to be able to monetise the growth as they see it. Because if you don’t have the content, it will be difficult for you to grow no matter what you do.
According the latest PWC report, revenue from the Nigerian media and entertainment industry will hit $2.8 billion by 2021, do you think this is something to cheer about? And going by your experience in other markets and what you know about Nigeria, is this the true worth of the Nigerian market?
I think it is something to cheer about, because there are two things: Number one, the published data that company like PWC was able to put together in their research, at least, gives the benchmark on which we now debate whether it is accurate or not.
Number two, that growth is coming from a low base; it is really an impressive number to think about us getting to that point in 2021. I think the potential is much higher to even make that number much bigger. I think it is going to happen as I mentioned before when things like measurement going to the television space, when our content continues to thrive, when digital migration happen and with the platform of new players entering the space. I think there is opportunity for us to monetise the creativity in the industry in much bigger way. What is good though is, as a country, we are now outputting incredibly high quality content and which I think before that was not the case. Now, there is a demand for the content that comes from Nigeria. Of course that is going to spread the growth in the entertainment space. At the end of the day, the content you watch, the experience you have, the music you listen to, the films you watch, anything that you do, is all about content. So, the more we are able to deliver quality to consumers that they want, that growth, the potentials for it will be much more bigger by 2021 as long as our economy remains stable and people have income to spend on those pieces.
With digital migration, where do you see Nigeria in the media space in the next five years?
I think in the next five years, assuming we are able to meet the timeline and able to be fully digital, and assuming the consumer uptake is high, I think it is going to be exponentially beneficial to the Nigerian economy and overall to the Nigerian consumers. What that means is that you are going to have more options and choice, platforms to showcase your content. The reality is unless this content is measured, the value that you need to derived will not be there. So, for me, I think measurement is key, otherwise, no one will fully realise the benefit; what you will have is a whole lot of platforms with bad contents and platforms that are renting space to anyone that has money and not really focused on quality, but on survival.
Let’s discuss the overview of your current roles at Viacom International Media Networks. How has the experience been? And what are the learning curves for young Nigerians?
I think my experience has been incredible. I started my career as a coordinator MTV at the university, New York in 1998. I was able to grow within our US business and worked hard to demonstrate my value to the company. I brought up the idea of launching localised channel in Africa, which is MTV Base. I was lucky and they allowed me to develop a business plan for it and they approved it. I was able to launch the business in Africa with young Africans across the continent. The success of that MTV Base business enabled me to launch other channels that cater to different audiences in different demographies like I mentioned Nickelodeon commissioned to BET. So, I run the network of businesses now. Now, I run 10 channels. On top of that, I have other jobs given the success that we have had where I am most responsible for all our BET international business, which comprises of channels in UK, France, Africa, Korea and we are looking to launch in Australia hopefully soon. I am a very hardworking person with my heart being in whatever I am doing. I am being passionate about success and being able to show that young Africans can run successful businesses. To do it as an entrepreneur is great but also to do it as an African and as part of the global multimedia company and demonstrating that we can success in Africa. It is a success story because it gives you the opportunity not only to create employment for other Africans, but also for other Africans to aspire to do other things with their companies or themselves and thriving in the business space.
I think for me, I have learnt a great deal from my journey. I am thankful and grateful for my journey. But I also recognise that we have also done a lot of work to try to shift the narrative to Africa. Before we started, there were no platform that really celebrate talents in a quality way but now, we did that. It is great to see now that there is no better time for African continent. I am sure you have seen Black Panthers. The entire universe is now clamouring for the story that we tell. It’s great to be part of the movement.