Femi Odugbemi: MTF Portal Connects Creatives Across Africa

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SATURDAY POLITY  

The MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF) portal, the digital hub conceived as the premier destination for connecting Africa’s creative industries, is now live after its inauguration in Lagos on Tuesday. Prior to the inauguration of www.multichoicetalentfactory.com, Femi Odugbemi, MTF Academy Director spoke to select journalists, including Tolulope Ibukunoluwa about the imperatives of the portal

What is MTF portal all about?

The MultiChoice Talent Factory Portal is the third touch point of MultiChoice Talent Factory. The MTF portal is a professional networking hub. The portal is what you would call the creative market place, a social professional portal. Basically think of the portal like LinkedIn meets Facebook. Every film maker, camera man, every story teller, film critic, everyone who is an audience member, interested in African cinema, can open a profile. The portal is a place of industry information.

MTF is rebranding and redefining Nollywood. We want filmmakers that are educated, informed, and clearly understand the power of cinema and this generation are hopefully the ones that take it to the next level. The launch of the portal today, is simply the natural evolution of that vision, because if this next generation is going to be as powerful, as connected to audiences, and as global as we need them to be, they need a vehicle, and that vehicle is technology. LinkedIn made people powerful by opening doors for people to work on projects in Turkey, India, and South Africa etc. So now we are saying LinkedIn is a global platform, the MTF portal is a platform for creatives across Africa that connects them in 49 countries. They can make connections and I always say to people the difference between Dangote and I, is the phone numbers on his smart phone, because contacts are far more powerful than a bank account. The capacity for them to create projects, to lift projects off the ground, to connect with each other and immediately, provide several markets for a project that they are building lies in this portal. I have said it before, the difference between the man who is succeeding and the man, who is not, is amount of information available. So the portal is also going to be a place of information.

What are the features of the portal and what opportunity does the MTF portal create?

The account is free. Once you open a profile you have an account. There will be a bill board, a space for us to constantly let you know what is going on from different parts of the continent. MTF has a presence in 49 countries in Africa. There is a board in which jobs can be placed. The power of the portal is the power of collaboration. You would be able to register on the portal on the basis of your primary skills. The platform is user friendly. You can find skills for a project in different parts of Africa. It allows us to have an industry that is driven on data.

We are breaking down the walls. We are removing fiefdom so there are no godfathers, there are no, superior internationally renowned film makers. The portal takes away the middle man. The portal means you can find information about grants, you can find information about new opportunities. There will be opportunity because the billboard will have announcements of work that are both from MultiChoice and not from MultiChoice, which is in my opinion the biggest opportunity. Any film maker can connect with another. There’s indirect messaging, you will be able to chat with other people who are registered on the profile but you do not need to register to read and take advantage of the information. Your data is encrypted and safe and you can deactivate if you wish, there is no compulsion but I think it is a win, win for anyone who is interested in how technology is powering or empowering the industry.

How do old filmmakers, the ones who are not open to computer or new technology benefit from this?

When I hear that, I think of my mum. My mum is 80 years old. She does not speak any English. My most deep conversations with her are on WhatsApp. She created a WhatsApp group for all her children and she types in Yoruba language. Technology has nothing to do with language. It has everything to do with value. For those who are afraid of technology, technology is less about power than it is about economics. Your capacity to function will diminish as the years go by. It is as simple as that. All my friends that did not embrace the latest technology at some point, found out that both the need for their services, and the equipment that they use, and the body of knowledge that they have is obsolete. I don’t think that technology caters to people who are reluctant. People, who live in this age, must understand that everything they desire lies in what technology is doing. That question is critical, it’s for everyone. Everything you need, to actually function in what you claim to be, is being revolutionized by technology. So, if you are carrying a phone, you certainly can join even if all you can do is make a phone call, you certainly can join.

Is the portal an open source, and if it is, is there any mechanism in place to verify information posted?

It is an open source and yes, information would be verified because there is an active backend. So, when you post an opportunity on the billboard, there will be a delay, you will get a call and there will be an interrogation. If there is a link there, we will be going to the link, and remember this things can be confirmed easily.

For example, if you are running a programme in Lagos, there is a MultiChoice office in Lagos someone can easily find who this is. Why? It’s important that the platforms integrity is safe guarded. A lot of young film makers across Africa are desperate for any and every opportunity, and it is important that, whatever you ultimately post there is true, fair and accessible.

What does MultiChoice stand to gain with the launch of this portal?

MultiChoice benefits already. In real time, every time an industry innovates, it widens the playing field for that industry and when the playing field is wider, the consumer base grows. If the consumer base grows, you that created it are the first beneficiary. For me, whoever innovates or starts something does a lot for themselves, as much as they do for the whole industry.

Why wasn’t the portal launched years before now, seeing how relevant it is to the present film making industry?

This is because it is a huge investment. The complexity of creating this kind of platform, with a technological backbone that would be trustworthy, sustainable, that would not break down, takes years. The truth is, it also takes a certain amount of investment that I don’t think isn’t ‘chicken change’. I think that investment is a critical thing for which MultiChoice should be saluted, why? Because they are investing in something that advances the value of their own service and with this value, more work that is, more quality work would be done. Who are the people harvesting the audiences watching this? So, in a way, it’s a shared value and I think it’s about time anyway. So, for me, I am not so worried about how long it has been. The important thing is better late than never.

Is the MTF portal going to provide the opportunity for Africans to collaborate?

I have been in this industry long enough to understand the powerlessness of competitive African film makers and creatives competing against each other instead of collaborating with each other. The first thing it does is that, it reduces the value of work itself. It means that we are projecting the creator of the work over the work itself whereas if you put the consumer, the audience, the viewer as your focus, you find that the only thing he/she wants to buy is not your celebrity, it is the work and if you make a good film if you collaborate, it means there are many more voices that must speak for that work. But you know we come from a space where some of us in all honesty, are focused on escaping poverty.

We equate someone else’s rising with our diminishing whereas the sky is so big that we can all rise, create, and offer the audience value. This is because the audience is actually ravenous. You will be stunned how many film my wife watches on a weekend. So when she says she is an expert, what is expertise? It is how much knowledge you have consumed.

This platform becomes a place where collaboration, offers itself, as a prime alternative to our individual success, and I hope that does something for Africa. It would project us as a people who are, able to create our own economy and who are able to see and recognize our own opportunities. I find that, the first time Nollywood began to gain respect was not because of its stories, but because of the enlarging numbers of its audiences. Economics is always a compelling argument and what this platform would do, is create so many economic opportunities that are not driven by a third force.

Today Nigeria doesn’t have any co-production treaty that I am aware of. South Africa has eleven. I am talking about country to country. It has to be an act of parliament you know that. I think a lot has been done on our side to try and push it through but you know how our political system is, we make the most simple, as difficult and laborious as possible, but we would get to the other side eventually. The issue here is, film maker to filmmaker collaboration, does not need an act of parliament. So if you and I decide that I am in Rwanda, and you are in Nigeria, and you know what, we are really liking the same story, all you need is a visa and a ticket.

Have you considered making the portal into an app?

We will make it into an app but for now we want to make sure that the experience is seamless. That is very important, because if you make an app straight away you also risk a lot of things. An app is a convenience for the consumer which we will get to, but you can register via your phone. It’s not a problem but the critical thing is to ensure that in this beginning everything we promised is delivered as a seamless experience. Once that is done and everybody is used to how it works, you will find that migrating it into something that you can keep, or even making it almost default on some type of phones, would be easy.