Kenim Obaigbena’s Bold Steps

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Kenim Obaigbena has long charted a path in film and media. A young woman of substance and beautiful dreams, driven by passion and humanity, who also tells Africa’s ‘Forbidden’ stories, has had one of her dreams become a reality, writes Vanessa Obioha

If you ask Kenim Obaigbena about her career trajectory, she would probably tell you that it’s about film and media.

At the age of 15, she teamed up with her sisters to publish Scoop Magazine. In 2007, she discovered her passion for filmmaking and while studying at Tufts University, she interned for top music video directing legends, Chris Robinson and Benny Boom. With experience covering global events, producing and directing videos, bringing untold stories to light, and running a production company, OVG Media, Obaigbena can confidently say she is ready for the next big challenge.

On June 19, Obaigbena officially launched her new streaming platform, StreamOVG, a digital marketplace that provides edutainment content for audiences in West Africa and in the Diaspora. The platform offers a myriad of documentaries and shows that illuminate African culture, history, business, and politics.

For the first month, the streamer will provide 41 hours of programming by different West African filmmakers. Exclusive documentaries that run for one or two hours will be added every month.

The dream of owning a streaming platform was hatched in 2014. At the time, Obaigbena was already honing her skills in filmmaking.

“It has taken all my experiences from print, fine art, filmmaking, traditional and new media, e-commerce, etc to pull this off,” she said.

Beyond that, the coronavirus pandemic which found Obaigbena self-isolating provided the opportunity to roll the plan into motion.

“I was midway in a production of a documentary at the time the lockdown was announced in Lagos. Self-isolation meant that I couldn’t continue filming or working with my full team. This is where my background in filmmaking helped. So, I had to figure out ways around it. I had been trying to start my own streaming service for years, and things just made sense,” she explained.

Arguably, there’s been a rise in streaming content since the pandemic struck. This is largely due to the shutdown of cinemas across the globe as governments looked for the best health practices to keep the inscrutable coronavirus at bay. However, Obaigbena believes that cinema culture is in its last days.

“Sorry to break it to you but around the world, cinema is taking its last few breaths. I interviewed a notable film distributor in the UK and Los Angeles who told me, ‘we count cinemagoers over the age of 32 as zero.’ Naturally, younger people consume more because they have a lot freer time. The primary target audience for cinema around the world is primarily Gen X and Alpha, and the few people in Gen Y are still under 32. I’m a Gen Y-er under 32, and I stopped watching TV in 2007.

“I can’t tell you the last time I switched on a TV. But I will tell you the last time I switched one off for making too much noise. I’m a filmmaker, and I go to the cinema for two to four times a year. If that doesn’t tell you about consumer behaviour I don’t know what does. Except for sports, most millennials are online. We have predominantly been online for over a decade. This is not a new revelation, but a lot of people are not paying attention.”

She added that while cinema still offers a unique selling proposition that streaming can’t replicate, that is, the best picture quality, the best sound, and the best overall experience of watching a movie, streaming’s unique point is of more value to consumers.

“Streaming offers convenience and freedom. So no, it’s not a competition and cinema will not completely disappear. But what is clear is where consumer’s eyeballs are. I understand that streaming hasn’t taken off in Nigeria as well as it has around the world, simply because of our issues with (internet) data. And this is the only reason the cinema and TV can still thrive in Nigeria,” she pointed out.

“But as soon as our data issue is solved – for example, as soon as the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy’s 5G plan rolls out, it’s a wrap. So, I’d say there’s still a massive opportunity in Nigerian cinemas that can be tapped into for the next few years. But if one is building and thinking long-term and business for the future, they should be taking a hard look at the digital economy.”

The young filmmaker is keen on telling stories that are powerful and can influence a progressive world. This explains her reason to focus on educational programmes that inform and entertain.

She emphasised that there is always a lesson to learn on any expository topic on the platform. Obaigbena believes that education is key to re-educate Nigerians and the rest of the world on the history and culture of Africa. In her view, the biggest misconception about Africa is that Africans are not talented, educated, and competent.

“This is a big lie. There is so much talent in Africa. A lot of this talent goes to waste because jobs are hard to come by,” she argued.

She pointed out that one of the reasons it seemed Westerners are telling the story of Africa is because “Africans don’t invest in African culture and education the way Westerners and even Easterners invest in themselves. The West have told their own stories. But they haven’t stopped there. They have told our stories too. For this to change, Africans need to tell our own stories. We need to know our history, and we need to promote it in Africa and around the world. We need to invest in ourselves. Nigerians with money often export it around the world, that needs to change.”

Through her newly launched streamer, Obaigbena is dedicated to changing that narrative. One of the documentaries on StreamOVG, ‘A New Era: The Post Covid-19 World’, she captured anger, frustration, and despair of Nigerians who couldn’t fathom the pandemic or the lockdown on the economy. The grim picture from the scenes on the documentary could be a harbinger of worse times as the virus continues to ravage economies.

The graduate of Communications and Media Studies understands the post-COVID-19 era saying: “I’m an optimist, and I also think long-term. I think that Nigeria is a very young country. It took 100 years to rid the British of corrupt governance. So, the idea that it can happen for us within 50 years is unrealistic. I think a new era will be great, and it’s up to my generation to build it.

“COVID-19 has shone a bright light on the importance of good governance, and the impending recession will make this gesture even more prominent. It’s up to my generation to stand up against it and clean up this mess. Because a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.”

Another documentary that sheds light on some of the historical events in the country is ‘An Honest Explanation of the Biafra War’, a film by KB Taiwo.

“We picked up ‘The Biafran War Story’ because I believe that the Biafran War will teach us how to improve Nigeria. As the saying goes, those that don’t know their history are doomed to repeat (past mistakes). And unfortunately, with the banning of (such) accounts in primary schools in Nigeria, a lot of millennials and Gen X have been robbed of our history lessons. I really advise everyone to go check out ‘A Biafran War Story’ on StreamOVG to learn more about Nigeria,” she said.

Other contents that are available on the streamer include ‘Business in Nigeria’ – a mini-documentary and collection of exclusive interviews from established entrepreneurs teaching people interested in doing business in Nigeria how to navigate the landscape; controversial series such as ‘The Fraud Business in Nigeria’, and ‘Terrorism in Nigeria’ are bound to provide insight on these areas. There are also in-depth shows on the business landscape of specific industries such as film, fashion, food, and technology.

To ensure that StreamOVG stands out, Obaigbena developed some unique propositions such as the subscription rates. There are three subscription plans. Viewers can pay as low as N4,000 ($9.95) for individual films and documentaries on the Sapphire plan. The Silver (VIP) plan offers a monthly subscription of $14.99 and the Gold (VVIP) gives a subscriber annual access to all content for N40,000 ($95.88).

Also, viewers have the opportunity to share their thoughts on the comment section.

“StreamOVG is for anyone interested in West African culture, history, business, politics, and culture. This could be indigenous people wanting to see and hear their authentic stories in a high-quality format.

“It could be the diaspora around the world, and it can even be foreigners interested in our unique way of life. Our content is authentically West African and its diaspora. Our content is West Africa-centric, told by West Africans, proudly West African,” she disclosed.