Making African media work

By Wadami Amolegbe
July 17, 2018


Content Nigeria hears from Lindsey Oliver, CEO of Africa MediaWorks (AMW), creator of the Yanga TV channel and former director of TVC, on the first day of the Creative Nigeria Summit (CNS).

Lindsey Oliver at the Creative Nigeria Summit

In this exclusive interview, Oliver discusses her take on the content market in Nigeria, her current projects and her experiences at the ongoing CNS.

Tell us about your experience in the African television landscape.
I previously worked at TVC but, even before that, when I was at Bloomberg, Al Jazeera and CNBC, I came to Africa quite a lot – certainly more than most people in the industry were coming to Africa. I’ve been to Lagos, Johannesburg, Nairobi and North Africa.
I got an opportunity to come to Nigeria to advise TVC on best practice and help out with their commercial department to create more advertising revenue in 2016 for a year.

How was that for you? Did you leave fulfilled?
I did, I loved it. For the last four months, I was asked to be the interim CEO. That was incredibly interesting because I was able to have a look at the company and see how everything was working. It was a wonderful job and I was very lucky to have it.
I got back to the UK with the aim of having something more than just kissing goodbye to Nigeria, and that’s why we set up AMW and the Yanga TV channel. Yanga TV is for African diaspora but particularly for Nigerian and West African diaspora.

Do you think Nigerians living in Nigeria can relate to the content as well?
I hope so. We are buying content from Nigeria to show on the channel and then creating our own content. We have a lovely studio in West London and I’m making content that I will bring down to Nigeria.
There is definitely a crossover. When I speak to people in the UK who are either Nigerian or of Nigerian heritage, they’ve got a connection and are very interested in hearing about the Nigerian content that is seeping back to the UK. We are showing a lot of contemporary Nollywood movies as well.

How did the name Yanga come about?
I didn’t want something that was from any one Nigerian language because then that suggests it’s for only one tribe, and we weren’t seeking that. I said I’d like something in pidgin that could also appeal to outside countries.
I had a list of pidgin words but I chose Yanga because it’s ‘show-off.’ Someone said ‘yanga’ was a bit rude, but I wanted it because it grabs your attention and because this is a community that has something to shout about.

How are the ratings for Yanga going?
Really well. It’s always a challenge for any African channel with the ratings system in the UK. They are horribly under-represented on the system but, regarding other methods of ratings, we are performing much better. We are doing well compared to other African channels.
However, I feel that the African channels as a group aren’t really punching their weight, and I’m sure it’s not because people are not watching. It’s because the panel is very small and there aren’t many Africans on it.

What steps would you take for Yanga TV to be better represented?
We are looking at other ratings systems, especially those showing we rate much better. We are also making sure of our marketing and promotion of the Yanga website. We buy content in Nigeria but can’t show all of it here because it would be really expensive to buy a satellite signal here. So what we’ve done is to make nine or 10 series – from comedies to cartoons for children – available on the Yanga website so they can be accessed in Nigeria.

What other initiatives is AMW working on?
AMW is a brand that celebrates and promotes West African diaspora in the UK. I hope it will go further than that but right now we’re pretty young; our TV channel has been on air for only four months, though we were building things and making programmes long before that. AMW also has a fine-art photography prize, where we invite professional fine artists to submit their works to be showcased in a gallery in London.

Is there a plan to turn that into video content?
Yes, we will show that story and the prize for the winner is us commissioning a piece of work. If we can continue this year-on-year, we can acquire a lot of contemporary African photographic art. This initiative is quite different from Yanga, which is about celebrating everybody and not just professionals.

Are there any other shows from AMW?
At AMW, we tend to do factual and serial programming. We have Journalists’ Hangout, which we kind of borrowed from TVC News. There we get people talking about daily issues in Africa and the Africa diaspora. It’s currently airing on Friday nights on TVC News.

What have you learned here at CNS 2018?
Jeff Kalligheri, CEO at Waterstone Entertainment, is always interesting to listen to and, being from a Hollywood background, it’s great to hear what he would want from a producer. I know what I would like as a small channel ,but Jeff represents Hollywood and you have FremantleMedia and Sony Pictures TV represented as well, so they are all big boys and it’s interesting to hear what they have to say.
They mentioned why big companies get nervous buying into big ideas – because it may come back to hurt them years later if somebody decides to sue them if they had a similar idea. So all sharing of ideas must be well documented and perhaps trademarked or copyrighted so producers can’t claim that a company’s project was based on their idea.

Talking about sharing, is there anything else you would like to tell us?
I would love to push people to view Yanga. We will be giving out content on other platforms. The Yanga channel will launch on a TV platform here in Nigeria sometime in the future. I would love to see how Nigerians react to the content made by the Nigerian diaspora; it’s important that we build a bridge that goes both ways. Yanga is also on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. We are everywhere, really, so even though you can’t switch on linear TV to access Yanga, you can check us out digitally.

In conclusion, what do you think about the CNS this week?
I recently spoke about the need to have a market in Nigeria, for young producers here, so they don’t have to always go to the south of France or LA or to Johannesburg for those other big markets. Then I realised there is a market happening right here during the coffee breaks, which is brilliant. There’s great potential here and there’s no reason the Creative Nigeria Summit can’t grow into that.

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