Nigerian Entertainment Conference: The Message Is The Medium

Posted on April 18 2019 , at 12:28 pm
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In a few days, the annual Nigerian Entertainment Conference will hold in Lagos, the seventh year in succession. Compared to when it first held in 2013, the industry has seen remarkable improvement, continuous evolution and an increase in the value of entire sector- on course to top $9 billion in 2022, per this report from PWC.

As a result of the apparent recent success of the Nigerian entertainment industry, it is rather easy to forget that the current wave is less than twenty years old. When 2face Idibia, widely acknowledged as the leader of the new school- collaborated with Jamaican dancehall artiste Beenie Man in 2005, it was novel for the new generation- a generation skipped by the good fortune of having international record companies here in Nigeria. Since then, independent record labels and artistes have made hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, played at major festivals across the world and have been mobbed in countries as remote as Suriname. Why then is there a need to still convene a conference if there has been an improvement? Simply because the entertainment industry might have left biblical Egypt, but it is still wobbling around in the wilderness.

Entertainment in all of its forms- music, film, comedy, art, podcasts, games, dance etc- has been a veritable advancement medium for all concerned. At its most basic unpretentiousness, it delights and pleasures the audience. It has also been used for social causes- films have exposed certain ills in the society, musicians have rebelled through their music and comedians have pilloried politicians to no end. And through it all, the Nigerian Entertainment, at least for the past six years, has been a marketplace of ideas, a meeting place for industry insiders, practitioners, executives and members of the audience have sat together to fashion out solutions. The inaugural paper reads in part: The theme ‘Building the industry of our dreams’ not only challenged all and sundry on the need for collective responsibilities but engaged with varying solutions to redefine the Nigerian entertainment industry. There is an imperative need to begin a process of structuring the business in entertainment, setting up systems that are accountable, practical and very much applicable to the Nigerian environment.”

The first edition of NEC Live identified all the issues that stood in the way of the development of the industry-  inimical government policies, piracy, reluctance to embrace technology, the role of media and such like. Can we say with certainty that six years later, all of these problems have been surmounted? Not by a long shot. On the contrary, each year has presented newer problems, requiring equally newer solutions.

Amaka Igwe at #NECLive 2013

For example, the late filmmaker Amaka Igwe in her speech at the maiden edition of  NEC Live spoke of the need for practitioners to adopt emerging technologies for the good of the industry… Growth of the Nollywood industry should be driven by infrastructure that is required to service existing and new markets as they develop. The industry should use the power and skills inherent to promote and project modern and historical documentation, education and preservation of cultures in Nigeria. The industry has the potential of shaping a positive image for Nigeria. ‘What we are putting out is what the world thinks about Nigeria’.” Have filmmakers and movie producers adhered to this creed? Only quite slowly.

In that same hall, music executive Kenny Ogunbe and Chief Tony Okoroji disagreed heatedly over the issue of collection of royalties on behalf of COSON. Today, COSON and Okoroji are entangled in a three year battle with its members over its leadership and accusations of financial impropriety. (In March, a Lagos court ordered the reopening of its bank accounts hitherto frozen by an interim order.

 

Needless to add, these infrastructural challenges still remain. Interestingly, the solutions are inherent in the opportunities available in the innovations of the digital age. The technological revolution has helped solve some of the issues which have plagued our industry ab initio: streaming has allowed a great number of entertainers to bypass the Big Broses of Alaba who controlled before now solely controlled the distribution of music. The proliferation of internet-enabled devices has broken down the barriers of entry: thumb your noses at “Instagram comedians” all you want but they’ve proven that all you need is sixty seconds and a mobile phone. Comics like Frank Donga and Maraji rose to the upper echelon while others like Woli Agba charge in excess of seventy thousand naira to give “birthday shoutouts.”

This in itself has created a new set of problems, or to be less gloomy, challenges. Ayeni Adekunle, Chairman and Convener of the Nigerian Entertainment Conference, explains in part here: “But this is 2019. And we’re witnessing another boom. This time, the barriers have been pulled down. You can be in Lokoja and become a national hit by way of Instagram. You can become a leading actor by selling yourself on Youtube or Facebook. Radio or TV no longer break the big stars; social media does. The fans now hold the power, and everyone is noticing. How about monetisation? The streams are now so multiple that it is difficult for any one label or company to dictate the tunes. With the internet, telecommunications, app stores, streaming services, and VoD platforms, came an opportunity for creators to take control in ways hitherto impossible. But, what does this mean for consumers? As we chase contents we love on platforms where they’re domiciled, what’s happening to all the data being collected? And what does it mean for the creators and performers? Are they now getting paid in full?… Who in fact, gets paid? Who should? Will today’s entertainers end up becoming super rich and comfortable or will they end up like many of those before them? What do they need to know, to avoid obvious pitfalls?”

 

We now live in an era of constant creation of content and mediums that distribute them. As a matter of fact, the line between content creators and the platforms which distribute them has blurred. Disney and Apple are set to begin their respective streaming service that plans to play in the Netflix space.

It follows then, the problem and solutions are one and the same. What NEC Live offers is an avenue to confer among one another and design ways to ensure that the Nigerian entertainment ecosystem does not miss out on the boom that today’s technology and resources offer. Or worse still, have our stories told by those who didn’t live it.

 

NEC Live is brought to you by ID Africa, in partnership with African Creative Foundation, MultiChoice, Livespot, Huce Valeris, and BHM.

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