Buhle Mbonambi chats to Alex Okosi, VIMN and MTV Networks’ SVP and MD
Viacom International Media Networks has grown in Africa. The media conglomerate, which owns MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, BET, Nickelodeon and the various MTV brands, has made inroads on the continent, with most countries having access to the aforementioned channels and more. The most popular of those channels in Africa, according to ratings, is MTV Base, which was founded by VIMN’s senior vice president and MD, Alex Okosi.
I met Alex at the Durban ICC a few days before the MTV Africa Music Awards last month. The ICC was a buzz of activity. Production and stage crews, complete with hard hats, were scattered all over the place. I expected Alex to be a bit stressed, but he was very chilled, even with the magnitude of the awards and how they would be received weighing him down.
“Man, I guess I’m just focusing on doing one thing at a time and making sure that it’s perfect, before I move on to something else,” he said. Well, the MAMAs were mostly a success and that’s something to be proud of.
Okosi’s story is simple. Born in Nigeria, he was raised in the US and after graduating he worked for MTV, before coming back to Africa to spearhead MTV Base. Almost 10 years later, the channel has grown and more Viacom-owned channels have become available on the continent.
As VIMN Africa head honcho, what has been your biggest achievement since moving from MTV in the US to Africa?
It’s really been about assembling the best team for the MTV channels and the rest of the Viacom channels. That has been one of my biggest achievements. For VIMN to work, we needed to get the right people for the job, people who know what they are doing. People don’t realise how difficult it is to find the right team for any job or company.
Are you happy with the way the channels are doing?
Oh yeah. I’m happy. There’s room for growth, definitely, but we have done really well. It’s Africa’s time and the world is so interested in all things Africa – from the music to the culture. There are not that many channels that showcase the beauty of Africa that we are trying to do with our channels, especially MTV Base. We are slowly breaking the stereotypes about Africa.
MTV Base is leading the network in popularity. Are you proud at how the channel has been a true ambassador of African music, especially since it’s your brainchild?
Beyond proud, man. The thing with MTVBase is that it goes beyond the music. It’s educational and that’s the shift we also want. We saw this with Shuga, which was a hit on the continent and also with Choose or Lose 2014, which was the channel’s docu-series encouraging young people to vote at the recent South African elections. So while the music is still a top priority, we are also moving onto content that addresses pertinent issues.
In the channel’s initial years what was your challenge?
It was mainly about how we can come up with content, especially music videos, that will change the way the world sees Africa. We wanted to get content we would be proud of and it was difficult to getthe right content and at the right quality.
The music video quality has improved drastically…
(Laughs) Oh definitely. We actually had music video conferences and workshops around the continent to make sure that our videos were of the right standard and quality. How there had to be a concept and a story being told, that will correlate with the music. Now we have so many videos and so much content, there’s hardly enough space to fit it all in. And that’s a great problem to have.
And now, what’s the biggest challenge that MTV Base faces?
I think we now need to evolve and be ahead of the curve, set trends and stay far ahead of the competition.
The world has seen Shuga and it’s popular on the continent, so when it comes to local programming are there any plans on developing another series, be it a drama or comedy for any of the VIMN channels?
We are always looking at it. That’s why we had Shuga for MTV Base. The thing is, it needs to be sustainable. It’s expensive to create new shows and it takes a lot of resources to do so. But what is great about Africa is that we do have skilled creatives that can create great content. If we could get over the budget constraints, we would definitely be doing more local content that we would be proud of.
And a talk show? One that would air across the continent?
Funny you should ask that. We are working and looking into one. We have Gareth Cliff’s show, Cliff Central, on Comedy Central, so that shows that there’s room for more talk shows for an African audience. (Cliff Central has since been cancelled and no longer airs on Comedy Central.)Comedy Central has been doing great, with the Roast, the comedy shows – any thoughts on developing a late night talk show for an African audience?
There’s an opportunity and we are looking into that. We can’t ignore that people are staying up later than usual and we need to capitalise on that. That’s an audience not being catered for and we need to get into that.
There are some programming “mistakes” with BET. With the focus being on UK schedule, some shows like Being Mary Jane, The Wendy Williams Show and even 106 & Park are not getting the mileage they deserve. Do you have any plans to change the times for BET International to suit the continent?
Yeah, there is. We are trying to localise most of our channels, so that our best shows are aired at a time that most of our viewers can access. It’s a problem that we are solving as we speak and soon we’ll have a schedule that suits the African audience and not just what show is being aired in the UK, which is mostly two hours behind.
What’s next for Viacom International Media Network’s Africa?
We are looking into bringing in more VIMN brands. Comedy Central will be getting bigger as will Nickelodeon and BET. We are in talks with MultiChoice to bring Bet to DStv in South Africa. We currently only have it on StarSat and we need to be on DStv soon. We really want to localise and create content for Africans, by Africans to be consumed by Africans on the continent and abroad.
This article first appeared in the 13 July 2014 issues of the Sunday Tribune SMtv magazine