In the terrain where fickle music business and prosaic broadcast business intersect, MTV Base’s legacy of excellence can be attributed to a single feature: uncompromising focus on quality content. From the moment the channel made its first broadcast of Innocent ‘2Face’ Idibia’s “African Queen” on DSTV Channel 88 to the redefining era brought about by MTV Africa Music Award (MAMA), and now to the present day, MTV Base Africa has been unmistakable about its mission: “showcasing Africa to the world” in its most authentic form. From the “self-imposed quota of 30% African music” at inception in 2005, today the 24-hour music television and general entertainment channel has grown exponentially in contents and viewership, reaching more than 180 million viewers in about 50 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Birthing the vision
Armed with ‘just’ determination to succeed and sterling academic records after a string of scholarly exploits in the United States of America, Alex Okosi, Managing Director of MTV Networks Africa, then a young graduate was able to secure a high profile placement with Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN), owners of MTV Networks International. His rise to the Viacom’s top echelon afforded him the influence and opportunity to propose the MTV Base Africa. The channel, according to Okosi, was not only going to project positive view of Africa, it was also to promote Africa’s diverse music scene and vibrant youth culture.
“As a young person who has grown up on both sides of the world, there were a lot of times you weren’t proud to be an African because the only images you saw were of dying and starving people. I just focused on the fact that there’s this great opportunity to do something that I believe would enable us and our youth culture to be projected in the most different way,” Okosi reasoned.
Television business is not one venture to be founded on optimism and passion only; empirical data on the size of African advertising market and a working system have pivotal roles to play in its sustenance and success. These were not available as Okosi had to convince VIMN leadership with unflinching persuasion and a business plan laced with figures and facts gathered through his networks in Africa. “It’s always difficult when you are sitting behind a desk trying to find data on Africa; it doesn’t exist.”
After some initial hesitancy and ambivalence, VIMN agreed to flow with Okosi’s conviction more on the need to complete the MTV global picture since every region of the world but Africa had MTV presence; though, Okosi’s proposal made sense to its employers from the creative and growth standpoints. Eventually, Okosi scaled the approval hurdle; and behold, MTV Base Africa was birthed.
Let the show begin
“We’ve made it symbolic by making it (MTV Base Africa) our 100th channel. It’s symbolic because we have a tremendous belief in the role that music from Africa can play…Our aim is to be very aggressive, creative, even relentless in getting our channel out to as many households as possible in Africa.” With these words from then president of MTV Networks International, Bill Roedy, a new vista of entertainment broadcasting was opened in Africa at the glossy launch of the MTV Base Africa on February 22, 2005 in Johannesburg, which featured late President Nelson Mandela, Will Smith, Ludacris, Lebo Mathosa, Mandoza, Seun and the Egypt 80 Band, and others.
MTV Base Africa’s first and biggest challenge it had to surmount was the poor quality of African music videos, which ordinarily were going to form the bulk of 30% African content quota. Changing the game was the only option available; as such, the channel embarked on series of trainings for artists, producers and directors in its key markets. Experienced directors of international repute were brought to work together with their African peers with the aim to help them shoot better music video. It even went as far as creating free music videos for a number of artists.
“That helped create what we have today which is an incredibly exciting African music market where we are now having African music videos being played in London and the U.S. and across the continent, which is quite exciting,” excited Okosi said.
“Music transcends based on the quality of the music produced. What we are trying to tell people is that that they needed to produce good music videos because that’s the best way to market yourself. And someone in Kenya can maybe hear the song and they bump to it; but when you see the video, it’s a much powerful experience and a much powerful expression of the artiste’s talent.
“That’s the reason we believe in this whole music video thing to begin with. And that’s why from the time we started we put talent reps in place to train people on how to produce these music videos. The benefit is what Nigeria is seeing today. There are millions of people that are producing music videos today that have got quality. Now it enables the artiste to travel. Before we started music video in Nigeria it was just rubbish. Now Nigerians produce the highest quality music videos in Africa. We were last before we started.’’
Issues about quality contents sorted; MTV went into content production overdrive. In little time, programmes and shows like The Big Friday Show, Cribs, MTV Uncensored, MTV Base Live! With Nokia, The Base Chart Show, Artiste of the Month, Base Imports, Official US Urban Download Chart, MTV Street Request, Throwback and Pimp My Ride became viewer’s favourites.
As MTV grew in contents and stature, wider reach and viewership became imperative. “I tried to keep the strategy very simple: distribution. I wanted MTV to be in every household in the world. The mantra I had was creative, aggressive, relentless; we were not going to stop until we were in every household,” Roedy had said during an interview. In consonance with his boss, Okosi shared his sentiment: “From the beginning, we were disciplined in our focus on building a sustainable business model beyond the pay TV platform because it is limited. To scale and grow our business significantly in this region meant reaching the mass youth audience through branded blocks of our content on our ‘Free-To-Air’ (FTA) television channel partners.”
The following phase witnessed MTV Base embark on strategic distribution of contents in truly an aggressive manner. In its bid to gain access to a bigger audience who could not access its programmes due to affordability issues, the entertainment channel teamed up with free-to-air terrestrial broadcast stations across sub-Saharan Africa.
Today, MTV base is available across Africa via a combination of pay-TV / Direct-To-Home (DTH), FTA, Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) and Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) affiliates, and across variety of distribution platforms (like DSTV, Zuku, CV Multimedia, Zap, GTV, etc) in 50 African countries including Kenya, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Burundi, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The high point was the landmark partnership and training agreement it signed with Nigeria’s NTA (Nigerian Television Authority) in January 2013. According to the deal, the government-owned NTA would, with effect from February 1, 2013, “broadcast a daily dose of VIMN programming content including youth-focused editorial under its MTV Base brand.”
NTA agreed to air MTV Base content “five days a week in the early afternoon, with an additional late night slot on Fridays and Saturdays” while VIMN Africa agreed to “provide skills training and workshops in TV production for NTA member stations and personnel, to help develop local production expertise,” the agreement said.
Included in the programming on NTA were local and international music, lifestyle, reality, chat and animation franchises such as MTV Base VJ Search – Nigeria followed by the Official Naija Top 10, Big Base Beats, The Big Friday Show, Cribs, Run’s House and Pimp My Ride. NTA is reputed to be Africa’s most widely distributed network with 90 million viewers across Nigeria via a network of state channels and local affiliates.
The partnership with terrestrial stations “enabled us with advertisers to be able to provide a solution for them that they can market their products through; so they could not only reach what I call the high economic group but also the masses of the population who have access to only free television,” Okosi said. According to him, the demographics of MTV Base audience “stretches from 12 to 34-year olds but the make-up of our core audience is 16 to 24-year old youth.”
Culture of distinction
It is safe to say that Will Smith was prophetic during the MTV Base launch in Durban: “It’s hugely important to me for the connection to the youth that will really direct the future of South Africa and the future of the continent and I just think MTV has been powerful in the States and around the world and hopefully will be equally powerful and influential here,” Will Smith had enthused.
MTV Base has not only grown powerful and influential in many ramifications, its instant success in Africa lends credence to the culture of excellence for which the MTV brand is known all over the world. Within its first three years of operation in Africa, MTV Base had not only become channel of choice both on pay-TV and terrestrial platforms; it also broke even. Its foray into Africa led to socio-economic awakening as the hitherto latent talents on the continent suddenly became boisterous with productive activities.
From Dar es Salam to Nairobi, Lagos to Luanda, Cairo to Pretoria, Windhoek to Accra, pop culture evolved with uncommon renaissance among Africa’s young population. Teeming numbers of African youths found in MTV Base a ready ally to help position their bourgeoning potentials for global recognition and attendant empowerment. MTV Base Live, The Big Friday Show, MTV Uncensored, The Base Chart Show, Artiste of the Month, Base Imports, Official US Urban Download Chart, MTV Street Request, Throwback were among the shows that nudged the best of African talents to life and nurtured them to maturity.
Its flagship reality show, MTV Base VJ Search, does not only produce celebrated television presenters on a periodic basis, the show (continent-wide but country specific) has assumed a life of its own, as it always draws established stars and ambitious Africans from the nooks and crannies of the continent. MTV Base VJs Sizwe Dhlomo, Fikile Moeti, Cynthia Okpala, Nomuzi Mabena, and Ehizojia ‘Ehiz’ Okoeguale have had their lives transformed after they won previous MTV Base VJ searches in 2005, 2006, 2007 2012 and 2013, respectively.
“For me, winning the first Nigerian MTV Base VJ Search was the most awesome way of breaking into the TV and entertainment business… Winning the search totally changed my life and it’s fantastic that MTV Base is now offering the same opportunity to new kids on the block who want to get their break into the entertainment business,” elated Cynthia Okpala said.
Ehiz, who beat the other two finalists Ada Ogunkeye and Kemi Owatemi and drove home a brand new car and cash prize of N10m, has been living his dream and getting paid for doing what he likes. Known for his amazing presenting skills and amiable personality, the fun-loving and creative chap has made cameo appearances in music videos of A-list artistes.
Winning the MTV VJ Search
Narrating his life-changing experience, Ehiz attributed his rise to fame and fortune to God and had sterling words for MTV Base. “This means one major thing: no more hunger for me. There have been lots of hunger before now. I have really had it so rough.”
Ehiz has continued to grow in leaps and bounds in the entertainment industry. His skills are being brought to bear on shows within MTV Africa’s confines and beyond, as he anchors multiple shows on regular basis. He, in partnership with Sharon Ezeamaka, recently hosted three exciting editions of ‘On Tour With Shuga’ festivals in Lagos, Abuja and Calabar on May 2, May 9 and May 16 respectively. “The tour, a new outreach campaign for MTV Shuga to further motivate young people on the need to know their status, is sponsored by MTV Base, MTV Staying Alive Foundation and Elton John Aids Foundation in partnership with NACA, PEPFAR, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UNICEF,” a report stated.
‘The Official Naija Top 10′, which debuted on the screen on March 8, 2013, is anchored by Ehiz, whose showmanship has garnered high rating for the show as one of the most popular from the stable of MTV Base. The show has been hosting who-is-who in Nigerian music industry. It is instructive to state that it was on the show that the Nigeria’s pop queen, Tiwa Savage sought collaboration with Patoranking. Her plea eventually led to ‘Girlie O’ Remix, which went ahead to overshadow the original version (Girlie O) in listenership and viewership. While original version has paltry 460,863 views on Youtube as at the time of filing this report, the remix has been viewed 5,902,464 times, both videos uploaded on PatorankingVEVO (Patoranking’s official Youtube account).
‘The Official Naija Top 10′ is the first definitive chart of Nigerian contemporary music. According to MTV Base’s Creative Director, Tim Horwood, “The Official Naija Top 10 has been specially created by MTV Base in conjunction with an elite panel of Nigerian broadcasters, music specialists and tastemakers including DJ Jimmy Jatt, Cool FM’s DJ Xclusive, DJ Humility and Big Time (Rhythm FM), DJ Case and Toolz (The Beat FM) and Osagie Alonge (The NET NG).” The chart is “based on a wide range of sources, including radio airplay, digital downloads and industry insights and it is designed to play a similar role to the Billboard charts in the USA,” Horwood said. The Official Naija Top 10 is published in Nigerian Entertainment Today.
“I am so proud to be part of the team involved in The Official Naija Top 10. Both the Nigerian music industry and music fans will benefit from this authoritative and independent chart that will play a major role in promoting Nigerian talent and musicians at home and overseas,” DJ Jimmy Jatt commented.
MTV Base has gone ahead to further enrich its pouch of recreating entertainment with premium shows such as: Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta, Big Base Beats, Run’s House, Big Base Beats, Cribs, Run’s House, Pimp My Ride and many more.
The ranks and files of African artistes assuming global prominence on the crest of MTV Base swell at the passing of each day. “I’d like to give a shoutout to MTV Base for always supporting African music. They have taken our music global and put us on the map worldwide,” Chocolate City rap star, Ice Prince Zamani expressed his appreciation of MTV Base’s marks.
Patoranking, the reggae and dancehall star, has said music bailed him out of poverty and vice; he has MTV Base to thank for creating the platform that launched his career to a global dimension as depicted by his being the first African dancehall act to sign a distribution deal with VP Records, the biggest reggae music imprint in the world. “As many of you know, VP Records is one of the biggest record labels in New York so being signed under that label is a big deal for me which is why I am grateful to MTV Base.”
Okosi, who was named the World Economic Forum, WEF’s 2013 Young Global Leader, expressed his fulfilment about the global acceptability which present crop of African artistes enjoy; “The appetite for local content and pride of ownership is greater than ever. We have also seen African artists emerging on the international stage: African artists are making waves in Europe. For example, Nigerian artists are selling out concerts to both African and European attendees. Broadcasters like us are also creating initiatives to showcase African talent beyond national and continental borders.”
Beyond its creative excellence, business-wise, MTV Base broke even in less than three years of operation. Okosi’s belief in Africa paid off. “From the beginning, we were disciplined in our focus on building a sustainable business model beyond the pay TV platform because it is limited. To scale and grow our business significantly in this region meant reaching the mass youth audience through branded blocks of our content on our ‘Free-To-Air’ (FTA) television channel partners.” Okosi explained. MTV Base also became the driving force behind VIMN’s rapid expansion of its footprint across Africa as a multi-portfolio brand, distributed on multiple platforms including cable and satellite, internet, mobile and radio. “Since we launched, we have been the fastest growing within Viacom in terms of revenue growth,” Okosi proudly revealed. Global brands such as: Nokia and Motorola were among first big advertisers on MTV Base Africa.
MAMA changed the game
In November 2008, MTV Base achieved a milestone by launching the first ever MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA) in Abuja, Nigeria, in celebration of contemporary African music and artists. The high-profile event immensely helped talented African artists to raise their international profile. MAMA is a “a great story for Africa because it enables the world to see that we have a young vibrant, incredible youth culture that also is able to create great entertainment, great music,” Okosi said.
The inaugural award heralded the arrival of the likes of D’Banj – who carted home three gongs (a golden microphone sitting on a top of a globe with Africa positioned at its top) on the global stage. Hosted in Abuja, D’Banj’s electrifying performance alongside Kelly Rowland was the highlight of the show. Wahu, 9ice, Jozi, P-Square, Sarkodie, Uhuru, Toofan, Gangs of Ballet, Goldfish, Stanley Enow, 2Face, Fally Ipupa, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Eminem,Cabo Snoop, Radio ‘n’ Weasle, Alicia Keys, Tiwa Savage, Davido, Mafikozolo, Lucky Dube, Nameless, Ikechukwu and other have at one time or the other won MAMA. MAMA stage has been graced with ace performances and appearances from international stars like The Game, Marlon Wayans, Trevor Nelson, Khloe Kardashian and many others.
Winning MAMA, Okosi reasons, is an incredible credential for African artistes. “I have artistes who came to me saying ‘Wow! I can now charge so much more money to perform because I won MTV Award.’ Also from marketing and promotional perspective, it does enable them to open more doors.
“For instance, I know that D’Banj has many record labels in the UK —- to be able to sign for a couple of songs he has created. Even his producer, Don Jazzy, was part of production team that produced for a track for Beyonce in her last album. So talent is there…It’s an exciting time for Africa. For instance, in the UK, you’re now hearing contemporary African music on mainstream radio stations, which is amazing,” Okosi enthused in an interview featured on CNN.
The award has since taken a giant leap from 2010 when it was last hosted. Its 2014 edition in Durban has been the most colourful event in Africa till date. Artists were recognised in 13 different award categories while three new lifestyle awards were added to the music categories, including the ‘Mama Leadership Award’ and ‘Personality of the year’ which went to Ashish J. Thakkar and Lupita Nyong’O respectively. ‘Transform Today by Absolut’ award, instituted to celebrate the power of young individuals to transform the image of Africa through their creativity and vision, was claimed by Clarence Peters.
The first ever MTV Africa All Stars concert was another high point of MTV Base. The concert held at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, People’s Park, Durban South Africa. Described as “one to remember for music lovers”, Snoop Lion put up an unforgettable experience with his classic hits tracks while top African DJs, DJ Caise and DJ Cleo were at their thrilling best as top African acts likes 2Face, D’Banj, Fally Ipupa, Flavour, Zakes Bantwini, Professor, Zahara, Big Nuz and Camp Mulla featured. The concert involved a tour through Nairobi and Lagos and culminated in a massive concert in Durban featuring the hottest contemporary young musicians from all across Africa. One of the highlights of the concert was the performance of Endowed remix with Nigerian pop superstar, D’Banj. “It’s amazing to see the continent rallying behind artists from different African countries. This is something we’ve been pushing for since we launched in 2005,” Tim Horwood explained.
The socially responsible Base
Leveraging on its massive and growing social influence, MTV Base came up with a series of initiatives geared towards inspiring and galvanizing the continent’s youth population for civic engagement. MTV Base has played big in Nigeria’s last two elections (2011 and 2015) with its “Choose or Lose” campaign, a show launched to prompt the country’s young population to participate in the democratic process in order to make sure their voices were heard. It is part of MTV Base’s efforts to encourage the youth to go out and vote for candidates they believe will make the greatest impact in the development of the country as well as their future. The show featured personalities in the entertainment and media sectors, coming together to debate and address topical issues around good governance. eLDee, Black Twang, Naeto C, D’banj, M.I. 2Face, Sound Sultan, Banky W and Yemi Alade, Oreka Godis, Ebuka, Omojuwa, and Stanley Azuakola have convened at one period or the other at the instance of MTV Base (Dv channel 322) for the show.
“MTV base Meets” is a pan-African multimedia campaign designed to inspire African youth by connecting them with some of the world’s most influential personalities. The show affords African youths to connect with people that have made indelible marks in Africa. “We have had President Obasanjo, Winnie Mandela, Aliko Dangote…these great icons that have great impact and build our society in lot of ways,” Okosi said.
MTV Base also hosted a master-class for upcoming artistes and talent managers recently. Themed around effective use of traditional and new media to boost create and enhance artiste brand images, the class was a direct approach to building upcoming Nigerian talents, the session adopted a 360-degree approach to stimulating artiste growth in the music industry. Tosin Ajibade, publisher of OloriSupergal.com stressed the importance of social media presence and engagement to an emerging artiste, advising upcoming artistes to embrace the platform, lest they miss. “If you are an upcoming artiste in Nigeria or anywhere in today’s world without an effective social media strategy, you are missing out on a huge opportunity.”
Osagie Alonge of Pulse NG, in addition to practicable media management strategies, advised new artistes to “surround themselves with professionals who will take care of the aspects of their career that they themselves may not be equipped to handle.” Akinyemi Solanke, the MTV Base Marketing and Digital Specialist, gave insightful lecture on ‘Artiste Brand Management’ which spoke on, drawing examples of artistes like Cynthia Morgan, Jay-Z, Jesse Jagz, Rihanna and Don Jazzy to illustrate how appropriate image management can influence how they are perceived by the public. Olubunmi Owolabi of BlackHouse Media expounds on basic areas like interview etiquettes in her ‘Media 101’class.
Speaking on why the session was organised, MTV Base Talent Manager, Lanre Onipede said “We at MTV Base have realised that as much as we celebrate the ‘made stars’, we need to pay attention to the upcoming ones who are the future of Nigerian music. This is why we organised this session to help these young talents learn the basics of music making, brand and character building, as well as techniques on how to become better at their careers.”