Hollywood Embraces Northern Nigeria Media Professionals For Relativity Development Workshops
It was tagged #kannywoodmeetshollywood and it was billed as an integration of cultures, a brokerage of ideas, and a progressive exchange of media best practices that will eventually lead to the successful positioning of Nigerian (and indeed African) stories on the world stage. A stage that is often plagued by a lack of inclusion, a misunderstanding of cultures, and a misalignment of policy particularly with regards to industry stakeholders in emerging markets.
Northern Nigeria has suffered extreme social ills over its entire history, and particularly within the last decade. Amidst all the local and global political pressures, including stakeholders who ultimately seek a myriad of socioeconomic and sociopolitical reforms in the region, a group of media ambassadors from the region decided to seize the narrative and empower themselves with the necessary tools, resources and platforms to compete on the global stage. These ambassadors are part of northern Nigeria's growing film and media industry, referred to as Kannywood (in reference to Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria).
As part of Relativity Education’s professional development activities, a select group of Kannywood professionals spent three weeks of intense training and industry integration in Los Angeles last month and began a journey that will go down in history as the beginning of a phenomenal trade relationship between Hollywood and northern Nigeria.
Nigeria became the largest economy in Africa only a few years ago by introducing entertainment as an economic element of its GDP. This led to a series of remarkable events including the US Commercial Service formally providing support mechanisms to the Nigerian media ecosystem and, more recently, the increasing wave of private sector market participants like Netflix that have broadened their footprint in the region, thus opening up new opportunities for bilateral trade opportunities within the Entertainment and Media (E&M) sector.
In a recent op-ed piece, the CEO of the Nigerian Export Council, Olusegun Awolowo wrote:
“Unfortunately, our country for decades has primarily exported one product, crude oil, which really is a perishing asset. It is for this reason that the government prioritizes Nigeria's economic diversification. In line with this, a new agenda – the Zero Oil plan – has been put together to envision a Nigerian economy without oil. What else could we export? Who would buy?”
The current investments in the entertainment sector by local and international stakeholders support the argument that with the optimal mix of resources, Nigeria will reap tremendous benefits by exporting its unique stories, cultures and experiences through digital distribution and global publishing platforms. Across the value chain for entertainment, Nigeria is also well positioned to provide the necessary infrastructure that should attract global media stakeholders to the region by presenting the right incentives and industry support mechanisms.
A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report suggests that the growth in digital media is massively affecting the media and entertainment industry, and astute value chain actors must respond positively. Global operators are entering regional markets, and traditional distributors are adjusting business models towards creating original programming. The challenge, the report suggests, is to manage new work-streams and control how they keep content secure, while making the content available to every contributor who needs it, and every user who has the right to see it.
As an element of the greater Nigerian ecosystem, Kannywood is evolving, and the new version of Kannywood (and indeed that of Nollywood, the broader Nigerian film and media industry) requires a new operating model and architecture to succeed. It also requires content creators to embrace a unique blend of creativity, civic journalism, activism and entrepreneurship to ride the global wave. February 2016 represents a date in Kannywood’s history when the new rules were formulated and the likes of Ali Nuhu, Hadiza Aliyu, Hauwa Maina, Suleiman Yusuf, Kamal Alkali, Nazifi Asnanic et al. authored the new scripts for Kannywood's global engagement. These progressive professionals are seeking to re-brand and re-invent creative work-streams and media entrepreneurship within Kannywood and earn the right to participate in a multibillion-dollar global industry.
Through their cross-cultural training and experiences, they are lighting the channels for a new normal and are owning the narrative for stories that will come out of the region. Due credit must be given to the inaugural African cohort at Relativity School in Los Angeles, who ensured that the international community paid attention to Africa’s creative resurgence.
When the likes of Gideon Okeke, Linda Ejiofor, Uti Nwachukwu, Adesua Etomi, Lal Akindoju, Ejiro Onabrakpor, Seun Ajayi and Lilian Esoro engaged Hollywood in the summer of 2015, the bar was set very high and Kannywood responded in a resounding fashion.
With all its creative splendor, Kannywood also has an immense role to play in international diplomacy. In 2013, The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counter-terrorism (CT) provided grant funding towards the production and delivery of Hausa-language TV content via free-to-air satellite with a footprint to cover northern Nigeria. Across the realms of Public Diplomacy, and with a specific focus on northern Nigeria, Kannywood’s role in the field of diplomatic practice related to media, entertainment and technology cannot be overemphasized.
Although the persuasive power of media remains subjective in approach, implementation and impact, there is sufficient research to support the notion that diplomats, NGOs, and other actors see digital platforms as a crucial element of how they shape and target the narratives they want to promote and the relations they want to cultivate. Nigeria’s trade and investment agencies, as well as the relevant institutions that are responsible for promoting media, culture and tourism, are best advised to align forces with this new generation of media ambassadors and deliver their desired narratives over tested technology channels and platforms.
As an export commodity, Hausa language and its inherent cultures represent a huge population across Africa. The language is used as a trade language across West and Central Africa, particularly amongst Muslims. It is fused into international curriculum and taught at universities in Africa and around the world. International broadcast stations like BBC, Radio France Internationale, China Radio International and Voice of America all have regular programming broadcast in Hausa. On the Pan-African scene, new-age television broadcast channels like Africa Magic Hausa and Arewa24 TV are in constant negotiations with local content creators and corporate brands that are seeking the eyeballs of their customers in the targeted regions.
The #kannywoodmeetshollywood initiative is poised to alert the international trade and development community in Nigeria to the immense potential of Kannywood productions travelling from Niger to South Sudan, via Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, to China and beyond, and fusing rich stories and experiences with sustainable economic value for relevant stakeholders along the way. This generation of media entrepreneurs will be equipped with the skills and resources to fully operate across the Entertainment and Media (E&M) value chain, locally and globally. Their interactions with Hollywood stakeholders have not only opened doors for creative collaborations and trans-national content production, but also created enabling platforms for a number of parallel business opportunities including, but not limited to, technical skills training, technology services, digital distribution, equipment leasing and financing, business operations and entertainment law.
These ancillary industries present remarkable socio-economic opportunities towards ecosystem development, employment creation and sustainable innovation within the Nigerian E&M sector. The critical local partners and economic participants that will amplify this new direction
for international trade relations include: film commissions and educational institutions, technical artisans and media marketers, creative professionals and financiers, infrastructure companies and communication experts, as well as entrepreneurs and bureaucrats.
There is no misconception on the long term nature of this overall trade opportunity and its inherent constraints. However, if the Zero – Oil Plan ever needed a creative sidekick, Nollywood and Kannywood are willing participants to write that script and produce the economic movie!
***Stephen Ozoigbo is a serial entrepreneur, investor and advisor to multiple technology startups. He is currently the CEO of the African Technology Foundation, a Silicon Valley corporation that seeks to globalize African technologies by providing access to resources that effectively address and manage the most pressing technological challenges on the continent. Stephen also serves as an International Advisor for Relativity. Within the Relativity Education unit, he is responsible for bridging knowledge gaps between the African media and entertainment ecosystems and Hollywood, as well as guiding Relativity's engagement strategies in the region.
In 2015, he partnered with Motion Pictures Production to deliver the inaugural #kannywoodmeetshollywood program in Los Angeles.
Over the last year, Nigerian participants at Relativity’s Workshop series have produced ten (10) short films with their Hollywood counterparts including Otumokpo and Home Appliance.