Variety sat down with Basic Lead general manager Patrick Zuchowicki to discuss its new DiscoPro training program.
What’s the goal of this year’s training program?
How do we find enough content to get that digital transition moving? That’s the biggest question. There are major distribution issues that everyone’s aware of, where you see that the problem today is that a lot of content is already under exclusive distribution rights, not available to feed all of these new platforms that are supposed to be launched. So the big question is, how does the continent get together to produce the amount of content that is needed to get that transition rolling?
We have 36 workshops around content production, content distribution, content monetization. These workshops have been put together so that we can look at cross-border opportunities, mostly between Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and the rest of the continent. The program that we have is strong, extremely practical, with the objective at the end of the day for independent producers and broadcasters wanting to do co-productions to make deals. It’s a practical, up-to-date program presented by real experts (who have) experience on the ground.
You talked about the challenge of creating enough content to fuel the digital migration. What do broadcasters have to do, and do you see them taking the necessary steps to fuel the content boom that could be happening right now?
It’s impossible to make a generalization. Some broadcasters that are doing it step-by-step see (the importance). RTI is a leading example. They decided a year ago to set up their own international distribution department with local content produced in French-speaking Africa. Today, their operation is turning a profit. RTI has co-produced some TV series with young producers. They have co-produced TV series with South African partners. They are pouring money into the development and production pipeline for local content.
Slowly but surely, I think (broadcasters) realize that that’s the only way out. They realize that if you co-produce and if you set up a distribution arm, then you can maybe also make money. It’s not just RTI; there are a few other stations like this who see that that’s the way to go. They see that … as anywhere else in the world, what sells is local content. Public broadcasters, commercial broadcasters, are beginning. It’s not en masse, but some of them are beginning, leading the pack, and providing an example. It’s going to take time, but it will happen, like everywhere else.
People often talk about the “African marketplace,” but of course it’s a very diverse and very fragmented continent. For a content producer, how can they practically go about creating content that is going to have legs and succeed in other markets on the continent?
We’re going to help them do that. We have pitching competitions (in which) jurors representing those big production companies, those producers, those broadcasters … seeking fresh talent from Africa. Our role is to identify those players, whether it’s Endemol Shine, Rapid Blue, Canal Plus, SABC, Urban Brew, RTI. At the end of the day, it’s also a matter of … talent. Talent is what sells. We try to provide these producers with pitching opportunities, because we believe that the opportunity to pitch is probably the best way to get a message together and to show to the professionals that you have talent. All of that is really tailored to the needs of the producers. We’re not going to revolutionize the industry. We’re just providing more opportunities to sit down and be exposed to the right people.
Is there a strong push at the government level across the continent to grow these burgeoning industries?
There are three countries where you see action in terms of wanting (to develop the industry): Kenya, South Africa and Cote d’Ivoire. I would put Nigeria in a separate category. The other countries, you have projects, but there’s no real support or real marked desire to put that industry into the right track, to provide assistance and support. Where you see that happening — in Kenya, in South Africa, in Cote d’Ivoire — you see, like anywhere else in the world, more professionals, better professionals … who have access to training. Wherever they are, the state of the industry is more developed, there’s more support. And there is a benefit because foreign productions are shot in those countries.
GDPs are rising across the continent. The African middle class is growing. How do you see that economic growth impacting the production climate on the continent?
It’s a very difficult question to answer. It’s not necessarily much more different than it is in the United States for independents. You tap your friends, your family, you’ve got your own money. The opportunity to access co-production money is an opportunity that’s there, but it’s not the only driver. We see a lot of producers who aren’t waiting for the money to pile up on the table. They find a way to get their projects shot. A lot of producers over here aren’t even aware of how you get a project funded.
We don’t look at Africa as being a whole place. It’s individual situations, individual stories, whether it’s the producers or the TV stations. It’s very difficult to find a common trend. What we can see is better projects, better end products, a clear desire from some broadcasters (who) want to engage with that co-production field. That’s why we have broadcasters attending our workshops. It’s not just for producers. It’s also for broadcasters who are ignorant of what they should do, even if they have the money. They don’t know what’s the first step. They don’t know how to solicit projects. There are lots of unknown quantities that are obstacles.
There’s a trend going in the right direction. At the end of the day, there’s more content being made in Africa, better content made in Africa, more projects initiated in Africa that can benefit from intra-regional co-production deals, and more producers — big ones — looking into intra-African co-productions.