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Viacom and Turner Targeting Africa’s Millennials With Multi-Platform Offerings

JOHANNESBURG — With more than half the population of Africa under the age of 18, networks are looking for more ways to target young auds with cross-platform content, hoping to grow today’s generation of increasingly connected African youths into tomorrow’s brand-loyal consumers.

“Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is…come up with themes or content blocks that reflect and resonate with what’s happening with young people today,” says Monde Twala (pictured), VP of Viacom Africa’s BET, Youth and Music portfolio.

The goal isn’t simply to “grow eyeballs” for the company’s flagship nets, like BET and MTV Base, but to build a sense of ownership from an audience that Twala says will come to trust the channels to reflect “the kind of attitudes that young people have today.”

In the process, “you become a custodian of youth culture, and you become that reference point” for young viewers, he says.

Music videos are the driving force, reflecting a brand of youth style that Twala describes as the “new African swag” – a pan-African lingua franca that’s understood on the streets of Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos and Dakar. “It’s about the whole notion of one Africa,” he says.

Scripted and reality programming are also part of a strategy geared toward starting conversations around “what is hot and topical at the time,” according to Twala. Last year, MTV commissioned “The People Versus the Rainbow Nation,” a powerful documentary about the student protest movement sweeping across South Africa. The company is currently developing another youth-oriented doc with the same creative team.

“The fine balance is always how you craft the editorial not to become about protest culture, but to become more aspirational…[by] building confidence in young people, giving them a more global view,” says Twala.

That also means reaching them where they consume content, with multi-platform strategies essential to establishing a youth-oriented African brand.

“Even more on this continent…digital isn’t just a complement,” says Pierre Branco, VP Southern Europe and General Manager Africa for Turner Broadcasting Systems.

For Turner, which has a footprint in 49 countries across the continent, that means rolling out a host of games and mobile apps that until now haven’t been available in Africa, as well as curating a selection of short-form content that’s ideal for young viewers consuming in small online bites.

It’s a tactic Twala points to as well, noting how the popular MTV Base program “Newsish,” which offers an irreverent take on the news in three-minute clips, premieres online before hopping to the linear channel.

Another key is localization, with Branco pointing to Turner’s strategy to “mix the best international content…with very relevant local content” across its channels.

“In Africa, until now, the offering was limited, which prevented us from finding and developing the right products,” he says. Part of the company’s strategy to shift that balance was on display at the Discop Africa TV content market this week, where Turner partnered with South Africa’s Animation SA to host a pan-African animation competition, awarding cash prizes to two toons currently in development.

The goal is to give local producers an opportunity to develop brands that can travel alongside Turner hits like “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Ben 10.”

“We’re really looking at sourcing new content that we can transform into hits on our local channels, but then export everywhere else on our international network,” says Branco.

According to Twala, Viacom wants to build a model “where you can incubate young people into existing productions,” offering training and mentorship that will eventually translate into a healthier production sector across Africa – one that, in turn, will allow young Africans to create content about the issues affecting them.

“Ultimately, what you want is for young people to be the voice, young people to be the producers so that what they’re experiencing translates into the content,” he says.

“They’re on top of it. They know what’s hot and what’s not.”

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