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Nigeria Looks to Formats to Boost TV Biz

Producers ready for homegrown hits as brands drive growing market

CANNES — With the market for global TV formats rapidly evolving, and the balance of power shifting from traditional stalwarts like the U.S., the U.K. and the Netherlands to new players like Turkey, South Korea, Israel, and Japan, Nigerian bizzers are hoping a format boom could emerge from Africa’s most populous nation.

Fourteen years after Ultima Studios struck gold with the Nigerian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” paving the way for a surge of unscripted formats like “Big Brother Naija” and “Nigerian Idol,” local producers are energized by a fast-growing TV sector in a country that last year emerged from its worst recession in 25 years.

Across Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city and entertainment capital, new studios are being built. Years of investment in the country’s homegrown Nollywood film industry – long known for its low budgets and shoddy production values – has helped to raise technical standards. Meanwhile, mobile penetration and consumption is rising, while the impending digital transition is expected to introduce a host of new, content-hungry broadcasters.

“The market is there for the taking,” said Neil Oyenekan, managing director and CEO of Lighthouse Television & Filmworks, at a panel discussion at Mipformats on Sunday. “The only thing [missing] is the content itself.”

For the past decade, the Nigerian market has been dominated by international heavyweights like “Millionaire” and “Project Fame West Africa.” Proven formats continue to grab a foothold in Nigeria: Last month, Ultima inked deals with Sony and FremantleMedia, respectively, to produce local versions of “Lion’s Den” and “Family Feud.”

But “there is a bit of an evolution now,” according to Duncan Irvine, CEO of South African production company Rapid Blue, which has spent close to a decade working in Nigeria. That’s opened the door for original formats that local production companies can export to the rest of the world.

That process is still in its early stages. “We’re just entering that phase whereby we’re getting the kind of investment required to make formats that we can take globally,” said Oyenekan, who said a homegrown format could be ready for international markets as soon as Mipcom this year.

Nigerian producers don’t have the same safety net as their counterparts in more developed markets, where a knock-out idea could be enough to secure funding from a broadcaster. Local networks won’t commit to a new show unless it arrives fully-financed, with producers doing the legwork to get brands on board before buying air time from the broadcaster.

Convincing corporates to hitch their brand to an untested format isn’t necessarily a system that rewards moon-shot ideas from producers willing to take risks. But the upside in Nigeria is a massive youth demo, with more than 60% of the population under the age of 25. Advertisers have taken notice. “All of the biggest brands in the world are there, and…we’re seeing them invest in content,” said Oyenekan.

Nigerian producers are hoping to see more success stories like “Gulder Ultimate Search,” a homegrown format sponsored by Nigerian Breweries Plc. Still, most brands proceed with caution, and that takes time. “These [projects] are coming from brands, and not networks, so it’s a longer gestation period,” said Oyenekan. “But it’s beginning to happen.”

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