“Can you see my screen? he asks a second time.
I still can’t see his screen, and I say so. It takes some time for the slides that Olawale Adetula has to present to be released. When they appear, a corner of my screen is blocked by text and images fading into an oxblood background, the theme color of Adetula’s film and television production company, TNC Africa.
We have this interview – our second since February – in April, 3 months after the company got a grant from the YouTubeBlack Voices Fund, an initiative to shine a light on and support black creators around the world.
In a tone barely able to suppress her enthusiasm for the untapped opportunities in Nollywood, Adetula talks about the infamous “streaming wars” of the past two years.
Wars are about video streaming platforms pump money in producing content to feed viewers’ seemingly insatiable streaming appetites and retain subscriptions. Last year, Disney+ spent $25 billion on content (and plans to spend $33 billion on the same this year); Netflix spent $17 billion; and Amazon Prime spent $13 billion (up from $11 billion the previous year). Most of this spending is done by US and UK media groups.
This kind of global takeover of the content consumer mind has yet to happen with Nollywood productions, says Adetula. He thinks it’s because many creators still create content based on intuition and not data. “It’s art, there’s no science behind it,” he tells me.
Inspired by experimentation in this area, the Adetula team built their own audience engagement prediction tool, Foresight Stack. The product uses advanced data analytics and predictive modeling to develop hyper-engaging scripted original series for the web. Predictive modeling uses machine learning and data mining to predict and predict likely future outcomes of a project using historical and existing data. The technique was used to develop the company’s flagship YouTube series, little black bookadapted from novel by Sally Kenneth Dadzie.
Adetula has extensive marketing experience, having worked at Jumia, DHL Africa and Diageo, so he constantly asks himself: who is the audience? What do they like and who do they like? What are they talking about? The answers to these questions are its ways of creating content that viewers would love. little black book was in production during the lockdown. At the time, a trending issue among young Nigerians was ‘abortion pills’, as it was believed that for people in relationships, lockdown increased their risk of unplanned pregnancies. Armed with this idea, the writers of the series worked in a subplot about abortion in the story, which did not appear in the original novel. This settled the question of what the audience was talking about.
Another entry happened with the actors hired for the series. Two members of its main cast, Teniola Aladese and Year Ichahave received public acclaim for their recent television work – Aladese for jemeji and Lara from Lagos, and Icha for Castle & Castle. There was a particular clamor for Aladese to be given more lead roles. This, with the talents of said actors a given, factored into the cast, answering the question, “Who likes the audience?” »
An accidental filmmaker
Adetula hasn’t always made movies. In fact, he does not consider himself a filmmaker in the conventional sense. He qualifies as Creator. In this mode, his artistic impulse flows wherever the mind takes him, without restriction of form or medium. As a teenager he had drawn animations, painted and written poetry, but chose to study systems engineering at the University of Lagos; he felt that the rigor of this program would bring balance to his more fluid and creative side.
While in college, he started a web development company and blogged, which at the time (it was the 2000s) was a new Nigerian internet sport, rushing into its golden age. Through blogging, Adetula noticed that young Nigerians don’t have many safe spaces to hold sensitive conversations. He converted his blog into a community site where members could express their angst on issues ranging from religion to sexuality to their careers in the form of articles and posts for others to comment on and offer advice. . Some contributors wrote anonymously; others have conceived their real problems as fiction. The blog, called TheNakedConvos (TNC), would be the ancestor of the current TNC Africa.
The blog’s revenue came primarily from advertisements and content marketing, but Adetula knew that this business model was not sustainable in the long term, thanks to the rise of social media as a conversational platform. He experimented with more content business ideas. He has published 2 literary anthologies; a play; and a few podcasts. In 2017, he teamed up with RedTV to produce Our best friend’s wedding, a romantic comedy-drama about a young bachelor who recruits his friends to help him find a wife. The series, now in its second season, is adapted from a fiction series written by Adetula and Christopher Ogbuehi in 2011, and previously published on the TNC blog. Its release was a success, making a million views in 2 months, claims Adetula. He had found his new inspiration. “We knew we had a lot of great stories, great content [on the TNC blog]. If we could turn them into video, people might connect with them more,” he says.
In April 2020, TNC Africa, the TV production company, was soft launched. Over the next year and a half, the company would produce 2 audio dramas and 2 web series.
“Too good for YouTube”
The past year has been good for us,” Adetula tells me, her voice bright and satisfied. Last year, TNC Africa was active on the film festival circuit, with stops at Black Web Fest, Nollywood Week Paris and Copenhagen Web Fest. The company has already produced 2 shows and plans to produce 4 more by the end of the year.
Adetula’s vision is underpinned by his admiration for 50 Cent and HBO, the first to be a film industry underdog like him but to become a successful television producer; and the latter to understand how to create “iconic content that permeates the culture”.
If he keeps an open mind on this subject, he is in no hurry to create for the cinema. He has a better understanding of content creation and optimization for digital channels and intends to stick with that for now. He tells me that sometimes people say TNC shows are “too good for YouTube.” He thinks they are wrong and insists that great content can be created for the platform and other digital channels.
My Life in Tech (MLIT) is a bi-weekly column that profiles the innovators, leaders and shapers of Africa’s tech ecosystem, with the intention of putting a human face on the startups and innovations they are building. A new episode is released every other Wednesday at 3 p.m. (WAT). If you think your story will be of interest to MLIT readers, please complete this form.