On 22 February 2005, global broadcasting giant MTV Networks launched MTV Base, its first pan-African music television channel. At 18:00hrs GMT, the conglomerate went on-air, also making history as the first global media company to achieve the 100-channel milestone.
As events have turned out, in musical terms, MTV Networks may have well been the Fugees or The Delfonics; starting MTV Base Africa in 2005 was akin to telling this continent’s musicians, artists, DJs and audiences those famous words: “ready or not, here I come…you can’t hide.”
Now in its tenth year, MTV Base was hailed as the first “bespoke” channel that combined music and entertainment with advocacy for the African market, and its main audience lies within the 12-34 year age bracket. Still a 24-hour English language television station, it is now watched across 50 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and as at 2012 at least 90 million people had access to MTV Base Africa’s programs.
We look at 10 ways MTV Base has revolutionised—and continues to revolutionise—Africa’s media, music and entertainment landscape.
- MTV Base tangibly pioneered world-class standards
2face Idibia’s African Queen was the first music video to be aired to an impressive audience of 1.3million households. Somewhat symbolic, it seemed MTV Base was quick to realise that African audiences are “queens” of sorts, to be courted. The station, rather than wait until the quality of Africa’s music videos met global standards, instead dove in the deep end. MTV Base trained directors, producers and artists in major African countries to shoot higher quality videos. International directors were able to collaborate with their counterparts in Africa, also creating free music videos for artists. All this has contributed to the present-day scenario, where African artistes and labels are willing to pay top dollar to get unique locations and creatives to deliver premium content.
Senior Vice-President and Managing Director Alex Okosi says: “When we started with the goal of showcasing Africa to the world, we wanted people to focus on the talent, so we had to up the game create a benchmark, and we are now being proven right. About 12 years ago in 2003, research showed that Nigerian youth overwhelmingly listened to about 80% of international music. That has now changed, to 80% of local and 20% international content. The initial challenge we had of getting industry players to focus on the creative process has been surmounted by training and education; in music videos particularly. Today, the quality of Nigerian music and music videos has become so high that MTV Base is spoilt for choice, content-wise.”
MTV Base continues to go further down the pyramid, by deepening its involvement in artiste training and development on the continent. Just weeks ago in Lagos, marketing and digital specialists from MTV Base and Nigeria’s entertainment and PR sectors shared a wealth of experience with upcoming artistes and talent managers in a Masterclass session. Topics spanned the use of basic traditional and new media engagement techniques (social media and interview etiquette) as well as advanced subjects like artiste brand management.
Lanre Onipede, MTV Base’s Talent Manager said “As much as we celebrate the ‘made stars’, we’re also deliberately paying attention to the upcoming ones, as they are the future of Nigerian music. This is why we organise Masterclasses for instance, to help these young talents learn the basics of music making, brand and character building, as well as techniques on how to become better at their careers.”
- …Yet listened in geography class
Africa, with its 50-odd countries and territories, thousands of languages and tribes is no monolith, even though its young people are like those anywhere else; a constant driver and consumer in the entertainment, music and fashion sectors. At its launch MTV Base went on the record to call itself a “bespoke” African channel and so far, it has lived up to its billing. The diverse needs of the same 12-34 demographic MTV Base serves across Africa have been notably considered through the years. The station quickly moved from about 25% locally derived content to currently more than double that. A few examples are the localized cut-out feed for South Africa in 2013, and Comedy Central has been adapted to reflect Africa’s growing comedy scene in South Africa and Nigeria in particular. On April Fools’ Day 2015 MTV Base wasn’t joking when it launched local prank show #YouGotGot
Clearly someone listened in Geography class when Teacher said: “Repeat after me…Africa is not a country.”
- Homegrown presenters
Since its launch, MTV Base has also channelled the use of Video Jockeys and TV hosts that sound and look like the everyday African—because they are precisely that. The MTV Base VJ search has remained open to anyone who is interested, regardless of their backgrounds, and winners have come from every region of the continent. The hottest success-story on the block is VJ Ehiz (Ehizojia Okoeguale), the 27-year old Computer Science graduate who won the 2013 edition of competition, and is now a sought-after compere and host in Nigeria’s entertainment circles. He currently works his charm on MTV Base gigs, alongside prominent VJs like Sizwe Dhlomo and Momuzi Mabena from South Africa, all local talents that have emerged from the MTV Base VJ Search and gone on to join some of the most celebrated individuals worldwide (think Trevor Nelson and Jennifer Mannilo), who bear the prestigious title of “MTV VJ.”
- Distribution, distribution, distribution
By making an inroad into Africa’s media space at a time when investor appetites were relatively cool, MTV Base was clearly aware about the phrase location, location, location.
But to its credit, this brand has gone on to maintain staying power in an ever-changing media landscape by ensuring it adapts to the distribution channels thrown up amid Africa’s ICT explosion.
MTV Base seems cognisant of the fact that Africans’ mode of media consumption is a motley affair across geographies. Today MTV base is available across Africa via satellite (pay-TV) on DStv and GTV (pan-Africa) and on digital terrestrial television on partner stations. What all this means is from the Lagos businessman able to afford DSTV, to the student in Uganda who only has access to local television stations, there’s no escaping MTV Base… as if anyone aged from 12 to 34 would be foolish enough to try to.
- Breaking down creative borders
At the launch in 2005, South African singer Mathosa was quoted as saying: “Now you’re guaranteed that whether you go to Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, anywhere in the world, you know that people there will definitely know your music through the channel.”
Her words have proven prophetic.
MTV Base has been at the forefront of the export and propagation of African urban culture and the artistes behind the art. Early on, there was the MTV Base 100th LIVE! concert where Lebo herself, Mandoza and Seun Kuti performed alongside Will Smith and Ludacris; a sure sign of things to come. Since inception to date, any artist can submit their videos to the channel for free, a development that greatly enhances the chances of lesser-known talents. There’s Spanking New and One To Watch which promote the newest tracks from musicians. Also, the 2013 MTV Africa All Stars Concert brought Nigerian, Kenyan, Congolese and South African artistes to venues in three major cities on the continent. Ongoing is its Artist Of The Month programme, which gives dedicated coverage to industry figures, profiling the biggest A-List African musicians in a series of specialist shows.
A most recent beneficiary is reggae act Patoranking—real names Patrick Nnaemeka Okorie—who in March inked a record deal with global conglomerate VPAL, a subsidiary of VP Records which is credited with commercialising dancehall music to the pop markets as far back as the 90s. The deal was facilitated by MTV Base, and VPAL will distribute Patoranking’s first album.
The artiste publicly paid homage to MTV Base at the time, saying; “Reggae and dancehall are genres that the world understands and loves, and so my fan base outside of Africa can only get bigger, VP Records is one of the biggest record labels in New York so being signed under that label is a big deal for me and so I am grateful to MTV Base.”
Music unites, but unless it is seen, heard, shared and sung then danced to by audiences outside of the act’s location, unity is no more than any other word in the English language. All the transnational tours, labels, music (and other artistic) collaborations between African acts are largely because MTV Base actively built a common ground where all types of music—including Afrobeat, kwaito, zouk, dancehall, m’balax, reggae and R’n’B sang by anybody could be accessed by anybody.
- The MAMAs
Previously, MTV Base viewers voted in the Best African Artist category in the MTV Europe Awards but 2008 put a stop to that. That year MTV Base decided to launch the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA), which has grown into the biggest annual celebration of contemporary African music and youth culture. Today this event gives talented Africans artistes the large-scale international exposure they deserve. In 2014 the channel went further by introducing a new category; the “Transform Today” award, which is for any non-music artist who is changing Africa through their creativity and vision.
The 2015 MAMAs, which held on Saturday July 18 in Durban, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa marked the climax of the existence of the MAMAs in Africa. Seven years after the first edition in Abuja, Nigeria, the audience at the Durban International Conference Centre witnessed a vibrant display of African contemporary urban culture with the continent’s biggest stars including Davido, Diamond Platnumz, Cassper Nyomvest, AKA, Yemi Alade, Toofan, P-Square and many others in attendance.
- The Charts
Like in the beginning when MTV Base decided it wouldn’t let such a small thing as poor video quality affect content delivery, the channel is not allowing Africa’s piracy, inefficient record-keeping or lack of structures prevent the artistes from getting a measurable evaluation of their work across the continent. The charts are majorly based on none other than the most crucial player in entertainment – the listeners, who are approached by MTV Base on the streets (Street Request). They’ve also sought to gauge the pulse through the broadcasters, DJs, music journalists and trendsetters who deliver music to Africans. The MTV Base Official Naija Top 10 and the South Africa Official Top 10 every week have an elite panel who share the results gathered from the airwaves to the clubs and from the internet.
- Diversifying the creative industries
Africa’s artistes have clearly taken a cue from MTV Base and begun treating our music and urban culture in general as the burgeoning industry it is. The channel’s pioneering focus on quality videos means today there are professional video vixens, choreographers, costumiers, stunt directors, etc. that also get exposure on MTV Base for their achievements. As a lasting part of Africa’s urban culture, MTV Base has played its part in breaking stereotypes about the viability of our creative industries. Yes, video vixens exist that earn more than blue-collar workers. It’s a trend that has taken off on a scale even Okosi never saw coming: “Before, music and entertainment in general were not career paths that were desirable, or widely respected but now, thanks to the deeper appreciation for Nigerian music and the appetite for local content, parents and young Africans are increasingly seeing these sectors as a valid path to self-actualisation and a means of livelihood,” he says.
- Realistic Advocacy methods
When you open shop in the continent with the youngest population in the world, then corporate social responsibility should follow, for any self-respecting brand. With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 in Africa, advocacy via media is the best conduit to reach out to youths about the peculiar problems they grapple with. MTV Base has continued to make notable efforts in this regard. For Nigeria’s 2011 elections the channel’s “Choose or Lose” campaign tackled voter apathy among young Nigerians. There’s Shuga, the Nigerian-based sex and relationships drama, which entertains as it passes salient messages on HIV/Aids to viewers. The series started in Kenya, but is now being filmed in
Nigeria and in 2013/2014 bagged its largest viewer figures ever; an estimated TV audience in excess of 550 million households via 61 TV broadcasters and 12 online/view on demand platforms across Africa, Europe, UK, Asia and the Caribbean. Back by popular demand, a new Shuga series looms, undoubtedly due to the fact that MTV Base ensured that the quality of entertainment was not sacrificed for advocacy, and vice-versa.
Offscreen, MTV Base and the MTV Staying Alive Foundation took things a notch higher by promoting the 6222 helpline service offered by the Nigeria’s National Association for the Control of AIDS on each episode. The brand focused on a multimedia campaign, using a dedicated website, Shuga comic books and a radio series which is in English and pidgin. There was even a Skype service, where key cast members used their star power to connect with viewers and continue advocating for safer sex and sexual attitudes.
Yes, Lupita Nyong’o, who left the US to audition, and then star in the Kenyan-based Shuga series. Today, from those beginnings with MTV Base’ Shuga, Ms Nyong’o is a global icon, renowned for her talent as much as for her originality and constant, unabashed allegiance to her African heritage. These are qualities that are precisely what MTV Base, the channel that played a huge part in discovering Lupita continues to exude, ten years on. MTV Base continues to burrow deeper into the fabric of the African media landscape, taking on the hue, spirit and voice of the audiences that make it the uber-successful brand it is.
As it should. Because no matter what age MTV Base labels its demographics with, everyone knows you’re never too old for MTV Base. Period.